Falloff by the running game is a concern for Gruden
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002
LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Whether by design or not, the Bucs passing game came to life Friday night in a 20-0 win against the Jaguars. But it seems the running game, the same running game that ground up 182 yards against the Dolphins Monday, barely had a pulse.
While coach Jon Gruden isn't throwing away the victory or the growing confidence his team is feeling about the offense, the recent running effort, particularly on first down, didn't sit well.
"It all goes back to being able to run the ball," he said. "(Friday) night was unsatisfactory to say the least. We've got to keep ourselves in second down and 6, or second down and 7, we had too many second and 9s and 10s."
The Bucs had 21 carries and finished with 35 yards (1.7-yard average), a paltry performance whether lead running backs Michael Pittman (ankle) and Mike Alstott (concussion) were 100 percent or not.
Gruden said he understood some of the factors involved.
"We got a lot of eight-men fronts, they blitzed us frequently last night and honestly we didn't block some of the plays extremely well either," he said. "We have to do a much better job in the running game from right tackle to left tackle, from split end to flanker.
"We have to do a better job of finishing blocks and getting to people physically and moving the line of scrimmage. ... All in all we were not satisfied at all with our first-down run ratio in terms of what we gained."
INTRODUCING MR. BROWN: Veteran left tackle Lomas Brown, who played little in the opener, saw considerable time with the first unit, subbing for Roman Oben. Oben remains the starter, but the Bucs are pleased with Brown's progress and acclimation to a new system.
"He's working himself back into shape," Gruden said. "I think he played 27 plays officially last night and he played pretty darned good. He and Roman had pretty solid games at left tackle. There's still some fine points of the system that they need to clean up but we were really pleased with Lomas last night. He's worked himself into shape and is getting himself game ready."
POSITIVE NEWS FOR SAPP: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp missed the trip to Jacksonville so he could nurse the swelling in his left knee. The rest was worthwhile. Gruden said Sapp has no structural damage and should return to practice this week.
"Looks like he's getting better," Gruden said. "The swelling has gone down a little bit and we expect him to return to practice and be ready to go on Saturday."
TIGHT END PRODUCTION: An obvious development from Friday was the pronounced role tight ends Ken Dilger and Marco Battaglia are likely to have. Both figured prominently in two tight-end sets and both produced key catches in the first quarter. Dilger had a diving 25-yard reception down the middle and Battaglia had two receptions for 36 yards.
"We think they're going to be a big part of it," Gruden said. "Not only did they catch (three) balls last night and a couple of them for big gains, but we were in a lot of two tight-end sets last night to assist in pass protection. Some of our play-action passes are set up around those guys.
"They're going to be a big part of every week's game plan and sometimes they'll show up more as receivers. (Friday) night was a good indication of that."
BIGGEST COMPETITION: With the first round of cuts scheduled for after Saturday's Redskins game, the subject of roster spots is being closely monitored. There are interesting battles shaping up.
At defensive back, Gruden said, the Bucs may be overloaded. Starters Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber at cornerback and Dexter Jackson and John Lynch at safety appear set, but the positioning of their backups is not.
"It's very competitive in the secondary," Gruden said. "The way (rookie safety) Jermaine Phillips is picking it up and playing has been very impressive and (second-year safety) John Howell has come in here and played well, and (third-year safety) David Gibson has had a solid camp. ... The corner position is going to be very competitive as well. Corey Ivy (and rookie Tim Wansley) have come in and stepped it up and played well. Those are real competitive situations."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I feel like I'm about 89 today." -- Gruden on his thoughts about turning 39 Saturday.
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