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Buccaneers May Be Hampered By Their Years of Experience

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H11

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a tumultuous offseason in which a flood of new players arrived amid the departures of big names such as Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Keyshawn Johnson, so it's a good thing they have a veteran presence at the skill positions. Actually, they might have too much of a good thing.

Tampa Bay plans to sail into battle with the likes of quarterback Brad Johnson, running backs Charlie Garner and Mike Alstott and wide receivers Tim Brown and Joey Galloway. Average age on opening day: 33.6. Is this an NFL offense or the crew of the Black Pearl?

To be fair, the team was planning on having Pro Bowl wideout Keenan McCardell around, but he is holding out in a bitter contract dispute. And Michael Pittman will be available to share carries when he returns from a three-game suspension.

Also, Garner and Brown, despite being new to the team, should be familiar with Coach Jon Gruden's offense from their years together in Oakland. In fact, Brown declares, "This offense is home for me, no doubt about it." However, much of Tampa's success this year will rely on a rebuilt offensive line to open running lanes and keep Johnson's jersey clean.

It's understandable that the team didn't want to give the aging -- and highly opinionated -- Sapp a big contract, but it may miss the attention he drew from opposing blockers, which freed defensive linemates like Simeon Rice to perform. Rice, though, sounds unconcerned about it, albeit a tad defensive.

"I still think our best players are on defense. . . . We have a lot of stabilizers on defense that are still around," he said.

It is true that with stalwarts Rice, Derrick Brooks, Anthony McFarland and Ronde Barber on hand, the Bucs can expect to give opponents a hard time. But time is not on the side of its offense, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the second half of the season serve as a training ground for youngsters like quarterback Chris Simms and wide receiver Michael Clayton.

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