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Storm seeks better play from line
By FRANK PASTOR
Published February 3, 2006
It's pretty simple, really. You give up more pressures than you get, and you become a liability, Storm interim coach Dave Ewart says.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it had a long line of liabilities in a 52-34 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Other than tight end/defensive tackle Ernest Certain, most of the Storm linemen found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger in their season debut.
"It's disappointing," Ewart said. "I think every guy's pride is hurt a little bit, especially the guys that have been around here for a while because we're not really used to getting pushed around, and we kind of did."
Philadelphia sacked Shane Stafford once and forced two interceptions while stopping the Storm on 7 of 12 possessions. Stafford, pressured throughout the game, was so frustrated after the second-quarter sack he uncharacteristically tossed his helmet as he went to the bench.
Offensively, the Soul set team records for carries (16) and rushing touchdowns (four) while accumulating 50 yards. It converted 5 of 6 chances inside the red zone (inside the 5), typically the most difficult place on the field from which to score.
"At times, we got down on the goal line and they were running the ball in. And that was pretty much some of the plan, to get them down on the goal line and make them run the ball," Ewart said. "Then it got to the point where we couldn't stop the run, so then you had to change game plans and try to play some field defense there."
The line's performance was particularly disappointing because the Storm made an effort in the offseason to get bigger and more physical up front.
With Buck Gurley (6 feet 4, 300 pounds), A.J. Ricker (6-4, 295), Greg Taplin (6-4, 280), Thaddeus Bullard (6-4, 275), Aaron Hunt (6-3, 275), Kevin Dogins (6-3, 310) and Mondre Dickerson (6-4, 300) joining Certain (6-4, 285), Rod Williams (6-3, 300), Ricky Hall (6-2, 280) and Mike Lawson (6-3, 280), the size of the average Storm lineman increased 10 pounds to 287.3.
Ewart said changes are likely for tonight's game against Grand Rapids, but his options are limited because only eight linemen will be active, including fullback/linebacker Nyle Wiren (6-2, 260).
Bullard, Hunt, Dogins, Dickerson and DeMarcus Johnson (6-4, 295) are on injured reserve and won't be available until the home opener Feb.10 against Georgia.
Players attributed the line's struggles to technique and timing, which are common when players with different backgrounds and playing styles are asked to quickly form a cohesive unit.
The Storm uses more slide protection than most teams, Williams said. Gurley, more familiar with kick sets in Orlando, has had to adjust to quick sets in Tampa Bay. Taplin, a natural pass rusher, is being asked to pass block for the first time.
"It's just the little stuff, basically," Gurley said. "If you keep your head down, you can't watch the "mike" (rushing linebacker). If your hands are not up, somebody's going to run you over. It's all the little stuff. It's nothing big. It ain't like we busted any big assignments or anything like that. It's just the little stuff, and that's what we need to work on."
Philadelphia was a good litmus test. Newly signed nose guard Ernest Allen and edge rusher E.J. Burt joined defensive end Dwayne Missouri to form one of the league's most talented fronts.
"By far, it's one of the best lines I've seen across the board," Williams said.
Grand Rapids' starting three of Eric Gohlstein (6-6, 320), Bryant Shaw (6-3, 287) and Tim Martin (6-5, 270) are less heralded. But they will try to use their size to wear down Tampa Bay's line, Williams said.
"They've got some big, heavy guys who are going to be coming to try to bang us down and weigh on us," Williams said. "But we've just got to be men to stand up in there."