Debugging the Bucs - Redskins

TAMPA--Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for Steve Spurrier. He was in Florida, calling flea flickers, reverses and double reverses and scoring lots of points. Just what he did for 12 years in nearby Gainesville. But the night wasn't just about his return to his former state. It was about the first-team offense having a strong showing against a top-flight defense. It was about the defense putting the offense in position to score a lot of points.

It was about the defense putting the offense in position to score a lot of points. And it was about the rookie quarterback finally getting a chance to play.

Washington beat Tampa Bay, 40-10, but, as we know, summertime scores don't matter. This one meant a little more: 16-7. That's the score of the Redskins' starters against the Bucs' first string.

The Redskins even scored on the ground, getting a two-yard run by Kenny Watson in the second quarter (the extra point was blocked; too low). They also received a 23-yard touchdown pass from Shane Matthews to Rod Gardner in the first quarter, capping a two-play drive. Add to that a 14-play drive that resulted in a 23-yard James Tuthill field goal and it was a successful outing for the starters.

The preseason games are for learning. And here's what we learned Saturday night:

. . . The Redskins' offense might not be the best in the league. But it doesn't have to be. Not with this defense. And what we saw is that the defense has many playmakers, capable of giving the ball to the offense in great field position. That's what happened Saturday. First came a play that featured the linebackers. Jessie Armstead crashed into quarterback Brad Johnson as he threw the ball. Corner Fred Smoot tipped it and linebacker LaVar Arrington intercepted and returned it to the Bucs' 43.

The Redskins punted after three plays, but no matter. They got it back on the next series thanks to a Champ Bailey interception on the sideline (originally ruled out of bounds, but overturned on a challenge) at the Bucs' 32. Two plays later: touchdown to Gardner.

What we like is the versatility of the linebackers. Armstead blitzes and the other two can cover. Arrington blitzes and the other two can cover. Same with Jeremiah Trotter. Few teams have that luxury. Trotter one time locked up Keyshawn Johnson (on Bailey's pick). Arrington could slide outside to cover the running back one on one and he didn't get beat. And all three can run blitz, which they did on a third and two, stuffing Mike Alstott for no gain.

''We're headed in the right direction,'' Trotter said. ''Guys were focused on their assignments and that's what it takes to make a defense work. And we didn't give up big plays.''

''With how great our defense is,'' receiver Jacquez Green said, ''we'll have a chance to score a lot of points.''

. . . Patrick Ramsey will be a good player in time. He delivered some passes with authority, zipping in one hitch pass to Kevin Lockett, the ball arriving just as the receiver turned around. And Ramsey's 12-yard touchdown pass was nice, coming on an out route to Jacquez Green. It appeared a defender might knock it away. But Ramsey's arm strength won out, getting past the defender in a hurry.

However, Ramsey must still learn to pick up blitzes, a key part of what Spurrier demands from the quarterbacks. This is where Ramsey's education must continue. Tampa disguised its defenses well, throwing off the rookie. But when he did pick up the blitz, Ramsey wasn't always sure where to throw the ball. Until that changes Ramsey can expect lots of blitzes.

What we like is that Ramsey was excited, even if he played sporadically. Why was he excited? Because now he has a chance to watch himself in a game and learn. The kid is smart, tough and wants to get better. He will. It helps, too, that Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel are good with him. Matthews constantly tutored him on the sidelines during the game, telling him what things he needs to worry about and what things he doesn't. It eased the burden on Ramsey.

. . . The players don't seem to care who plays quarterback. One reason: neither potential starter played here last year so no one has built up any good will. Besides, they've seen what the offense can do and understand that both quarterbacks are similar. That might change during the season, but for now it's one reason there's no so-called controversy.

''They both throw the same so it doesn't matter to me,'' Green said.

''When you're putting up those numbers, it doesn't matter who's back there,'' Trotter said.

. . . OK, 150 points (third most in franchise history during the preseason--they scored 156 in 1975 in a seven-game preseason and 152 in a six-game exhibition season in 1972) is impressive. But only 50 have been scored in the first half against starters and top reserves. Can Spurrier's offense work during the season when defenses game plan to stop it? Don't forget this: Spurrier hasn't game planned to beat a defense, either.

