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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Making Their Final Case

TAMPA - It's all over but the shouting. And there will be shouting. Lots and lots of shouting. Paring an NFL roster to the league-mandated 53 players always results in a shouting match or two among coaches, and the job of paring this year's Bucs roster will be no different. In fact, thanks to what happened at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, the atmosphere inside the meeting room where the Bucs will pare their roster could heat up early and stay that way right on through to the final cut. During a 31-24 preseason victory against the Houston Texans that featured mostly reserves, enough Bucs stood out to arguably make this round of cuts the toughest Coach Jon Gruden's staff has ever faced.
It stands to reason now that there will be difficult calls to make at almost every position but especially at wide receiver, cornerback and along the defensive line. Ironically, the one spot where there may not be any debate at all is quarterback, where a new development may erase the need to even consider keeping Chris Simms as a fourth quarterback. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen revealed just before kickoff Thursday that Simms has a hip strain. Simms later said he suffered the injury during Tuesday's practice. The Bucs aren't saying how serious the injury is, but it may not have to be serious at all. Any injury would make Simms a candidate to go on injured reserve, which would solve a big problem for the Bucs. By placing Simms on IR, the Bucs would lose him for the season. But IR allows the Bucs to keep Simms and gives him the time he apparently still needs to recover from the spleen surgery he had last season. 'There are some things I can control and some thing I can't,' Simms said. 'This the injury and the Bucs' decision regarding his future is something I can't control.' Like all other roster decisions, a call on Simms will no doubt come Saturday. The time between now and then will be spent arguing over those last few roster spots and deciding the winners of a couple of key position battles. Chief among the latter is the backup quarterback job, which was still up for grabs going into Thursday. And if Thursday's results were any indication, it could remain that way throughout the season. It wasn't that Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski didn't stand out. The problem is both played well, with McCown completing 15 of 20 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns, while Gradkowski was 13-for-20 for 141 yards and one touchdown. McCown was also responsible for a couple of turnovers, a fumble and an interception of a ball that slipped out of his hands, but he succeeded in getting the Bucs into the end zone. 'Like we've said all along, he's got talent,' Gruden said of McCown. 'You see his mobility, he has a quick accurate stroke and he's got good command. I really think he's got great upside.' So it seems did Paris Warren. The last receiver remaining from the group of three the Bucs drafted in 2005, he caught seven passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner, Thursday. Those catches gave him a preseason team-best 15, including four for touchdowns, but any chance Warren seemingly had of making the team was destroyed when he dislocated his ankle making the game-winning catch. Paris' bittersweet outing came on a night when another receiver hopeful, David Boston, was something of an afterthought for a second straight game, catching just one pass for 5 yards. He wasn't alone, though. Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall, the other candidates in the battle for the starting flanker job, combined for just three catches as the Bucs quarterbacks relied heavily on backs and tight end Jerramy Stevens. The latter started the game ahead of Anthony Becht and Alex Smith and, despite fumbling the ball away on one play, he put together what was easily his best outing of the preseason, catching seven passes for 100 yards. Stevens played a big part in a first-half Bucs rally that became necessary when the Texans jumped out to a 14-0 lead on a 3-yard Sage Rosenfels touchdown pass and a 36-yard Jamar Fletcher fumble return. The first Texans score came largely as a result of some poor defensive work, particularly by second-year cornerback Alan Zemaitis, who struggled on two key plays during the opening drive. On the first, a 27-yard pass play to Jacoby Jones, Zemaitis slipped as Jones made a cut after the catch. On the second, Zemaitis allowed Jones to get behind him in the end zone. Zemaitis bounced back later in the game to make some big stops in the run during a goal-line situation, but he'll be one of those whose name is debated when the roster decisions are finally made. Rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli will be part of those discussions as well, but after a mostly quiet preseason he seemed to solidify a roster spot with a strong outing that included a couple of key stops and an interception. 'My first couple of games as a rookie, I got caught up in some of the nonsense,' Piscitelli said. 'But tonight I felt good. Tonight I just tried to relax and be me.' Another defender who had a big night was second-year defensive end Julian Jenkins. Jenkins started at left end and turned in several big plays, recording five tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. 'I felt we as a D-line got great pressure on the QB tonight. We had a lot more pressure tonight than we usually do,' Jenkins said.

Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979 or rcummings@tampatrib.com.

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