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Bucs battles: five things to watch

By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published August 30, 2007


Five things to watch

Backup quarterback battle: Normally, it wouldn't create much interest. But if you've watched the Bucs for any length of time, you know the backup always seems to find his way onto the field whether because of injury or subpar play by the starter. Neither Luke McCown nor second-year player Bruce Gradkowski is the clear-cut winner heading into the final preseason game, and Gradkowski's progress the past two weeks will give Jon Gruden something to think about. Expect both to get plenty of snaps tonight.

No. 2 receiver: Will someone finally separate himself from the pack? Doesn't appear so based on the first three preseason games. Gruden acknowledged this week that the job of No. 2, opposite split end Joey Galloway, mightbe filled by committee. That's not an indictment of the candidates but rather an indication the Bucs have numerous players who are in a tight competition. One week David Boston looks like he is ready to grab hold, and the next week Ike Hilliard looks to have the leg up. Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton have shown flashes, too. This is the final opportunity for someone to state his case.

Late-round draft picks: There are a handful of second-day picks who are on the bubble, and their performances tonight could affect whether they make the team. Look for fifth-round defensive tackle Greg Peterson, sixth-round linebacker Adam Hayward, seventh-round cornerback Marcus Hamilton and seventh-round running back Kenneth Darby to see plenty of playing time as coaches try to put them in situations where they will be tested. Those who don't make the final 53-man roster Saturday might be candidates for the practice squad if they manage to give coaches something to think about.

Jerramy Stevens: For all the potential he is said to have and his unique size, 6 feet 7 and 260 pounds, we haven't seen it translate into plays. He might be in better position to make the final roster because fellow tight end Alex Smith is sidelined with an ankle injury. Tonight will be his best opportunity to make an impact because Smith will miss the game and veteran Anthony Becht likely will play sparingly. Stevens' $600,000 salary would be easy for the team to absorb. On the flip side, it won't cost it a thing to cut him.

The shotgun: The Bucs have had a few too many hiccups in the shotgun during the preseason and in practices, and this is the final dress rehearsal. Most of the mistakes, however, have come when using unfamiliar combinations of quarterbacks and centers. But if you're hoping to see the shotgun on a regular basis this season, the situations will have to go smoothly tonight so Gruden doesn't back off the strategy when the games count.