Stecker, Dilger rare bright spots
Running back, tight end shine with several big first-half gains.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Bucs quarterback Rob Johnson throws a pass in the second quarter.
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002
TAMPA -- It was only the preseason, but when Aaron Stecker found out Friday night he would be starting at running back against Washington on Saturday, he got the same old butterflies.
"Coach (Jon) Gruden told me I was starting at our meeting, and I was pumped up about that," said Stecker, who hadn't started since playing in NFL Europe in 2000. "I called my wife, told my mom, even got a little nervous. It felt good that he had a lot of confidence in me to allow me to start, and he wouldn't throw me out there if he didn't think I could do a good job."
On a night when the Bucs offense stumbled and struggled to score, Tampa Bay got first-half sparks from Stecker and tight end Ken Dilger, who each had more than 50 yards before halftime in the Bucs' 40-10 loss to the Redskins.
Stecker got a rare opportunity to start with running back Michael Pittman out with sprained right ankle. The third-year pro responded with some of the Bucs' biggest plays, gaining 51 of Tampa Bay's 156 first-half yards.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back gained first downs on back-to-back plays to set up the Bucs touchdown, running for 14 yards and picking up 12 on a pass from Brad Johnson.
"I'm just out here trying to do some things," said Stecker, who had five carries for 33 yards by halftime. "I'm trying to take advantage of the opportunity and show I can play as well."
Stecker has been limited to a reserve role in his first two seasons, totaling 103 rushing yards. That's likely to continue with the signing of Pittman, but Stecker said he'll be happy to do as much as he can as a backup to Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott.
"I know right now it's the Mike & Mike show, and I'm just trying to get in there and show them what I can do," Stecker said.
Dilger caught three first-half passes for a game-high 59 yards, most on a 31-yard screen pass that Dilger took down the right sideline. Johnson dumped off a pass to his open tight end just as he was leveled by blitzing linebacker LaVar Arrington, and Dilger followed blockers across midfield to open the Bucs touchdown drive.
"I kind of knew LaVar was going to be coming on that particular play, but it ended up being a big play for us," said Johnson, whose short pass ended up as the Bucs' longest play from scrimmage. "I got the ball off and Ken made a great run after the catch. He's a proven player in this league, and he catches the ball extremely well. I think his presence and his knack of knowing where to go is something he really brings to the table for our offense. He's going to make a lot of big plays for us this year."
The free-agent acquisition from Indianapolis could give Tampa Bay more big-play ability than it has had from its tight ends; he also had the Bucs' second-longest play Saturday, an 18-yard pass on third and 2. Dilger's 31-yard play was longer than any of the 39 receptions Bucs tight ends had last season.
For both players, the personal success was offset by an overall poor performance, with the Bucs committing seven turnovers and giving up the fourth-most points in the team's preseason history.
"You have seven turnovers, you don't have a chance to win," Stecker said. "Any time you're out there and playing in a way that you know your offense is better than what you're doing, it's frustrating."
Dilger admitted the offensive line continues to be a problem, and though he had a strong night as a receiver, he shared in the blame for poor protection.
"It's just one of those games," Dilger said. "We knew they wanted to blitz us, and pass protection is probably our weakest link. I think in the next couple of weeks we'll get things corrected and we'll come out firing."
Back to the Bucs
Bucs'It was awful'
DE Jones felled by sprained knee
Offensive line crumbles as drives fall apart
Stecker, Dilger rare bright spots
Spurrier passes, passes on hype
'Skins expose defense's flaws
RaysRays continue predictable inconsistency
Baldelli could see bigs, barring strike
Flaherty takes flak for good of the team
Inches finally favor 'Noles
Eddie Robinson Classic may not continue
Huskers quarterback has promising debut
Around the State
Sparks sweep into championship series
Gordon bumps way to a win
Junqueira's bid for pole interrupted by squirrel
Pontiac boys fighting among selves already
Hewitt impresses, but it hasn't all been good
Dungy is unnerved by Colts' scoring ills. Sound familiar?
Owners blast union counteroffer
End will be merciful for Brewers
Hall of Famer Wilhelm dies
Sun shines in Dodgers' favor
Angels' Appier shuts out pain along with Red Sox
Trade to Marlins has ex-Eagle optimistic
Little League World Series
Kentucky, Japan reach final behind pitching
SportsCenter hits milestone
Prime ESPN promos
ESPN: A Closer Look
Highs & lows
Daily fishing report
Letters: Strike talk disgusts MLB fans