''He's great at game planning and making game day adjustments,'' Green said. ''He hasn't done that much in the preseason. We're only running a couple plays for the opposition during the week. During the regular season he'll see them on film for three or four days and break them down and be more thorough. We'll hit more passes adn won't have as many bad plays.''


. . . Defensive end Greg Scott returned a fumble 66 yards for a touchdown. Word is, the organization likes him a lot and might not want to risk losing him by trying to stash him on the practice squad. He's still raw and wouldn't help this season, but he's athletic enough to warrant a strong look. He's further ahead than Ladairis Jackson against the run.

. . . Receiver Rod Gardner is starting to find a comfort level in this offense. They need him to be a big-play receiver and he's showing that he might be able to fill that role. Notice how few passes he's dropped this summer? That wasn't a problem with him in college, but it was last year as he adjusted to the NFL.

. . . Linebacker LaVar Arrington is going to knock out a bunch of players this season. Seems like every game he has a hit that draws a reaction from the crowd. He intercepted a pass last night on a tipped ball.

. . . Punt returner Champ Bailey. He returned one ball for 18 yards, weaving up the middle and looks like he could break just about any kick. Problem is, on his previous return he waited too long to make a move and only gained nine yards because the punter had outkicked his coverage.

. . . Punt returner Jacquez Green. Made a nice return in which he delayed his move, too. But it worked as the defense tried to pin him to the right and he raced back to the left for a 20-yard gain.

. . . Fullback Rock Cartwright caught two passes for 19 yards and broke tackles on each one. He has a ways to go as a blocker, but his quickness and strength out of the backfield will eventually help. And he can hurt teams on those quick-hitting runs up the middle. He gained eight yards on one such run with Stephen Davis split wide to the right.

. . . Linebacker Donte Curry returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown and caused a fumble on the ensuing series. Too bad he's stuck behind so many good linebackers. He's athletic and could help some team. Will it be the Redskins?

. . . Defensive tackle Carl Powell. Have to admit he didn't show us much early in camp, but he looks like he'll be a solid reserve. Thing is, can he hack it as a starter? With Daryl Gardener's back a serious problem, Powell will have to prove he can.

. . . Guards Kipp Vickers and Ross Tucker squared off against Warren Sapp on occasion and did a decent job. Sapp beat Tucker for one pressure and shoved Vickers back on occasion, but did not get to the quarterback. Washington's starting line allowed no sacks on 15 passes.

. . . Receiver Kevin Lockett caught four passes for 71 yards in his best showing (two for 37 in the first half). He found the soft spots in zones and made good catches of not-so-perfect throws, particularly on one slant in which he was about to get pummeled yet reached up high and took the hit. We wanted to see some productivity from him and we did.


. . . We don't like Arrington at defensive end. The three times he played there versus Tampa the Redskins got beat for gains of 13, 8 and 18 yards. Those plays weren't his fault, but certainly Washington loses something when it puts him on the ground. He's a one-dimensional end who hasn't beaten anyone to the quarterback. He's a multi-dimensional linebacker who can make, and prevent, big plays.

. . . Receivers Derrius Thompson and Chris Doering didn't do much in their first golden opportunity. Neither caught a pass against the Bucs' starters, though Doering drew a pass interference penalty and nearly made a one-handed grab. Doering also was open in the end zone on a play in which quarterback Shane Matthews threw the other way (Doering was open before Matthews even looked the other way). The pass fell incomplete and Doering stood still for a minute with his arms in the air.

. . . Think Tampa coach Jon Gruden is a bit peeved today? He was overshadowed by Spurrier and that can't make him feel good. Gruden declined to talk to participate in a conference call with Washington reporters this week (Spurrier chatted with Bucs media) because he feared it would turn into a discussion on Spurrier.

. . . Tight end Zeron Flemister is either rusty or has regressed. He looked slow as a pass blocker leading to a sack. He didn't get much help from tackle Reggie Coleman on the play, either.

. . . Kicker Jamie Rheem drilled a teammate in the back on an extra point. That's a no-no.

. . . Punter Bryan Barker. Boooo! Barker's longest punts come when he's in the other team's territory. Happened again last night when he kicked a 43-yarder from Tampa's 43. Wasn't he supposed to be a good directional punter? He also had a low line-drive 38-yard punt from his own end zone that led to a 31-yard return.

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