1. If Sunday's game against Pittsburgh wasn't enough to convince everybody in attendance, including Bucs special teams coach Joe Marciano, that rookie cornerback Dwight Smith needs to be stripped of his kick return duties than I don't know what would have done it. After bobbling several kickoffs in the preseason, and bobbling three kickoffs over the past two weeks, including two mishandled kicks last week against Minnesota, it's time to replace him on special teams.
But despite Smith's recent bobbles - the first one he muffed out of bounds at the Bucs' 3 and the last one that he fumbled against the Vikings - I wouldn't have been surprised if Bucs coach Tony Dungy decided to stick with him through his troubles. But Dungy was under enormous pressure from assistant coaches, personnel-side bigwigs and even some players to make the switch. Heck, word has it that Smith even went to Dungy and decided to bow out.
Dungy has been defending him in the press over the last couple of weeks, but in my opinion, it's time for a change for good. Three bobbles in two weeks, including a lost fumble, is intolerable. There needs to be accountability.
It's time to make a change at the kick return spot, and I'm not talking about Todd Washington, who is now a cult hero after a 22-yard, skull-cracking return. I doubt Smith has the speed to break one for a touchdown, but Frank Murphy does. His 34-yarder against the Steelers was close to being broken for a touchdown.
The Bucs will make a switch this week against the Green Bay Packers, but Murphy may not be called into duty due to injuries that have ravaged the team's wide receiver position. With Keyshawn Johnson, Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony all missing Wednesday's practice with injuries, Murphy is needed more at receiver this week. Look for Aaron Stecker to be the primary kick returner this week against the Packers, with Murphy possibly getting a shot at one during some point in the game.
2. You want to know the ironic thing about Smith's demotion on the kick return unit this week? Here's a conversation I had with Bucs special teams coach Joe Marciano on Wednesday about the amazing return Washington.
SR: "Joe, what was going through your mind during Washington's kick return as you are watching it from the sidelines?"
JM: "It was a good return, but it could've been a heckuva lot better. Do you know why?"
SR: "Because of Washington had pitched the ball back to (surprise) Smith before he got tackled, Smith would have had the entire right sidelines to take the ball for Tampa Bay's first-ever kickoff return touchdown."
JM: "Yep. That's right."
Wouldn't that have been something? The guy who bobbled two kickoff returns and fumbled one, who is also being benched this week, was one pitch away from making history in Tampa Bay.
So why didn't Washington pitch it? First, he didn't see Smith coming up from behind on his right side. Second, you try prying the ball out of an offensive lineman's hands once they get their mits on it. Good luck.
3. Tampa Bay has a disappointing 12 sacks through six games this season. Many, including yours truly, felt that the Bucs defensive line would be in good position to best the team record of 55 sacks, which was set last year, with the addition of defensive end Simeon Rice to the unit. With the Bucs averaging two sacks per game, the defense is on pace for 32 sacks this year, which would be the team's lowest output since 1995 when they recorded only 25 under Sam Wyche.
But even though the Bucs defense isn't getting opposing quarterbacks on the ground with much regularity, they are getting enough pressure to force interceptions. Tampa Bay is off to a hot start with picks this season, recording 11 through six games. If the defense stays on its current pace, they will pilfer 29 passes, which would be the most in the Tony Dungy era, and the most since 1981 when the Bucs snared 32 picks.
Cornerback Ronde Barber and Dexter Jackson led the team with three picks apiece, which are career-highs for both players. Linebacker Derrick Brooks is second on the team with two interceptions.
4. Let's stay with the defensive theme. So why has Brian Kelly replaced Donnie Abraham as the starter? Both have given up big plays in the passing game, something Kelly has always been known to do. But Kelly is tackling better than Abraham, who made the Pro Bowl last year. Abraham used to be one of the team's best tacklers, but now his sure-tackling days have subsided for some reason.
In the meantime, Kelly becomes a bona fide starter for the first time in his pro career, which began in 1998. In his first start last week against Minnesota, Kelly recorded his first career sack when he dropped Todd Bouman.
Abraham is taking the demotion in stride, partly because the Bucs play a lot of nickel defense, which calls for three corners. Abraham hasn't spoken to the media about his new backup role, but coaches and other Bucs players say he's determined to get it back, even though Kelly is in a contract year and needs to make the most of his opportunity.
In fact, when I asked who would win the interception race this season, Bucs coach Tony Dungy said, "Donnie Abraham. He's led the team almost every year since he's been here (editor's note - in 1998 he had one pick while Charles Mincy led the team with four). If I was a betting man, I'd bet on Donnie."
Abraham only has one this season, which is one more than Kelly. But if "The Iceman"
5. We've beat the "Who should be the feature back" topic to death between last week's Point-Counterpoint in Buccaneer Magazine and my Buccaneer Blitz radio show appearance this past Wednesday on WDAE 620 AM. In case you missed it, my stance is feature the hot hand, which is a healthy Mike Alstott right now. Work Warrick Dunn into the mix, but Alstott deserves to be the feature back right now.
I don't know if I have any thoughts on the Warren Sapp - Keyshawn Johnson spat over KJ's comments about Sapp in this week's Sports Illustrated. Sapp is jerk. Always has been, always will be. But he's worth too much to this team on Sunday to be released or traded away. I would say 99 percent of the Bucs' locker room tolerates him, including Johnson, so I don't think this situation will get out of hand.
No, there is no war brewing at One Buc Place. Just the same old, same old since Sapp's arrival in 1995. Sapp's frustration level is sky high with all of the negative press he's been getting lately, and the fact that he only has one sack when he promised to break Mark Gastineau's record is downright embarrassing. Perhaps all of this anger that Sapp has could be taken out on Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre this Sunday?
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