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Smith hopes to heal quickly

ROGER MILLS
Published September 14, 2004

TAMPA - The loss of receiver Joey Galloway was a crushing blow to the offense, but the defense appears to have its own challenge.

Starting safety Dwight Smith has a bruised left rib and is questionable for Sunday's home opener against the Seahawks.

The Bucs, however, are holding out hope.

"We are optimistic he will play," coach Jon Gruden said Monday.

Should Smith not be ready, the team could turn to fourth-year pro John Howell or rookie Will Allen.

"Both those guys are cross-trained to play free and strong safety, and we'll hope Dwight makes a quick recovery and is ready to go (against) Seattle," Gruden said.

DEFENSIVE SPARK PLUG: Once the defense settled down, the line began asserting itself, led by hard-hitting plays from tackle Ellis Wyms.

Wyms, in his fourth season, was very busy and leveled a couple of solid hits on Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell.

"He made some big plays in key situations and he was a disruptive force in there on three or four plays," Gruden said.

Wyms, who has been making a strong argument for increased playing time since the offseason workouts, said he was just trying to make an impact: "I tried to play (on every snap). They put me inside to make some plays and be active."

MURPHY'S LAW: Frank Murphy, who opened the 2004 season with a bang returning kickoffs, could see some time at receiver. He said he has no preference as to playing deep or over the middle.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'm fine with it," Murphy said. "It's clearing it out for Tim ( Brown), or ( Bill) Schroeder or ( Mike) Clayton to come underneath, that's fine with me. I just want to help us get some W's."

Galloway was listed at the top of the depth chart for punt returns. The job now will go to Schroeder. But considering Schroeder struggled Sunday (five returns for 21 yards), Murphy said he wouldn't be surprised if he gets some work with the punt return team.

"I haven't been working on it because we have so many punt returners," Murphy said. "But I'm pretty sure I'm going to start working on it now."

LEADERSHIP ROLE: Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who did not have a great day on the stat sheet, wasn't going to let a season-opening loss dismantle the confidence of his team. Brooks apparently shared some words of encouragement after the game.

"I just came in the locker room and told them to keep their heads up," Brooks said. "We've been 0-1 and won a Super Bowl. Don't let this get you down. It will motivate you to come in (Monday) and start working on defending your own home turf. This was a big game, but there's a bigger one coming this week."

While no one was jumping for joy, there seemed to be a prevailing message that the team has been tested before.

"One game will not make or break us," he said. "If it was easy, I wouldn't want it. There's no better way to test your character than to be down."

NOT FINISHING THE JOB: Overall, Sunday was a splendid day for the defense, which kept the team in the game most of the way and scored the Bucs only touchdown. But in addition to the 64-yard touchdown run by Clinton Portis, there was a letdown late in the fourth quarter. With the team within a touchdown, the Bucs failed to get the ball back for the offense.

"It stings a little bit that we couldn't get the stop at that point of the game because that's when we were needed," linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "We were playing one of our stop defenses and they got us a little bit."

Trailing 13-10 with 5:03 left, the Bucs could not halt a 10-play, 51-yard drive that erased 4:47 and ended with a 34-yard field goal.

"There are always positives you try to take out of it," Smith said. "But when our team needed us down the stretch to get a stop to get the ball back, we didn't do it. And that's the thing we think about, what happened last."

Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said: "In every game, there are five to 10 plays that make a difference and we didn't make enough of them. I've said all along, it comes down to making plays. It's not about schemes and any of that stuff. We didn't make plays."

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