1. This week's game against the New England Patriots is a great tune-up for the Bucs' October 21 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams are the only ones still playing the 3-4 defense exclusively. The 3-4 defense, which consists of three big linemen (two ends and a nose tackle) and calls for four big, fast linebackers. I talked with Warrick Dunn this week about the differences between playing a 4-3 defense and a 3-4 defense. Dunn said it's a bit tougher to run outside against a 3-4 defense because the outside linebackers play out so wide and they are so difficult to block for the linemen, who have to reach way out to initiate contact.
The onus is on the offensive line to pick up the intricacies of the 3-4 scheme. They have to modify their running and passing lanes. As for Dunn and the running backs, there isn't much adjustment. They have to simply follow the blocks of their offensive linemen.
2. Someone will emerge as the winner of the Bucs' middle linebacker training camp battle. After all, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can only start one middle 'backer. But call this battle a draw. Incumbent Jamie Duncan hasn't done enough to lose his starting spot, but Nate Webster has raised his level of performance this preseason to where he could easily be named the starter on September 9 in Dallas as well.
Duncan has been slowed in the preseason with a hamstring strain and has posted three tackles. Webster has four stops, half a sack and a fumble recovery. The Bucs' third preseason game, in which the starters will see significant action into the third quarter, could be the deciding factor to see if Webster can make a late rally and steal the job away from Duncan.
3. The Bucs have a great deal of confidence in fourth-year center Todd Washington. That's a good thing considering Washington will likely be snapping the ball to quarterback Brad Johnson on opening day in Dallas and possibly for the home opener against Philadelphia due to Jeff Christy's MCL sprain. Washington has really come on over the past two seasons after a couple of non-descript years in Tampa Bay.
After battling Kevin Dogins for a few seasons to become the primary backup center/guard, Washington emerged the victor last year. Dogins is gone thanks to Washington's increased physical play and overall knowledge of the line calls and blitz pickups. With injuries to Russ Hochstein and the ineffectiveness of Wilbert Brown and Kendall Mack
Washington, who signed a one-year deal prior to the start of the season, can really help himself when it comes to free agency next season. If Washington can prove himself early in the season the Bucs may decide that he is indeed the team's center of the future.
4. The development of Bucs wide receiver Frank Murphy has slowed somewhat. Murphy peaked during training camp when the Miami Dolphins came to Pepin-Rood Stadium. He shined against the Dolphins' physical bump-and-run coverage and had a decent showing in the preseason opener. Murphy overcame some pregame jitters, a fumbled reception which went out of bounds and a costly penalty that negated a first down catch by Keyshawn Johnson to haul in two catches for 30 yards, including a leaping 22-yard grab.
But teammates say that Murphy must continue to study the playbook and stay focused when out on the field. He didn't record a catch against Cleveland last week and had a pass intended for him intercepted by Browns cornerback Anthony Henry in the end zone. It's understandable that Murphy has hit a bit of a wall. He's only played two games at the wide receiver position - ever - and that was the first two preseason games.
Reidel Anthony has overcome an injury ankle and has made some spectacular catches during the preseason. His performance, along with Karl Williams', has pushed Murphy back a bit on the depth chart. The race isn't over, but it appears that Anthony has the edge when it comes to the No. 3 receiver spot.
Look for Murphy to spend some time returning kicks in the preseason finale. He is still in the hunt for a kick return job with Williams, Aaron Stecker, Robert Kilow and Dwight Smith.
5. When Bucs special teams coach Joe Marciano was flagged for a 15-yard penalty when he bumped into an official along the sidelines of the Cleveland game, he was not the only coach who slipped up. Bucs strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich is the team's "get back coach" and his responsibility is to make sure that the players and coaches stay behind the white lines that separate the sidelines and the playing field. He's the guy who yells at all of the coaches and players and tells them to "get back."
I'm not going to fault Asanovich for allowing Marciano to get flagged, it's only preseason. But coach Tony Dungy had a humorous comment when he said that he was going to have Asanovich talk to the special teams coach about following the rules and regulations.
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