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Buc'Em Q&A with St. Pete Times Columnist John Romano

St. Petersburg Times Columnist John Romano was kind enough to take a break from his extremely busy schedule and recently responded to some of my questions I posed to him shortly before the Charger game.  John put his answers in perspective now that the season is over. 

Buc'Em: Do you see the Bucs making it into the playoffs?  If so, what will it take for them to get out of the first round?

JR: At the time you wrote the question,  I would have said yes, I believe the Bucs will make the playoffs. And I obviously would have been wrong. Depending on how the seedings broke out, I would have also said the Bucs would have won a playoff game in Arizona and would have had a decent chance of winning in Minnesota.
If you do not look at the journey itself, the Bucs actually ended up where a lot of us anticipated. Back in September, in our weekly email exchange that runs in the Sunday paper, I told Gary Shelton I figured the Bucs would finish anywhere between 7-9 and 9-7 depending on a few big plays. From that standpoint, this season wasn't a shock. But when you're sitting at 9-3 with two home games remaining against teams with losing records (San Diego was 6-8 and Oakland was 4-11), it's hard not to call it a disappointment.

Buc'Em: Based on the play of Brian Griese, it seems the Bucs’ key to any possible playoff success is the return of an effective Jeff Garcia.  How serious is his calf injury?

JR: Again, obviously, part of this question is now moot. But I think the Bucs were a much better team when Garcia was running the offense. The problem is, for the past two seasons, Garcia has been less than 100 percent by December. Part of the reason is the reckless way he plays, and part of the reason is his age. So, as much as I think Garcia helped the Bucs the past two seasons, I don't think they can depend on him to be their No. 1 starter in "09.

Buc'Em: What in the world is going on with Joey Galloway and Jon Gruden?  It seems like Gruden is backpedaling with different excuses for not playing him.  Have you heard a more solid reason for Joey’s untimely benching?  

JR: You're right about Gruden changing his tune about playing him. For several weeks, he said Galloway was hurt. When Galloway said he was healthy, Gruden began saying it was because Antonio Bryant and Galloway play the same position. By the time Gruden got to his final press conference on Monday, he was back to saying Galloway was hurt.
I think there are several factors involved in this. No. 1, Galloway is not the type of receiver to go over the middle or block downfield. He runs fast and he catches deep passes. That, essentially, is the extent of his talent. Now it's a very impressive talent, and a very valuable talent at times, but he is not a well-rounded receiver. From that standpoint, I understand Gruden liking Bryant better. However, Gruden has a history of turning sour on certain players and completely ignoring them. As the de facto offensive coordinator, it was Gruden's job to find ways to utilize Galloway and he failed in that task.

Buc'Em: On that note, does it seem to you that there is any locker room tension between Gruden and his players right now?

JR: Tension? I don't think so. There are some players who are unhappy, but you will find that in almost any locker room. Tony Dungy's players loved him, but it didn't help them play any better in Philadelphia his last couple of seasons. In Gruden's case, there aren't a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings, but I don't believe there was anything close to a mutiny situation.
(As a side note, a lot of people seem to believe I hate Gruden. Far from it. I think Jon is pretty entertaining as a head coach, and that's what matters to writers. He is actually more fun to cover than Dungy because he is more colorful. People seem to confuse criticism with hate. When the Bucs are going well, I'm happy to give Gruden credit. When they are going poorly, it's my job to point out areas where Gruden might be failing.

Buc'Em: What positions do you think the Bucs need to address first in the draft?

JR: The Bucs are caught in a no-man's land in terms of the draft. By finishing 9-7, they miss the playoffs but also lessen their chances of getting an impact player in the draft. I think they need to improve their pass rush, find a quarterback, find a receiver and find a running back. They're not going to do all of that through the draft. That means they have to figure out which free agents are available and which positions seems strongest in the draft, and then act accordingly. If they can get a pass rusher and QB in free agency, then they can look for a receiver and RB in the draft. Or vice versa.

Buc'Em: Do you think Barrett Ruud deserved a Pro Bowl nod?

JR: If he would have been named to the Pro Bowl, it would have been a deserving honor. By the same token, I don't think it was an outrage that he was left off. The position was pretty well stocked in the NFC. By being in the Pro Bowl conversation this season, it means Ruud will have a better chance next season. That's usually how these things work. The voters tend to catch up a year or two after a guy's breakthrough.