Beset by key player injuries, the Bucs' rebuilt line is sloppy.
By ROGER MILLS
Published August 21, 2004
JACKSONVILLE - If we're to hold true the NFL adage that it starts and ends with the offensive line, then the Bucs better get things right or in the very least get some bodies healthy.
True, Tampa Bay's rebuilt offensive line has been squeezed by recent injuries and has not had the time needed to mesh.
But Friday night's rocky start against the Jaguars seemed a step back from a much more solid performance in the preseason opener.
"There's no excuses," center John Wade said. "We just didn't play well. We've been in training camp long enough. It's not like we just met last night and talked about this stuff. We didn't play well, there's no magic solution."
It may not have been all the line's fault, but from the game's first play the Bucs biggest problem last season seemed to be back.
And it set a tone for most of the first half and the rest of a 14-6 loss at Alltel Stadium.
On first down, before all the fans had taken their seat from the singing of the national anthem, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson dropped back and was hammered by Jaguars left defensive end Paul Spicer.
Spicer rushed right tackle Todd Steussie, discarded a chip block from Michael Pittman, and got to Johnson just as he was throwing. The play was not a sack because Johnson was in the act of throwing, but the ball landed in the hands of John Henderson for the interception.
"What happened there was the right tackle over-set and the defensive end came inside and he and the back were unable to stop the penetration," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "Brad got hurt and as a result, we had a negative play."
There was something else disturbing for the Bucs.
When general manager Bruce Allen came on board in the offseason he pledged that Johnson would not be beat up as often as he was last season. But one play into the game, Johnson was on his back.
"You'd like to start fast and that definitely wasn't a fast start," Wade said. "We didn't accomplish what we came to do. You'd like to have something good happen and obviously, that's not the way we wanted to start the game."
It was a particularly rough start for Steussie, an indication the move to right tackle isn't so automatic.
Steussie, who is entering his 11th season, spent the first 10 on the left side. He had been making a smooth transition to the right side during training camp. After the opening play mishap, Steussie compounded the issue on the Bucs next series with a personal foul (15-yard face mask penalty), which negated a 20-yard completion from Johnson to Joey Galloway.
The Bucs would have had the ball on the Jaguars 35, but instead were backed up to their 30. They punted two plays later.
"We've still got some guys injured on the offensive line," Johnson said. "We've had the whole spring together, the whole offseason together. The goal is to be healthy and sharp when the season starts. Obviously, it wasn't a good night for that."
Truth is, starting left tackle Derrick Deese is recovering from bone spurs in his foot, starting left guard Matt O'Dwyer is out indefinitely with a pectoral tear and his backup Jenkins has an ankle injury.
As for Cosey Coleman, the other left guard? He's back months since having stomach surgery.
Get the picture?
"You'll get no sympathy cards in the NFL because you've got someone hurt," Muir said.
"We're shuffling the deck with veterans. It's not like it's rookies, it's not like it's inexperienced players," he added. "Obviously, you'd prefer no one would be hurt but injuries are a factor in the NFL and you have to overcome that if you're going to be a good football team."