Wednesday, Sept. 26
His absence in the category marked "Sacks" is conspicuous, to say the least.
Through three games, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has not registered a sack. Just as bad, he only has two quarterback pressures. And his horrible start has filtered to the rest of the unit, which has just two sacks in three games.
It gets worse for Peppers. Todd Weiner, Atlanta's right tackle, handled Peppers almost single-handedly on Sunday. This is an All-Pro defensive end being stonewalled by a guy that, frankly, I hadn't heard of until I watched the Falcons-Panthers game on Tuesday.
The words I kept hearing during the broadcast were "lack of energy." Even Peppers has admitted it. The Charlotte media is calling Peppers out for his play, as they should. This is a guy that was hoping to get a fat contract — in the vicinity of Indy's Dwight Freeney — and even made some noise about that before the season.
And this is how he plays so far this year? It's part of the reason Carolina's defense struggled against the Falcons, and unless Peppers summons it on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Panthers defense may struggle again.
But Peppers always seems to bring it against the Bucs. ALWAYS.
Thursday, Sept. 27
Do the Bucs have the advantage at QB?
For the first time in a long time against Carolina, the Buccaneers might have the upper hand at quarterback this week.
Carolina's starting quarterback for Sunday is uncertain. Jake Delhomme did not practice on Wednesday, as he is recovering from what the team is calling a hyperextended elbow. David Carr took all of Delhomme's reps in practice on Wednesday.
If Delhomme doesn't practice this week, expect Carr to start, which could lead to some chemistry problems in the passing game, specifically with wide receiver Steve Smith. He and Delhomme are simpatico, and the pair was off to a roaring start to the regular season before last weekend, when Smith only had one catch for 10 yards and Delhomme came up injured.
The upshot for Carr is that he would have a much better supporting cast than he had in Houston. The downside for Carr is that he's only played with these guys since May.
That might give the Bucs an edge on Sunday, as Jeff Garcia has taken every first-team rep for the Bucs since May and won't have to learn certain things on the fly, as I'm sure Carr will have to this week. Additionally, Delhomme has been the quarterback for all of the Panthers' last eight games against the Buccaneers, where the Panthers are 7-1.
Garcia has been a winner the majority of his career. Carr has never piloted a winning season. That may mean something on Sunday.
Friday, Sept. 28
It's a big game — can we get past that?
Hyperbole has no place in any pro football story written in September. So, for the entirety of this column, I'll strive to stay away from words like "huge," "monstrous," "gargantuan" or "season-altering."
Cleansed of clichés, I can say simply that Sunday's game between Carolina and Tampa Bay could set the Buccaneers up for something much more important down the line.
Division games take on the utmost importance in the eight-division format because a division title means a first-round home game. Plus, there are only six division games, as opposed to eight games in the old six-division system, allowing for less margin of error.
"This one definitely puts Carolina or Tampa in the driver's seat, with New Orleans and Atlanta being 0-3," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said on Wednesday, apparently not heeding my call for the elimination of clichés and hyperbole.
Fine, Chris. Have it your way. But the winner of Sunday's game is 3-1, with a one-game divisional lead as the first quarter of the season comes to a close.
"It's going to be a big game," Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips said.
Jermaine, "big" is in the "huge" category. Let's stay focused, shall we?
Set aside the surprise for a moment that Tampa Bay is even in this situation. Let's say the Buccaneers win on Sunday, which isn't a stretch. Tampa Bay would own that 3-1 record and that one-game lead. Plus, the softer part of their schedule is coming up.
Get past the Indianapolis game on Oct. 7 and the Buccaneers face a stretch of four straight winnable games – Tennessee, Detroit, Jacksonville and Arizona — before their bye. All but the Detroit game is at home. It is perhaps the most hospitable stretch of the Buccaneers' schedule. So you see what makes Sunday's game so, uh, what's the word?
"I can see how it can be a very big game, especially early in the season," Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said.
Hyberbole, Jeff? Aren't you listening? It's too early for this game to be this —
Caught myself just in time.
This is a Buccaneers team that still has two games against Atlanta and another against New Orleans, a pair of winless teams in varying states of disrepair. The Saints look lost. Atlanta's Joey Harrington won't have weeks like he did against Carolina very often.
Sunday's game represents a natural progression for this team. They must prove they can win on the road, and do so against a team that has been the Darth Vader to their Obi-Wan Kenobi the past four years. The Panthers have won seven of the last eight meetings.
So it's an, uh, oh, I'll just say it — IT'S A HUMUGOUS, STUPENDOUS CONTEST WITH INCREDIBLE POSTSEASON RAMIFICATIONS!
Sorry, I've been holding that in.
What do you think, coach?
"I'm not going to make any more of it," Jon Gruden said. "They're not canceling the season and awarding you anything after the game, I know that."
Perspective? From Gruden? What are the chances?
Monday, Oct. 1
Williams, Petitgout done for season
Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden just announced that running back Carnell Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout will have season ending surgery this week.
