SR's Fab Five

Sept. 6 - Bucs CB Dwight Smith will get picked on against New Orleans -- but does he know it? Why does Karl Williams keep making the Bucs' 53-man roster? Is the Bucs defense ready for the screen passes and draw plays they'll face against New Orleans on Sunday? Why will the Saints blitz the Bucs like crazy on Sunday? And why is "The Beer Man" one of the most dangerous Saints the Bucs will face on kickoff weekend? Get all the answers in this week's SR's Fab Five.

SR's Fab Five usually appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Second-year Tampa Bay cornerback Dwight Smith expects to get picked on by opposing quarterbacks after a shaky preseason. Smith was bothered by a sore hamstring in August, but fails to use that as an excuse after getting beaten for several passes and a touchdown against Miami, and for another touchdown versus Washington.

"When you are on the field, nobody wants to hear that you are injured and can't give it your all," Smith said. "I feel good now. Hopefully I won't have any more (hamstring problems)."

Smith expects to be targeted against New Orleans on opening day. One deadly matchup for the Bucs could be having Smith, who doesn't have much in the way of recovery speed, with Saints rookie speedster Donte` Stallworth.

"You've got to expect (to get targeted)," Smith said. "When you are the young guy coming in and you've got a guy who is a Pro Bowler and a guy who has similar ability, you're going to get picked on. You have to take it as a challenge. It's my job to make them pay for it."

Smith, who played mostly on special teams as a rookie last season, has been a ballhawk in practice during the offseason and during training camp, but hasn't come close to making too many plays during the preseason games. He feels that teams will look at him as the weak link in the secondary and will throw his way often.

"I hope they continue to do that," Smith said. "That's the only way I'm going to make money in this league is to make plays. The healthier I am the better I can play and the more plays I can make.

"But I can't get too overwhelmed with (interceptions). That's another thing that got me in the preseason. I was so ready to make a play, but I have to let them come to me. My coach said it's all about technique and opportunity meeting."

If Smith struggles against New Orleans in a tight game look for the Bucs to give his opportunities to Corey Ivy or even rookie Tim Wansley.

FAB 2. Every year I am one of the several pundits who think this is the end of the road for Karl Williams, a veteran wide receiver who is a jack of all trades and a master of none -- with the exception of punt returns. And every year -- now for his seventh year -- Williams continues to show up on the Buccaneers' final 53-man roster.

Each spring, Tampa Bay tries to bring in younger, faster players with more athletic ability to unseat the player called "The Truth", but each September it is Williams who ends up on top.

This year was no different with new head coach Jon Gruden drafting the fastest player in the NFL Draft in Kansas State wide receiver and return man Aaron Lockett. Lockett's 4.29 speed was expected to dazzle coaches in comparison to Williams' sneaky 4.5 speed, and leave opponents in his wake. It didn't happen, and the wily veteran won out with consistency in the punt return game, as well as plenty of savvy as a receiver in Houston, catching three balls for 42 yards.

"Being a veteran in this league, that's expected of me," Williams said. "I try to stay calm, and not just know what to do, but being able to do it and have the coaches have confidence in you to put you in position to make plays. That's what being a professional is all about. It's knowing what to do and doing it. I make mistakes. I'm human. But I try to make more plays than mistakes."

Williams rebounded from a dropped pass across the middle earlier in the game to haul in a key, diving 18-yarder on third down from Shaun King to get the Bucs out of the shadow of their own end zone at Houston in the second half. He also made the touchdown-saving tackle when Texans safety Kevin Williams picked off a King pass and returned it into Tampa Bay territory.

But perhaps his best plays were plays he didn't make, in properly fair catching the ball on punt returns in front of the 10-yard line. Lockett fair caught his only return attempt against Houston on the Bucs' 3-yard line, which broke every special teams rule in the book and led to his dismissal.

"That's what competition is all about," Williams said. "You just have to use that veteran's wit. Some of it is speed, but most of it is being smart and making the right decisions."

The Bucs did add receiver and return man Reggie Barlow to the roster this week in place of Frank Murphy, who was released in the final roster cutdown, and the fact that Barlow can also return punts means that Williams doesn't have total job security yet. But it would take Barlow returning a punt for a touchdown -- or two -- for him to permanently dethrone Williams, who has a franchise-best four career touchdowns on punt returns.

It may take Williams five minutes to reach the end zone with all of his juking and lack of blazing speed, but the end result is that he does a good job of setting up his blockers and he finally hits paydirt.

"You look at the great ones and how they set blocks up," Williams said. "It's not just all-out speed. You're not just going to run 40 yards straight ahead all the time. You have to read the field and the position of your blockers and knowing where to go and when you have to be there."

He's not flashy, and he doesn't have any special quality about him, but you have to admire Williams' knack for making timely plays and using his football smarts to squeeze every bit of talent he has out on to the field. That's the reason the undrafted free agent from Texas A&M-Kingsville is entering his seventh year in the NFL.

