TAMPA — One thing Najee Goode has already proven is he knows when to pick his spots.
With the NFL’s final cutdown day only 48 hours away, Tampa Bay’s reserve middle linebacker provided a highlight against the Redskins on Thursday night.
Goode, a fifth-round draft pick out of West Virginia in 2012, stepped in front of Pat White’s second-quarter pass intended for rookie WR Nick Williams and returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Bucs within 17-6.
“The coaches want to see us take what they have taught us and put it out on the field,” Goode said. “The young guys on this team have to do that more consistently.”
Goode, who played three games in his rookie season, finished with a game-high seven tackles.
Gruden bullish on Bucs
Former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden picked the Buccaneers to win the NFC South on Thursday while offering up a passionate endorsement of embattled QB Josh Freeman.
In an ESPN conference call, the “Monday Night Football” analyst lauded the talent on the Bucs’ roster and said Tampa Bay is poised to end a five-year postseason drought.
“I think this is the year for Tampa to win the division and return to the playoffs,” Gruden said. “I have a lot of confidence Tampa is going to be a very good football team this year.”
Gruden still lives in Tampa, where he prepares meticulously for each of his broadcasts by watching reams of game video. The Bucs will play on “MNF” on Nov. 11 against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium, where Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp will enter the franchise’s Ring of Honor.
Freeman is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he struggled in December as the Bucs finished 7-9 after a 6-4 start. He was ineffective during three preseason games this month, and Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said last week that he is convinced Freeman “can’t play” at the NFL level.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Fran Tarkenton,” Gruden said. “But I don’t necessarily agree with his comment on Josh Freeman. I’ve lived in Tampa 13 years, and I have studied Tampa Bay carefully for a lot of reasons. If you don’t think Josh Freeman can play, I think you’re making a huge mistake.
“He broke franchise records (passing yards, touchdown passes), and I’ve seen him do it at a high level. That means he can do it again. Not everyone agrees. I’m accused of being too positive and liking everybody, but I do like Freeman. I wish I had Josh Freeman, I’ll just say it like that.”
The Bucs have eight players on their roster, all 30 or younger, who have made the Pro Bowl, and Gruden is impressed with the overall talent level.
“They have a running back (Doug Martin) that no one talks enough about,” Gruden said. “What a phenomenal rookie year he had. Defensively, I think we were signing defensive backs at the Pepin distributorship when I was coaching the Bucs, but when you bring in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, you immediately become formidable in the secondary.”
Washington continued a disturbing pattern for Tampa Bay’s opening-drive defense this preseason by marching 79 yards in five plays for a score on its first possession.
Former Bucs WR Dezmon Briscoe registered the key play, turning a short pass into a 66-yard gain by deking rookie CB Johnthan Banks and S Sean Baker as Tampa Bay rested its regulars in the final exhibition matchup.
On Saturday night, the Dolphins rolled 76 yards in 17 plays on their opening drive against the Bucs. In Week 2 of the preseason, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 15-play, 80-yard march on the initial possession.
Both of those long drives came against Tampa Bay’s No. 1 defense.
Late in the first half, Bucs QB Mike Glennon tried to hit WR Eric Page, only to see his pass picked off by CB David Amerson, a fellow rookie from North Carolina State. Glennon turned and assisted on the tackle of his former Wolfpack teammate. ...Veteran Ryan Lindell, battling untested Derek Dimke for Tampa Bay’s kicking job, converted on a 50-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Dimke kicked a 30-yarder but his extra-point try after Goode’s interception return hit the right upright and bounced away. ...Former Bucs CB E.J. Biggers is now on the Redskins, who won the NFC East with a 10-6 record in 2012. “I’m in a locker room with a great group of guys who love football,” said Biggers, whose position coach is ex-Bucs head coach Raheem Morris.