The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fall from grace hasn't been the fault of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his unit. The team overhauled its defense before last season, saying its goodbyes to longtime cornerstones Warren Sapp and John Lynch, but still had one of the league's five highest-ranked units.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber remain among the best in the league at their positions, and the Bucs made a cheap free agent signing in the offseason that could pay off big if defensive tackle Chris Hovan regains the form that made him a force in Minnesota before he fell out of favor with the Vikings' coaches. Linebacker Barrett Rudd, a second-round draft pick from Nebraska, could be an immediate contributor.
Coach Jon Gruden's star has fallen quickly, with the Buccaneers having gone 12-20 over the past two seasons since winning the Super Bowl in Gruden's first season with the team. The Bucs severed another tie to their Super Bowl-winning club by releasing quarterback Brad Johnson in the offseason. The next step for the team is to regain its dignity and try to get back to .500, and Gruden finally has a running-game centerpiece at his disposal in first-round draft pick Carnell Williams. Quarterback Brian Griese played well last season and agreed to a new contract in the offseason to stay with the team, and Michael Clayton immediately established himself as a top receiver last season as a rookie.