FAB 3. How do you game plan for an opponent when all you have to go on is maybe last year's videotape and a couple of preseason games which typically feature vanilla looks on offense and defense? Well, the first thing to do is to find out what an opponent didn't do well in the preseason and hammer it. Make them prove that they fixed their preseason gaffes and cracks in the armor.

The Bucs defense played extremely well in the preseason overall, despite surrendering 26 points out of the 40 that Washington scored in the third exhibition contest. But the Redskins and the Miami Dolphins exploited two aspects of the defense which has given the Bucs reason for concern.

Both Norv Turner, Miami's offensive coordinator, and Steve Spurrier, Washington's head coach and play-caller, used draws and screen passes effectively against Tampa Bay's first-string defense. The game plan was to take advantage of the tendency of the Bucs' front four to get upfield quickly with their pass rush. In essence, the Bucs' overeargerness to get to the quarterback helped the Dolphins and Redskins easily set up the draw and screen plays.

"It has been an extra point of emphasis for us," Jackson said, regarding practicing against the draw and the screen. "They'll run it on us. Teams used it against us in the preseason and had some success, but we're really preparing for it."

The defensive line has to play with more discipline, and the linebacking corps and secondary has to be more alert and prepared to defend the draw and the screen passes once the season starts. New Orleans will undoubtedly run tailback Deuce McAllister on draws and screens on more than one occasion when the two teams meet on opening day this Sunday.

"They've got a lot more speed at the skill positions," said Bucs cornerback Dwight Smith about the Saints. "They'll try to utilize that more. They'll get Deuce McAllister out in the screens and in the open field. Then they have the young receiver in Donte` Stallworth who has some speed, too. We'll see them be a lot more wide open. Last year they seemed to be more structured for Ricky Williams, but then when the game got out of hand, they had to throw more in the second half. We'll see more of that this year."

One of the main reasons why the screens and draws have been successful against the Bucs is that teams are catching Tampa Bay's defense at the right time when they are dropping their middle linebacker into coverage down the deep middle when the team deploys it's Cover 2 scheme. By voluntarily vacating the middle of the field in those instances, they are creating open real estate for the backs to run through.

FAB 4. One area in which the Buccaneers offense struggled during the preseason was pass protection, especially in blitz pickup. Expect the Saints to blitz linebackers Charlie Clemons, Sedrick Hodge and Darrin Smith. The Bucs weren't always effective in picking up the blitz in the preseason and quarterback Brad Johnson was either forced to throw the ball away or made some ill advised throws as a result.

"You have to expect the unexpected," Johnson said. "We do blitz pickup. We do base blitz, nickel blitzes and crazy blitzes. (The New Orleans Saints) shifted into the old 46 defense and brought the blitz, but you just never know. You never know what's going to happen on opening day."

The Saints are desperately trying to generate a pass rush. They only had three sacks through four preseason games, and will rely on Clemons, who had 13.5 sacks last year on blitzes to get to the quarterback while the re-tooled front four gels together.

Two of last year's top pass rushers, defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and defensive end Joe Johnson, have moved on to different teams. The other top sack producer, defensive end Darren Howard, who had six last year after notching 11 as a rookie in 2000, might not play against Tampa Bay due to a groin injury.

The Saints boast seven new starters on defense, so the new-look Bucs offense, who has had trouble keeping its quarterbacks upright in the preseason, appears to be catching this team at the right time.

FAB 5. If you read my "Saints Confidential" piece in "The End Zone" column in the print version of Pewter Report this week, you read about the Saints' dangerous special teams ace Michael Lewis, who is also known as "The Beer Man" because he didn't play college football and was a beer truck driver before winding up donning the black and gold. Not only is Lewis the Saints' primary kick returner -- averaging 25 yards per return in preseason -- and punt returner -- racing 81 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals this August -- but he is also a top special teams tackler.

In fact, Lewis was the Saint who tracked down Aaron Stecker last year at the New Orleans 14-yard line on Stecker's club-record 86-yard kickoff return against the Saints in the Bucs' 48-21 win last December. That's as close as any Buccaneer has gotten to the end zone on a kickoff return in a regular season game since the team's inception in 1976.

"I think I've got 14 more yards in me this year," Stecker said. "Last year I almost scored and broke that streak. If I get the opportunity to go out there, who knows what's going to happen. I didn't go out there and think I was going to go that far. We'll just have to see what happens."

Stecker can't wait to handle kickoffs again against New Orleans this Sunday, and plans to run past or run through Lewis this time around.

"He's a fast guy," Stecker said of Lewis, who may be the fastest player on New Orleans' roster. "It's going to be fun. I'm going to go hit him and repay the favor. He's the guy that stopped me from getting the record. He's going to try to score one on us."

Cornerback Dwight Smith, who led Tampa Bay in special teams tackles with 22 last year, said he looks forward to tackling Lewis on punt and kick returns.

"That's the type of stuff us guys on special teams like to see," Smith said. "A guy coming in hyped up with speed as a returner. That's what gets us going. We just have to make plays and not let him take our crowd out of it. We have to make him make plays. We can't give him any plays."


Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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