While the Bucs fell to 0-1 in the practice season, what was really unveiled were two players that we talked about before training camp started: Mike Williams and Kareem Huggins. Both made big plays in their 2010 debut, but they weren't alone.
Cadillac Williams looked rejuvenated behind a Bucs offensive line that pushed around the supposedly superior Miami Dolphins defense. Franchise quarterback Josh Freeman (or as I like to call him, the Free-chise) stood tall in the pocket, made the right decisions and fired lasers to tight end Ryan Purvis and receivers Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall, and the aforementioned Williams.
The Williams 30-yard dart was a thing of beauty. Freeman, recognizing one-on-one man coverage with Dolphins second year corner man Vontae Davis, fired a rainbow that hit Williams over-the-shoulder perfectly.
The play would set up another Freeman improvisation, as he danced away from pressure, looking off a defender covering Stroughter and then delivering it perfectly to the shifty second-year receiver who cut his way into the end zone for a walk-in touchdown.
The Buccaneer defense, dead last against the run in the NFL last season, saw the benefit of Gerald McCoy, who was double-teamed throughout the ballgame. McCoy didn't register a tackle or sack, but the defense limited the hard charging Dolphin running game to 50 yards. They averaged 2.4 yards a carry.
If fellow rookie defensive tackle Brian Price (hamstring) can get healthy, the Bucs may have a tough dynamic duo.
Double-teaming McCoy freed up some of the Bucs ends to get pressure. One player trying to make the team, Michael Bennett, took advantage, beating the Miami tackle Gardner (who held on the play) and sacking Dolphins backup QB Tyler Thigpen. Bennett would just miss on a second sack later in the ballgame.
Young corner EJ Biggers looked fast and played well against the Dolphins' biggest off-season acquisition of the season, Brandon Marshall. Marshall would end up with two drops and no receptions for the ballgame. Biggers would also recover a fumble in the red zone to stop a Miami drive.
Kareem "Huggie Bear" Huggins flashed for the Bucs in the second half, leading all rushers with 55 yards on 8 carries (6.9 average), including a sparkling 35 yard run that showed his speed and shiftiness.
Huggins may be in play for that second running back spot behind Williams.
As great as Huggins looked, Derrick Ward was the opposite. Ward, like last season, looked slow and seemed to lack vision. He complained to teammates about field conditions and seemed angry that the Buccaneer coaching staff had the audacity to call running plays in the muddy infield section of Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Land Shark/J-Lo/Sun Life Stadium.
Funny, Huggins didn't seem to complain. Neither did Carlos Brown, a guy the Bucs added this week to the squad and out rushed Ward despite eight less carries.
Add to that Ward coughed up the football twice and the start of 2010 certainly didn't look anymore promising than the end of 2009.
Ward wasn't alone in the negative column though. Head Coach Raheem Morris, whose job is believed to be on the line this year, better rub on every good luck charm he has that starter Josh Freeman stays healthy because backups Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter are real bad.
On the same day that former QB Luke McCown threw for three touchdown passes, Tampa Bay's backups looked downright awful. Johnson has some raw talent but entering his third year in the league, he still has no pocket presence, doesn't protect the football, and looks lost at times.
Carpenter was victimized by awful drops and a terrible game ending fumble by young on-the-bubble wideout Chris Brooks (which was a shame because Brooks had a pretty good game). Still, Carpenter has no arm and is your prototypical dink-and-dunk QB - a Bruce Gradkowski without scrambling ability.
In the rainy conditions, Tampa Bay fumbled seven times, losing three and Johnson tossed a gift to Dolphins CB Sean Smith. The Bucs were also penalized 7 times for 58 yards. Many of the turnovers and penalties killed potential scoring drives.
The Dolphins are supposed to battle the Jets and Patriots for the AFC East title this year, while the Buccaneers are expected to be picking at the top of the NFL draft again next year, yet it was hard to tell which team was the contender and which was the also-ran for most of this contest.
"I am pretty excited about how both first units performed, offense and defense. We were able to move the ball on offense and get a couple of stops on defense." Morris said after the game to Buccaneer Radio Network, "We have to get our second units better. We can't allow our guys to break down with mental weakness, as far as penalties go. We were hurt by that. We have to go and clean that up in the second half. It's no excuse because we are young. We have to get better right now"
It's expected that since Miami is supposed to be the better team, they should have a deeper bench than the young Buccaneers.
Still, Tampa Bay had every opportunity to win the ball game late, but inexperience and poor execution by guys who likely won't be there the second Sunday in September doomed them.
Hopefully conditions in the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium will offer a longer look at Freeman, Mike Williams, and Kareem Huggins (who needs to be given the opportunity to run behind a real NFL line) next week.
Stay thirsty for Bucs football, my friends.
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