SR's Fab Five

September 21 - Will the Bucs target Rams MLB Jamie Duncan with TEs Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley on Monday night? Did QB Brad Johnson get an earful from Jon Gruden for not throwing the ball into the end zone against Baltimore? What is the key to rookie DE Corey Smith's sudden success? Why haven't the Bucs scored a rushing touchdown this season? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this week's SR's Fab Five.

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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. When St. Louis visits Tampa Bay for another round of exciting Monday Night Football, expect the Buccaneers to attack the deep middle of the field with tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley. Before you start thinking that Pewter Report is doing some espionage by finding out what is going on in the Bucs' closed practice sessions, we're not giving away any secrets regarding the game plan. It's just obvious with the Rams playing a healthy dose of the Cover 2 defensive scheme that the Bucs made popular.

St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith nabbed Bucs middle linebacker Jamie Duncan during the offseason to replace London Fletcher, who chased bigger money in Buffalo during the free agency period. The Bucs essentially let Duncan go because they didn't feel he was worth the lucrative contract that the Rams dished out. They also didn't see him as a long-term starter at middle linebacker because he only showed signs of being a good -- not great -- player.

Duncan came up with some big interceptions during his tenure with the Bucs, but most of those came from underneath coverage on backs and tight ends, and not from the deep middle of the field. The Bucs would get frustrated with Duncan not getting the proper drops in coverage down the deep middle of the field in Cover 2 like Hardy Nickerson did.

That's still a weakness for Duncan to this day, and expect the Bucs to try to exploit that on Monday Night Football by sending either Dilger or Dudley down the deep middle of the field in between the safeties much like the New Orleans Saints against the Bucs on opening day when tight end Boo Williams scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles didn't get the necessary deep drop on that play and created a big seam in the defense for quarterback Aaron Brooks to find Williams wide open.

FAB 2. Some fans and members of the media were disappointed with quarterback Brad Johnson failing to throw into the end zone against the Baltimore Ravens last week. They weren't the only ones. Our insiders at One Buc Place indicate that head coach Jon Gruden wasn't thrilled about Johnson's apparent allergy to the end zone on Sunday and has talked to his quarterback about taking more chances, especially when Keyshawn Johnson was open twice.

It was just last week that I praised Johnson for shunning his conservative ways last year and throwing into the end zone with more regularity during the preseason and the season opener against the Saints, in which he found Keenan McCardell for a 4-yard touchdown. He needs to continue to look into the end zone for the Bucs to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.

Gruden has to remind Johnson that he has two big targets in 6-foot-4 Keyshawn Johnson and 6-foot-5 Joe Jurevicius to throw to. Expect another big game from Keyshawn Johnson against the Rams, and look for Brad Johnson to throw a couple of touchdown passes...into the end zone.

FAB 3. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli really likes defensive end Corey Smith, who notched his first career sack last week at Baltimore. Smith forced his way onto the roster with a strong preseason in which he totalled a team-high three sacks.

I remember noticing Smith at the Bucs' second mini-camp. He easily had the fastest first step off the line out of all the defensive linemen, and wanted to include him in my offseason "players to watch list", but the fact that he was only 6-foot-2 and weighed just 250 pounds and was an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State and played defensive end, a position which was already stacked with talent, I just didn't see him making it. Thank goodness defensive line coach Rod Marinelli didn't make the same mistake.

"You get a guy like that and you can tell that he has something unique to him, and what you try to do going through (the offseason workouts) is not get overly excited," Marinelli said. "The thing that you can't do as a coach is think, 'Oh, he's too small' or 'he's a rookie' or 'he's an undrafted free agent'. You just look at his performance and each day he just keeps getting better. After seeing him work, and how hard he works, I'm not surprised he's come this far. He had a great preseason."

Smith's early success with the Buccaneers was one part hard work and one part luck. When Tampa Bay placed Marcus Jones on injured reserve and Ron Warner on the reserve list to sit out a four-game suspension by the NFL, opportunity knocked for Smith. Against Baltimore, he opened the door by reassuring the coaching staff that they hadn't made a mistake by not only leaving him on the 45-man active roster last Sunday, but playing him in the second half of the Baltimore game.

"He got some confidence (from that sack)," Marinelli said. "He always practices well, but he has that aliveness. Certain guys have an awareness in practice where it's condensed a bit more and it's easier. Suddenly, the lights come on (on game day) and guys start seeing too much. This guy has a way to keep tunnel vision on what he's doing. It's very effective. It is going to be interesting to watch his progress."

Smith's super play and the emergence of versatile end-tackle Ellis Wyms may make Jones and Warner expendable.

FAB 4. It's amazing that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not scored a rushing touchdown through six games this season, including the four preseason contests. Offensive touchdowns haven't been too plentiful as the players desperately try to digest Jon Gruden's complex offense as quickly as they can, but the Bucs have opted to pass when they have gotten near or entered an opponent's 10-yard line, as evidenced by quarterback Brad Johnson's 11-yard touchdown pass to Joe Jurevicius and his 4-yard scoring strike to Keenan McCardell.

Fullback Mike Alstott, who scored a team-best 10 rushing touchdowns last year, and halfback Michael Pittman have yet to come close to scoring on the ground. Part of that failure can be attributed to the number of opportunities the Bucs' feature backs have gotten. Through two games, Pittman has just 25 carries, while Alstott has just 17. The Bucs have just 51 total carries while Johnson has already thrown 84 passes.

"We need to sustain the drive better," said Bucs running back Michael Pittman. "Coach Gruden loves to pass the ball, but we need to run the ball better. I only carried the ball 13 times last week and I'm looking to carry the ball more. Last week I cramped up in the second half and couldn't finish the game. I could've gone back in but Coach Gruden thought it was best to keep me out. we just need to sustain drive, control the clock, and run the ball. As an offense we need to keep them off the field as long as we can, and keep their defense on the field by controlling the clock. I think that will be the key to (the Rams) game."

FAB 5. Here's a couple of quick hits to tide you over until next week:

Out of the Bucs' eight draft picks in 2002, only four made the team -- wide receiver Marquise Walker, running back Travis Stephens, safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Tim Wansley. That number equals the amount of undrafted free agents and street free agents which made the club -- nose tackle Buck Gurley, cornerback Corey Ivy, linebacker Ryan Nece and defensive end Corey Smith.

Quarterback Brad Johnson has thrown two touchdown passes to Keenan McCardell through six games this year, including four preseason contests. Johnson has only two touchdown passes to Keyshawn Johnson over 26 games, including the 2001 and 2002 preseasons and the Wild Card playoff game last year, but not counting the meaningless season finale last year against Philadelphia when Keyshawn Johnson was held out for precautionary reasons. Johnson hit Johnson with touchdowns against Atlanta (preseason) and Detroit (season).

I think the tandem of Corey Ivy and Dwight Smith may be one of the best "gunner" or "flyer" combos in the league on punt coverage. Smith, who led the Bucs in special teams tackles last year with 22 and downed four punts inside the 20 last year, leads the team again with five special teams stops. Ivy has already downed four punts inside opponents' 10-yard line this year and has four special teams tackles.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
This story is intended to be read only by Club Insiders only and 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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