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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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No time to let QB out of the sack
With a productive Panthers offense coming to town, the Buccaneers defense, though tops in the league, needs to put pressure on a high-octane passing game.
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published November 2, 2005
TAMPA - Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli knows what can happen the minute a quarterback is taken to the turf in a brutal sack.
He begins to grow increasingly impatient in the pocket. He gets happy feet, trying to avoid the next oncoming rusher. And he begins to lose his composure.
Marinelli has seen it time and again as the members of his unit, from Brad Culpepper to Warren Sapp to Simeon Rice, doled out punishment to quarterbacks with regularity.
But Marinelli hasn't seen enough of it this season.
"On a five- or seven-step drop, I'm looking for the hit, the pressure, the sack," Marinelli said. "Nothing less or it's not good enough. We're not there. It's not good enough."
Wait. Doesn't he know the Bucs have the No. 1 defense in the NFL? Doesn't he realize Tampa Bay's opponents are averaging 12.4 points? Surely, Marinelli is proud of both achievements. But he is dissatisfied, as are his players, with the lack of consistency in pressuring quarterbacks.
That has resulted in less-than-impressive sack numbers - 15 in seven games. The Bucs are tied with Carolina for 19th in the league, an ordinary ranking for a team that has consistently been among the most productive in sacks. Last season, the Bucs ranked third in the NFL with 45. For further perspective, consider that Tampa Bay opponents have more sacks than the Bucs (19). The Bucs have a list of concerns on offense after an inept game at San Francisco, but with the Panthers visiting Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, disrupting a proficient passing game will be critical.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme and receiver Steve Smith are coming off splendid performances against Minnesota. Delhomme completed 21 of 30 for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Smith, arguably the hottest receiver in the league, caught 11 passes for 201 yards. Delhomme has been on target, throwing 13 touchdowns. He trails only Carson Palmer (16), Donovan McNabb (15) and Brett Favre (15). For the Bucs, the surest way to limit the damage is by preventing the quarterback from setting the wheels in motion.
"We've got to get it humming," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "When you start getting after a quarterback, it's a long day."
The pending challenge comes one week after the Bucs failed to record a sack for the first time this season in their loss to the 49ers. They were without Rice, who is second among active players in career sacks. He was deactivated and sent home from San Francisco for breaking team policy.
This week, much effort will be expended trying to determine why the Bucs can't get more pressure on the quarterback. Each week, Marinelli reviews every passing situation on video, grading individual linemen. Even when the ball is released quickly, as it is on screen passes, Marinelli wants to see that his linemen were in position to record a sack, given more time.
As they continue to examine the situation, there is one theory regarding the low sack numbers. Coach Jon Gruden wonders if the emphasis placed this season on run defense has made his defensive linemen less aggressive in rushing the passer.
"You talk about defend the run, defend the run, defend the run," he said. "Sometimes that takes the edge off the pass rush. Maybe that has a little bit to do with it.
"When you're seeing a lot of runs and you're emphasizing stopping the run, sometimes you have to give up a little bit in the pass rush. You can't get real wide and let them go straight up the field and let them run a draw right down your throat."
Of course, the no-nonsense Marinelli isn't letting his players off the hook that easily.
"Every year, I teach the same run defense," he said. "I'll be very clear: We've got to do both, stop the run and get to the quarterback. It's not enough right now."
The stress placed on rush defense has paid off. The Bucs have the best run defense in the NFL. Now, if they can just get to the quarterback ...
"When you get pressure, you see him become flustered," Hovan said. "All you want to do is make him get out of his rhythm and make him pat the ball. Once he starts patting the ball, you should be good enough to get there.