Based on the recent trend of Super Bowl champs not repeating, Tampa Bay has its work cut out in 2003.
The Bucs head to Tokyo this Saturday to meet the New York Jets in the American Bowl, which will be shown live on ESPN at 2 a.m. PT. Tampa Bay opened as a three-point favorite with the total at 33.
The really good news for Bucs fans concerning a repeat is that this pirate ship is still well stocked. Only two of the defensive starters are gone from the NFL’s top defense, which should keep Tampa Bay quite formidable.
With plenty of team speed and the dynamic duo of Warren Sapp and Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks leading the charge, head coach Jon Gruden has the ingredients to once again dominate games.
The Tampa Bay offense ranked 22nd and merely got the job done last season until the Super Bowl when all hell broke loose. Michael Pittman ran for over 124 yards and QB Brad Johnson played mostly error free football in a convincing 48-21 route of the Raiders. Despite Pittman’s showing in San Diego, Gruden will be holding backfield auditions in the preseason.
The offense is an efficient one with Johnson targeting Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Jurevicius (a rising star) and an array of tight ends led by Ken Dilger and Ricky Dudley. The offensive line has a couple of additions in center John Wade (Jacksonville) and RG Jason Whittle (Giants) to team with holdovers Roman Oben and Kenyetta Walker.
Last year, the Jets began the season a woeful 1-4. It almost ruined the season. As it turned out, they rebounded to win the AFC East with a 9-7 record. New York beat Indianapolis in a first-round playoff game before losing to Oakland in the divisional round.
Reasons for last season’s poor start: 25 penalties, 97 mental errors, 65 missed tackles and —5 turnover rate in those five games. This year, head coach Herman Edwards will institute a higher intensity preseason program to prevent the early season fumbling. Quarterback Chad Pennington opens the season at QB ahead of Vinny Testaverde and that alone should have a positive impact.
The Jets lost four starters in wide receiver Laveranues Coles, kicker John Hall, kick returner Chad Morton and guard Randy Thomas, along with defensive tackle Josh Evans (drug suspension). The Jets will miss Coles, but return Santana Moss and Wayne Chrebet and added Curtis Conway.
The running game will again feature Curtis Martin, who gained over 1,000 yards and comes to camp with past ankle problems fully healed. Reliable Lamont Jordan will see more than last year’s 84 carries.
Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson the fourth overall pick in the draft is expected to start and anchor the interior of the defensive line. Veteran Chester McGlockton has been added and should help once he gets in shape. They join John Abraham and Shaun Ellis. Brian Thomas also returns after a disappointing no-show season with 20 added pounds to help his pass rush.
Linebacker Sam Cowart (team best 154 tackles) is returning to form after an Achilles tear two years ago. Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones, a veteran duo, is a solid supporting cast. Jon McGraw joins Jamie Henderson at safety, while Donnie Abraham and Aaron Beasley handle the corners in an upgraded secondary.
Expect both the Jets and Bucs not to play their starters much more than a quarter. Brad Johnson figures to be in for a series or two for Tampa Bay with Shaun King, Jim Miller and perhaps rookie Chris Simms seeing some action. Pennington will be used sparingly, followed by Testaverde, Tory Woodbury, Brooks Bollinger and Marquel Blackwell.
The first-team Bucs defense won’t play more than a quarter. The Jets want to erase last year’s poor start. Take JETS (+3).