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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Offensive line still a sore spot
Despite the changes, the quarterbacks have been sacked 27 times and absorbed a pounding.
By RICK STROUD
Published November 21, 2004
TAMPA - Quarterback Brian Griese was the final player out of the showers at the Georgia Dome last weekend and walked like a man three times his age. His right shoulder was red from the bag of ice that had been taped to it and dark welts were beginning to form on his arms.
The pass protection from the offensive line had been invisible and Griese was sacked seven times.
He was lucky to escape with just a right shoulder strain and bruises.
"We had some breakdowns in communications a couple times and a couple times we just got beat," coach Jon Gruden said. "Seven sacks is not that good. Yeah, we've got to do a lot better and our players know that."
That's precisely what general manager Bruce Allen said in January after watching tape of each Bucs game from the 2003 season when Brad Johnson was the victim of similar poundings.
"We've got to do a better job of protecting our quarterback," Allen said at the time.
Allen then used free agency to piece together four new starters on a rebuilt offensive line that had center John Wade as its only holdover.
Yet the offensive line remains a weakness. After nine games, Tampa Bay has allowed 27 sacks - four more than all of 2003. And they are paving the way for only 3.7 yards per rushing attempt.
Injuries haven't helped. Wade suffered a dislocated knee on the first play against Kansas City Nov. 7 and was placed on injured reserve. Second-year pro Sean Mahan, a converted guard who never had started a game in the NFL, is struggling to grasp the complex protection schemes in Gruden's offense. But older players are at fault, too.
"I think you do a disservice if you were going to say, singularly, that the problems that we had last week were because of him, because they certainly weren't," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "Did he have his errors along with others? Yes. But our dismal performance last week was not on him and I make that very clear."
Carolina free agent Todd Steussie, whom Allen paid $4-million to this season, lost his starting right tackle job to Kenyatta Walker after allowing a sack Oct. 10 at New Orleans that knocked quarterback Chris Simms out of the lineup for five weeks with a left shoulder bruise. The play of guard Matt Stinchcomb, a former first-round pick by the Raiders, has been spotty. And left tackle Derrick Deese, who had two surgeries on his chronically injured left foot before training camp, is trying to fight through the problem again this season.
An assortment of injuries prevented the five starters on the offensive line from playing together during the preseason. The lack of continuity contributed to the Bucs' 0-4 start.
Replacing Steussie with Walker helped. The Bucs pulled out a win over New Orleans after Steussie was benched, and won two of Griese's first three starts.
"I'd say to you as somewhat of an overview, in training camp, we had some missing parts and I don't think it was because we had new mixes or any injuries," Muir said. "I just think earlier in the year we were a little slower than I thought to put it together. And I have felt, obviously up until last week, we had made steady, maybe gradual and sometimes accelerated progress, and I thought, yes, we're moving in the right direction.
"Would I like it to be further along than it is? That's just human nature. But I'm encouraged by the direction we're moving. Having said that, after last week, I'd like to see how we respond (today)."
It won't be easy for Griese. The 49ers defense has an injury-depleted secondary, but its front seven and blitzing schemes gave the Bucs a lot of problems in a 24-7 loss at San Francisco last season. The pressure will be immense again on Mahan to make the right calls.
"There are some guys who have played their position a long time and were also, let's say, discombobulated," Muir said. "I would simply say it's not easy. No matter how much you practice, when you take it to the field under game conditions with the pressure of the clock, real football, it's tougher. With each (game), it'll get easier for him. That was probably as difficult a set of encyclopedias he could've opened up."
Certainly, the Bucs could be smarter with the money they spend on the offensive line next season. Wade's return is uncertain given the severe nature of his injury. Walker still is under contract, but neither Deese nor Steussie is a long-term solution.
"We're always going to make an effort to improve the offensive line, no matter how good we are," Gruden said. "We added some free agents, we're going to add some draft picks this year, we'll add some more players until we get it to the way we want to do it."
Otherwise, Griese may as well hit the showers early.
"Oh, yeah, you never want to see your quarterback get hit at all, any time," Mahan said. "It was a very difficult film to watch. Hopefully, we'll learn from it and not make those mistakes again."