Press Pass: Art Valero

In this edition of "Press Pass," Bucs running backs coach Art Valero talks about the Bucs' lack of rushing touchdowns the past four games, Earnest Graham's progress and his respect for rookie guard Arron Sears.

Coach, the first four games this season the offense scored seven rushing touchdowns. Last week, Michael Bennett's rushing touchdown was the first in four games. Is that just a product of the injuries to Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman?

I think it's really more a product of the way teams have played us the past few weeks. We coulda had one, shoulda had one (rushing touchdown) in Detroit. We just didn't capitalize on it. Rushing touchdowns from 20 yards out, five yards out, two yards out — it doesn't matter. We can score like Joey (Galloway) did (last week) from a long way away. Hey, it's a slow death or a fast death, however you want to do it. As long as we put points on the board, we're satisfied.

Has the difficulty of the run defenses the past few games played into that, too? I think Indy, Tennessee and Jacksonville were all in the Top 10 or 12 in the league at the time you played them?

Yes. Tennessee is always up there. They're a great defense. So is Jacksonville. Detroit, well, we had some chances against them and moved the football well the course of the whole game. We just shot ourselves in the foot and never gave ourselves a chance to run it in. So yeah anybody in this league is going to be tough defensively, especially when you get inside the 20. The key thing we have to do is make plays to get down there in the red zone and once we do that we'll have more than enough opportunities to make plays and score touchdowns.

Is there a psychological aspect to getting that close to the goal line and scoring on a defense? An impact on the defense, I mean? The defense is gearing up to stop the run when you get that close to the goal line.

No, that's what you do. That's our philosophy. If we get inside the five-yard line, running the ball is how we make our money. We want to run the ball and we don't want to have to throw the ball. But, if they're going to pack so many people in the box and make it difficult, then play action passes are always great. It's game-planning, circumstance, see how our matchups end up and see the style of defense they're playing and then go from there.

At this point can you assess Earnest Graham's progress as a starter?

I tell you what. What has he had — three starts? You know, at Detroit he had a great game. He had more productive yards than any back has had around here in a while, in terms of catches and rushes. Certainly, last week, he had another stellar day. We just had some missed opportunities. So, I don't see a drop (in production). What we do in our room is say, ‘It doesn't matter (who runs the ball).' We've felt that way from Day 1. We've felt that with (Mike) Alstott, Lac (Cadillac Williams), with (Michael) Pittman, with Earnest and with B.J. Askew that we had five capable guys that can carry the football. Whether it's preseason or regular season, it doesn't change in our room, whether it's blitz pickups, or it's running the ball or it's catching the ball. We have to do it all. We have to have a group of guys that are capable of doing anything and everything. (We talk about it) just because there is only one ball and only two of you get to play at a time, and sometimes one. You have to go play. This is your opportunity to go play. And Earnest, he he hasn't exceeded my expectations of him, but he's broadened everyone in the community's eyes because they're only used to seeing him in August and in the fourth quarter. But he's certainly been capable of it and he's played pretty well.

Did you have an idea he could do this kind of thing? It's one thing to think he's capable, but it's another to see them go out and do it in the regular season?

He wasn't Mr. Florida in high school for nothing. He didn't play well at Florida for nothing. He certainly put his time in and learned the system and done all the things necessary. Until you see him against great opponents, you don't know. We've seen him in spots against good opponents and he's always been productive. Again, you have a Michael Pittman and a Carnell Williams and a Mike Alstott and only one football. The odd man out happened to be Earnest. Well now it's his time, and (I've told him) enjoy your time.

What about the offensive line? It seems like they're doing well in pass protection, but their run blocking could improve a little bit. What do you think about the job they're doing up front?

In our room we feel very, very good about that group up front. I think from the outside you look at it like, you have a first-year player in Donald Penn (at left tackle), you have a first-year player in Arron Sears (at left guard), you have a second-year player in Davin Joseph (at right guard) and you have a second-year player in Jeremy Trueblood (at right tackle). So certainly there are going to be some growing pains. But the things that you don't see, it's pretty convincing that it's a pretty awesome group.

What don't we see?

In terms of the communication and the power in which they play, with (center) John Wade conducting everything in the middle it's been great. They've seen some really unorthodox looks lately, so maybe it's taken a snap to adjust, or they've been just a hair late (on a play). But they're playing fast and with great effort and that's all you ask for. Take Arron Sears. You get (Carolina's) Kris Jenkins one week. Then you get (Tennessee's) Albert Haynesworth. Then it's (Jacksonville's John) Henderson and (Marcus) Stroud. Then you get (Detroit's) Shaun Rogers. Those are all pretty good football players. That young man has held his own and done a very good job. Instead of the Earnest Graham story, that's the story everyone should be focusing on. They should do a story on the people that he's faced and the way he's played. Those are some Pro Bowl-quality guys. He goes up against all of these great guys and he never says a word. He's kind of like Earnest in that way. He doesn't say anything.

But you said he's powerful?

Oh, he's a powerful man, now. But he's still a baby. A great example is when we went to Carolina. Kris Jenkins got into his face and tried to intimidate him before the game. He wasn't going to have any bit of that. He went out and did his job. He doesn't know to be intimidated. He just goes out and plays. He's played in front of 110,000 people every week (at Tennessee). Sixty-five (thousand's) not going to threaten him. It's not the crowd that's going to get him out of the game. The opponent might. But he's a confident young man who's getting better every week. Bill Muir has done a great job of putting those people together, hand-picking them and for the first time since I've been here — I know for the first time since I've been the running backs coach — we feel really good about the group that we have up front. Before, we never knew (who was going to be up front). Now you say hey, let's go baby and let's see what you can do. It could end up being like the Carolina game. It could end up being like the Detroit game, where you have a lot of yards throwing. We've outnumbered our opponents in every game. It's the immature, the dumb things, that kill us. It's turning the ball over, jumping offsides, doing immature things. We eliminate those things I like our chances.

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