Williams injured his right knee in the first quarter of Sunday's win over Carolina. The injury was devastating enough for Williams to be carted off the field. Published reports had Williams tearing the patella tendon in his knee.
Petitgout injured his knee in the second quarter, as a Carolina player fell into the knee. Petitgout walked off under his own power, but it now appears there's enough damage to keep him out this season. His injury was described as a knee sprain during Sunday's broadcast, but it's obviously more severe.
Gruden did not go into specifics with either injury.
Check the site later today and Tuesday for more in-depth information on how these injuries will affect the team.
If there's a dark cloud now it's injuries to Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout, though I think we'll see Petitgout again this season. Williams, not so sure.
Tuesday, Oct. 2
The fallout from Caddy and Petitgout
Sorry for the failure to blog yesterday. Things got busy, as I'm sure you noticed.
Later today I'll be publishing an article on what we could possibly expect from a Bucs team without Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout. But in the interest of teasing you so you'll read the premium piece, I actually don't think the situation is quite as dire as one might expect.
I will say this — I think the injury to Petitgout could be more damaging to the Bucs than the injury to Williams. Petitgout, like Jeff Garcia, had proved to be a stabilizing force on this offense. The line looked to Petitgout for advice. Jeremy Trueblood told me on Monday that Petitgout has every pass rusher's moves memorized. The Bucs will miss that knowledge on the field, though he'll be able to impart it in the locker room and meeting room.
And as we've seen the past two weeks the Bucs racked up 182 and 183 rushing yards with Williams, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham back there, so it had more to do with the guys up front than the guys behind Garcia.
One rumor to report. The Bucs reportedly (via ESPN) contacted former Patriots back Corey Dillon even before Sunday's game ended, but Dillon's agent told them he wasn't interested. Also, Ricky Williams applied for reinstatement today. Given how the David Boston situation blew up in their faces, I can't see general manager Bruce Allen taking another chance on a guy like Williams, who has four violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy under his belt. It would cost a draft pick, since Williams is still under contract with the Dolphins, and that's something the Bucs have in short supply for 2008.
Big week ahead
This is a weird convergence of news this week, beginning with the injuries to Williams and Petitgout. But you also have the Colts and former Bucs coach Tony Dungy on the brain this week — Gruden's already bracing for all the questions about the 2003 game and Dungy. It'll be one of those weird weeks where Gruden has little to say about just about everything. There is also the return of cornerback Torrie Cox from his four-game suspension from his violation of the league's substance abuse policy. I saw him in the locker room on Monday. And, naturally, there are going to be rumors about the Bucs trying to acquire a veteran back to bolster that unit.
It's going to be one weird week.
Wednesday, Oct. 3
It's already an interesting week
On Monday, we found out that Carnell Williams and Luke Petitgout will be out for the season.
On Tuesday we found out— well, not found out, but heard there were rumors floating about — that the Buccaneers might be interested in Vikings Mewelde Moore, Chester Taylor and Bryant McKinnie. So far, they are unfounded.
So what happens today? Who knows.
Today the most popular people in the Buccaneers locker room will be Donald Penn, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham. Those are the replacements for Williams and Petitgout. The most popular person by phone will be Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who will speak to the Tampa media at noon today. Sadly, I'll miss Peyton Manning, who speaks at 11:40 a.m. Of course, I'll catch him every 20 minutes during every TV program I'll watch this football season, so it's not like I'm missing much.
And then, of course, there Jon Gruden after practice, which is sure to be interesting. He's already grating about questions about the Colts game in 2003 and Dungy.
It's going to be one of those fun weeks where all the news seems a little more exciting — especially if the Bucs are able to pull something off trade-wise.
But don't expect anything as mind-blowing as McKinney and Taylor for, say, Michael Clayton. The wide receiver. Not the character George Clooney is playing in the new movie of the same name.
Thursday, Oct. 4
Searching for RB depth?
Tampa Bay's search to shore up its running back depth took a turn to the waiver wire on Tuesday as a league source reported that the Buccaneers had three running backs in for a tryout — Zach Crockett, Patrick Pass and Derrick Wimbush. All three have experience in the NFL, though none of them have ever been featured backs.
Crockett has experience with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden from their days in Oakland, so he would be a natural fit. The Raiders released the 13-year veteran after the preseason. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Crockett is a short-yardage specialist with 36 career touchdowns.
Pass is a seven-year veteran, all with the New England Patriots, whom the Patriots released after the 2006 season. He gained just 526 career yards and scored just three touchdowns during his time with the Patriots.
Wimbush played two seasons with Jacksonville (2005-06) and managed just four carries for 15 yards. He played mostly on special teams for the Jaguars.
Crockett would be the most natural choice, given his experience with Gruden's offensive scheme and his ability to score near the goal line, a role now vacant by the season-ending injuries to both Mike Alstott and Carnell Williams. Crockett is talented enough to give the Bucs some insurance should something happen to Michael Pittman or Earnest Graham. He'll also come cheap — the veteran minimum for a 13-year vet is less than $1 million.
