Defense has Bucs up at half
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You must agree that Jon Gruden has had a profound impact on the Bucs this season.
You knew it wouldn't be the same old story. No sir. This isn't the same Tampa Bay team you grew up watching.
The defense is better.
When Gruden will make a noticeable difference for the Bucs offense -- which ranks 24th in the NFL -- remains to be seen.
But for now, Tampa Bay's D is No. 1.
On the other hand, at least Gruden has done enough to break the string of four consecutive 3-4 starts.
* * *
Here, then is a report as the Bucs reach halftime of the 2002 season.
PLAYER WHO SOLD HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL: Linebacker Derrick Brooks is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Just when you didn't think it was possible for Brooks to elevate his game, he makes the league look like Pop Warner by returning four turnovers for touchdowns in the first seven games, just one shy of the NFL record held by Ken Houston since 1971, and the most in one season by a linebacker.
Gruden challenged the Bucs defense to score nine touchdowns this season. Brooks must have thought he was speaking to him personally.
MOST IMPROVED: Cornerback Brian Kelly has taken a lot of heat for his lack of ball skills and proclivity for giving up the big play (See Proehl, Ricky).
But this season, Kelly has been more aggressive in coverage and has two interceptions after being shut out in 2001. Perhaps more impressive, he is second on the team behind Ronde Barber with 13 passes defensed.
THE WEAKEST LINK: It has to be the offensive line, but give it a break. Left tackle Roman Oben is coming off knee surgery, left guard Kerry Jenkins is playing with a broken fibula, right guard Cosey Coleman missed all of preseason with a torn meniscus and right tackle Kenyatta Walker needs company in the doghouse.
As Coleman and Walker mature at their positions, the Bucs should be better.
PINATA AWARD: Goes to quarterback Brad Johnson. He couldn't be hit more if he was stuffed with candy.
Johnson's string of 23 straight starts ends today because of two cracked ribs, which means even when he's not playing, he has no breathing room.
COMEBACK PLAYER AWARD: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp no longer is a one-armed bandit and is money in the bank. A torn rotator cuff took away his bull rush in 2001. Now he's tied for the NFL lead with seven sacks and halfway to tying Lee Roy Selmon for the team record for career sacks. Soon, he will share a spot in Canton, Ohio with him.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece. Why? Because he plays. Gruden's disdain for first-year players is not disguised. Travis Stephens has one reception this season for 6 yards and is runner-up to Nece, who plays exclusively on special teams and has 10 tackles.
Trivia: What ever happened to Marquise Walker? (Answer: He was placed on IR with a thumb injury and hasn't been seen since at One Buc Place).
NO BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: The Florida Keys must not be a popular place to visit for a quarterback.
Receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell rank 11th and 12th in the NFC in receptions. Each has just one 100-yard receiving game and they have combined for just three touchdowns.
Together, they have more than 1,300 receptions in their NFL careers, but they have combined for 59 this season.
DELAYED GRATIFICATION AWARD: To running back Michael Pittman, who was thought to be better than his career 3.5-yard rushing average. After 102 carries, Pittman is averaging -- you guessed it -- 3.5 yards per rush.
Does anybody read the back of these football cards?
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