Quarterback- Chris Simms should his potential in the 2005 regular season and his youth in the 2005 postseason, with a poor performance against the Washington Redskins. Simms will have a better year in 2006, as he will get a wiser Cadillac Williams behind him and a plethora of targets in the receiving corps. There will be a competition among Luke McCown, Tim Rattay, and newly acquired Jay Fiedler to determine who will back up Simms. It is likely that Rattay and Fiedler will win because both are more experienced than McCown and can steer the Bucs in the right direction if Simms happens to go down at any point in the 2006 NFL season. Jon Gruden has to be happy with the depth at the quarterback position and should feel comfortable handing the quarterback duties to any of the three quarterbacks that make the roster.
2006 NFL Grade: B+
Running back/ Full back- Cadillac Williams had one of the best starts for a rookie running back in NFL history in 2005, but he faded due to injury and exhaustion towards the end of the season. Jon Gruden learned a tough lesson with the Williams situation and in 2006, Williams will be used more economically so as not to wear him down too early. This will be aided by Simms’ improvement and the use of backup running back Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott in more running situations. With the rotation becoming more well rounded, Gruden should have a healthy Cadillac Williams ready to roll for the entire 2006 season and the Bucs will reap some rewards from that.
2006 NFL Grade: B+
Wide Receiver/Tight End- Tight ends Dave Moore and Anthony Becht are reliable options at tight end, but are not outstanding and Simms needs all the targets he can get in 2006. As well, there are several receivers that should perform well this season but will probably continue to underachieve. Ike Hilliard, Joe Galloway, and David Boston are either aging or underachievers and Simms needs play makers to continue his improvement in 2006. Look for rookie Maurice Stovall or second year receiver Michael Clayton to step up and become the go to guy for Simms, as Clayton began to become at the end of 2005.
2006 NFL Grade: C+
Offensive Line- The offensive line for Tampa Bay will be pretty solid in 2006, as center John Wade pulls together a group of talented young linemen. Especially important to the Bucs attack will be the performance of guards Dan Buenning and Toniu Fonoti, as Cadillac Williams will need to use the interior line as his vanguard to the end zone.
2006 NFL Grade: B+
Defensive Line- The Bucs defensive line was outstanding last season and 2006 may be the year that the Bucs need to capitalize on their outstanding play. Simeon Rice and Chris Hovan are aging and without those two, the performances of Greg Spires and Anthony McFarland may suffer. However, Rice is still playing fine off the edge and Hovan is a demon on the inside. The Bucs should be glad that they have the defensive line that they do heading into this season, as they will need it to push for the NFC South division lead.
2006 NFL Grade:
Linebacker- Linebackers Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, and Barrett Ruud will perform even better than they did in 2005, though Brooks is starting to show his age and Ruud’s ability to step up and be an every game starting linebacker is still questionable. However, the defensive line and the defensive backfield should help out Brooks and Company in 2006 and the linebackers will look better as a result.
2006 NFL Grade: B
Defensive Back- The most important part of the Bucs secondary in 2006 will be how Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly perform on the corners. Barber and Kelly have turned into two impressive and talented corner backs and in 2006 they will have a field day against opposing teams, if only because they are becoming aware of how the other corner is performing and forcing bad throws to one side or another. Bucs fans should have some fun watching these two play and will not be disappointed, with one of the getting to the Pro Bowl and the other with Pro Bowl numbers.
2006 NFL Grade: A-
Kicker/Punter- Kicker Matt Bryant will provide adequate kicking for the Bucs in 2006 but he won’t be an outstanding specialist and the Bucs should continue to search for a better kicker over the next year or two. Nothing against Bryant but the Bucs are turning back into a defensive team and they will need a Grade A kicker to keep games close and put them over the top in clutch situations. Punter Josh Bidwell improved dramatically in his move from Green Bay to Tampa Bay and he will do a fine job pinning teams deep in 2006. Bidwell will continue to develop and his potential as a punter in the NFL is fairly high.
2006 NFL Grade: B-
2006 NFL Projection- The NFC South will be a tough division to win in 2006, as all four teams are either competitive or on the verge of being competitive. While Carolina will win the division, Tampa Bay will fight it out with Atlanta for the second spot and a probable wild card. The Bucs may have the edge in experience and will probably end up in the 9-7 or 10-6 range.