However, with the promotion and signing of Kenneth Darby to the practice squad on Wednesday, the Buccaneers may not feel the need to sign a veteran back at this time. Perhaps they're comfortable with Darby, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham entering Sunday's game. Or maybe the tryouts could be research for later in the season if the running game sags.
Trouble in Indy
The Colts injury report looked like a joke, something Bill Belichick might have done last year.
But it was the reality. The Colts had 10 different players not practice on Wednesday — RB Joseph Addai (chest), WR Roy Hall (shoulder), WR Marvin Harrison (knee), LB Freddy Keiaho (concussion), LB Rob Morris (knee), DB T.J. Rushing (hamstring), S Bob Sanders (chest), LB Clint Session (hamstring), T Tony Ugoh (ankle) and TE Ben Utecht (concussion).
Naturally, Harrison, Addai, Morris, Sanders and Ugoh are the biggest concerns. Indy head coach Tony Dungy didn't sound that confident about Harrison, saying the earliest he might practice is the end of the week.
Morris is done for the season. The Colts will put him on IR soon after knee surgery.
I think the Colts could survive Harrison's absence for a week. Addai's injury is a little troubling because it's a shoulder, but his backup played well in his place. Kenton Keith had 80 yards rushing.
Losing Sanders could be the pits for the Colts. With Sanders the Colts stop the run, on average, about 40 yards better than when he isn't in the lineup. The Colts, with Sanders this year, are giving up only 95.7 yards per game on the ground, their best total since Sanders became a starter in 2005. Those numbers are courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
And don't expect Dungy to sacrifice anyone's season just to win this game. He's too smart for that. This game is way down in the pecking order of determining Indy's season. It's a non-division, non-conference game that won't influence any postseason tiebreakers. Plus, the Colts have a bye week after this game, so Dungy knows that some of his players can get two weeks of rest out of this and be fresh for the end of the month, when they play the Patriots.
All of this is a recipe for a steal in my opinion. I'm not sure I'm picking the Bucs just yet. With Luke Petitgout and Carnell Williams out, they aren't exactly the pictures of health. But the Bucs chances get better the more frontline starters sit this one out for the Colts.
Friday, Oct. 5
Tampa feeling conflict of Dungy-Gruden meeting
Tampa Jesuit swimmer Vinny Donnelly is a perfect example of the conflicted emotions in Tampa Bay this weekend.
The lifelong Buccaneers fan, the kid with the parents who have season-ticket holders for years, wore a Colts cap to practice on Monday.
The Colts and Buccaneers play on Sunday and Donnelly still isn't sure who he's going to root for. His family's relationship with Colts head coach — and former Bucs coach — Tony Dungy makes it difficult to decide.
He's not alone.
Throughout Tampa this week the emotions are hard to ignore. Both Dungy and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden are polarizing figures in this city — one for his class and dignity, the other for bringing a championship to Tampa Bay.
At least the chatter is a bit muted, since their last meeting was in 2003 and Dungy now has a Lombardi Trophy of his own. Plus, the Bucs, at 3-1, are playing well, keeping critics from comparing Gruden's regime to Dungy's. Imagine if the Bucs were 0-4 entering this game. Gruden's brow would be in full furrow.
"This game will be decided by the Colts and the Buccaneers players, and coach Dungy and I will do our best to have them ready," Gruden said.
Thanks to his team's start, Gruden no longer has to answer questions about his job security. Not that his job is secure, necessarily. But fans and media are paying more attention to the win-loss record and Carnell Williams' knee than Gruden's contract.
"I've been lucky to drive down the freeway and not have my hat sideways," Gruden said.
I don't know what he means either.
Dungy is still a powerful force in Tampa Bay. He still has a home here. The people still love him here. His son died here, and his grace and quiet strength during that tragedy caused an outpouring locally more significant than a Super Bowl celebration.
He admitted Wednesday that games like this are more emotional. He still has ties to this Buccaneers team, to this community and Dungy doesn't run from that. He still keeps his eye on Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whom Dungy played against when Kiffin was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska.
"To see the impact they've had on the team and the city, it makes you proud," Dungy said.
Linebacker Cato June is getting a taste of Gruden's world after playing for Dungy in Indianapolis for five years. Like many former Bucs and Colts that played under Dungy, it's the coach's quiet confidence that draws players to him.
"His devotion to life has been great," June said. "Especially in this business, it is hard to see a man of his character stand up and live his life the way he does. As a man, you have to look at that and say, man I want to someday be like that."
Gruden called Dungy a "legend" on Monday, though Gruden's accomplishments are quite similar to Dungy's. So does that make Gruden a legend, too?
By Gruden's definition, yes. The difference? Gruden may never be as fully connected to the Tampa community as Dungy.
And there's the conflict.