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One strange challenge

Simeon Rice, usually a top pass-rusher, has just a lone sack.

Published October 16, 2004

TAMPA - When it's time to talk sacks, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice can reel off a pretty impressive string of numbers. But there is one he cannot accept.


As in, just one.

Rice, among the NFL's most prolific active pass rushers, is facing one of the most daunting obstacles of his career. He has only one sack in five games this season because he is routinely being double-teamed, held and roughed up as irritated opponents do just about anything to keep him from the quarterback.

"It is a challenge," said Rice, in his fourth season with Tampa Bay. "The execution of it is a challenge. The mental mind-set of it is a challenge; the mind-set of not getting weary. For myself to get through the challenge and answer the questions I have in my head, I have to continue to pursue with reckless abandon."

Rice had 11, 151/2 and 15 sacks the past three seasons with the Bucs, when he was named to two Pro Bowls. He has recorded double-digit sacks in six of his eight seasons and is six sacks shy of becoming the 22nd player to reach 100.

This season, those credentials aren't doing him any favors. The absence of tackle Warren Sapp in the middle of the line has freed opponents to focus on the catlike Rice. In addition to beefy left tackles, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Rice frequently is being double-teamed by tight ends or chipped in the backfield by running backs.

His only sack was against the Raiders' Kerry Collins, who already was down when Rice put a hand on him to record the 12-yard loss. After five games last season, Rice had eight sacks, including a career-high four against the Redskins. In 2001, Rice's first season with the Bucs, he had one sack in the first seven games but finished with 11.

"He takes it as a personal challenge," defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said. "I think he's enjoying it. It's a challenge he's never had to this degree and something he's good enough and talented enough and tough enough to handle."

Rice is feeling more than just extra attention from opponents this season. There is a new ferocity to the way he is being blocked, he said. Players are not just hitting him, they're clobbering him.

"This is the first year I'm getting my clock cleaned," said Rice, who feared he had a concussion one game and whose mouth was bloodied in another. "It's a different theory they're coming with. But then I look back, and I had 40 sacks or something like that in three years. So it's going to start waking the dead up a little bit. They're going to try to bury me. "But it's making me tougher. I'm only getting it because of the amount of respect that's being given. Mean Joe Greene always told me once you've shown yourself to be good, you've got to be great. That's the mentality I have to take into each game."

Sunday against the Saints, Rice impacted the game without reaching the quarterback, forcing left tackle Wayne Gandy to commit 25 yards worth of penalties, two holds and a false start.

"I know Simeon wants to play better," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "But a hold is a 10-yard penalty. It's the same as a 10-yard sack. We're happy with the way Sim's playing right now, but we all have to do better."

When Rice draws a double team, that usually leaves the rest of the line with one-on-one blocking. The defensive line has four of the Bucs' six sacks, including two by tackle Anthony McFarland and one by left end Greg Spires. Safety Jermaine Phillips and linebacker Shelton Quarles have the others. "We're going to have to step up as a unit, and that's when you'll start to see things really emerge," Rice said. "For myself, I'm going to continue to play with reckless abandon. I'm not going to look up because once you look up and you internalize too much, you make the picture harder for yourself."

Rice looks forward to Monday night's game against the Rams in which he will match up against left tackle Orlando Pace, a former No. 1 overall draft pick. The pass-happy Rams rarely alter their formations because of the opponent, leaving Rice and Pace to go one on one.

"I like that. He likes that," Rice said. "It's going to be a matchup for the ages."

Rice, whose work ethic is unsurpassed, continues to adapt his pass-rush skills to beat two blockers. Impacting a game is nice, but it's not the same as a sack.

"At the end of the day, what people understand is productivity," Rice said. "But I'm going to shoulder all I can possible shoulder. I'm going to continue to play with reckless abandon. If I can get through this challenge, as a team and as an individual, this lets me know that I'm the best who's ever done it."

[Last modified October 16, 2004, 01:01:20]

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