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Offensive line's on an upswing

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 4, 2002

TAMPA -- The offensive line has gotten its share of criticism this season for not opening holes for the running backs and not protecting quarterback Brad Johnson.

But in the past two weeks, in 48-21 and 22-10 wins over the Saints and the Ravens, the line has been outstanding.

The Bucs have rushed for 290 yards in that stretch and have not given up a sack.

"I think we've been committed to the run and that has made a difference overall," second-year guard Cosey Coleman said. "Look, in the last game when you look at the stats, the running game wasn't that good to start with, but we stuck with it and ground it out. That's what it takes."

Arguably, the offensive line had its worst day against the Steelers when it gave up 10 sacks. That, Coleman said, isn't likely to happen again.

"As an offensive line, we take pride in what we do," he said. "When we look back on those situations, whether it wasn't our fault or it was our fault, it reflects on the offensive line."

The coaching staff has made minor adjustments to help eliminate long drops for Johnson. In recent weeks the Bucs have reduced the number of seven-step drops and have called plays for quicker throws.

"I think we've been working together and sticking together," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "The rush the last two weeks, with the Saints and Baltimore, as an offense we had to take stock in who was there. We knew we had to be careful how long we hold the ball. We knew if we held the ball long against New Orleans or the Ravens, we were going to get hit. So, we probably game-planned a little better to help the front some more."

GETTING A LEG UP: Martin Gramatica, who missed Sunday's game against the Ravens with a strained right hamstring, kicked in miserable conditions Thursday with positive results.

The third-year player kicked 15 field goals and missed "a few" but felt no discomfort.

"It felt great, no twinge, no pain, nothing," he said. "I would love to kick on Sunday ... and think it'll be good to get back in rhythm. But that's something up to the coaches."

Gramatica said he understands why the coaches would want him to rest another week, and said that even if he is held out he will get significant practice next week and in pregame at Veteran's Stadium. He did not attempt any kickoffs. "You really have to bang it and it wasn't worth risking it," he said.

WEATHER OR NOT: Trust coach Tony Dungy to find divine intervention as an explanation for the cold and rainy weather Thursday. The team practiced outdoors in less than favorable conditions, but the bad weather, Dungy said, could be part of a bigger scheme.

"God is trying to get us ready for the weather in Philadelphia next week," Dungy said, joking. "It was good. You have to take it the way it comes and it probably is good for us. ... Some guys wanted to know what the temperature (on the field at One Buc Place) was."

In the two-hour practice that started at 2 p.m., it was 47 degrees and raining.

"It wasn't nice out there," Gramatica said.

INJURY UPDATE: Defensive end Marcus Jones (right shoulder sprain) will not play Sunday, and the possibility that running back Warrick Dunn will play gets slimmer each day.

"(Warrick's) not definitely (out), but we're leaning that way," Dungy said.

Gramatica, cornerback Ronde Barber (left hamstring), linebacker Jamie Duncan (left ankle sprain), receiver Keyshawn Johnson (left ankle sprain), safety John Lynch (right shoulder sprain), tight end Dave Moore (left thigh contusion), receiver Frank Murphy (left ankle sprain) and defensive tackle Warren Sapp (left shoulder strain) are questionable.

Mike Alstott (right thumb sprain), Coleman (right ankle sprain), Brad Johnson (right knee sprain), receiver Reidel Anthony (right hamstring strain), linebacker Derrick Brooks (left calf strain), center Jeff Christy (right knee strain) and guard Randall McDaniel (right elbow sprain) are probable.

Dungy said former starting quarterback Shaun King will see considerable snaps. "Brad will start but at some point we would like to get Shaun some significant playing time, maybe a half, maybe more," Dungy said. "We want him to play. We definitely want him to get some snaps, get some game work."

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