tampabay.com

For starters, Stovall a starter

The first version of the depth chart provides some surprises.

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published August 8, 2007


LAKE BUENA VISTA - Jon Gruden downplayed it. Michael Clayton said he'd ignore it.

But try as they might, the Bucs' release of their initial depth chart on Tuesday spoke volumes about the status of fast-rising Maurice Stovall and Clayton's falling stock.

Stovall, entering his second season out of Notre Dame, was listed as the starting flanker opposite split end Joey Galloway.

The season's first depth chart is always a work in progress and is released largely because the league requires it. But it gives a sense of a team's way of thinking. In this case, it would appear Stovall has overtaken Clayton after the latter's past two disappointing seasons.

Neither player made much ado about the matter, but for Stovall, it's nice to know someone's paying attention.

"I feel like my hard work is being recognized," the 6-foot-5, 220-pound receiver said. "But at the same time, I (still) have to take advantage of my opportunities, show up, execute all my plays and carry myself as a starter."

Clayton, who had 728 yards in 2005 and 2006 combined after an 1,193-yard rookie season in 2004, believes he still has an important role.

"I'm not really worried about it," he said. "I definitely have faith in myself that I can get the job done given the opportunity. The best man is going to play. I understand that. Maurice understands that."

Also at receiver, David Boston's comeback story seems a bit closer to reality as he is listed as Galloway's primary backup. Ike Hilliard currently is the fifth receiver, mostly at flanker.

Still, Boston, who has missed most of the past three seasons with knee injuries, doesn't feel he has a guaranteed spot.

"I'm not taking it for granted at all," he said. "I went through a whole year last year without playing and I know me and my family are really thankful to the organization for letting me come back to camp and compete again."

There were some other notable decisions on the depth chart. Among them: the placement of defensive end Patrick Chukwurah as the starter at right end, with first-round pick Gaines Adams behind him.

Though the Bucs believe Adams will continue to develop, Chukwurah is hungry to establish himself as an every-down player after starting only five of 69 games in Minnesota and Denver.

"That's what every player's goal is," said Chukwurah, who has played multiple positions, including end and linebacker. "As we start cutting players down, you never know. They may try to find different ways to use me. But right now, I just want to concentrate on one thing and try to be the best I can be at that."

Despite all the hubbub about the depth chart, Gruden said performance in preseason games, more than practice, will determine the most pivotal position battles.

In games, "it's live football," the coach said. "The quarterback actually gets hit - hard. It's a lot different standing back there when guys like (the Patriots') Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison are flying around. We're going to use live evaluation as a final gauge."

Elsewhere on the depth chart, Jovan Haye is listed as the starter at under tackle, in front of Ellis Wyms, last season's starter. However, it's expected that Kevin Carter, currently listed as backup to Greg Spires at left defensive end, will play extensively at under tackle.

At quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski has the unenviable distinction of being No. 4 behind Chris Simms on a team that almost certainly will keep just three quarterbacks. But based on snaps during practices, Gradkowski is currently being treated as the No. 3. On special teams, Mark Jones is listed as No. 1 as a punt and kickoff returner. In the past, Jones has handled only punts.

Fast Facts:

 

Wide receiver depth chart

A look at the lineup before preseason games: