tampabay.com

Latest quarterback injury only adds to pressure on line

By RICK STROUD
Published October 8, 2006


TAMPA - Bring me the X-ray of Brad Johnson's fractured back. Or how about the MRI exam from Chris Simms' separated shoulder? Somewhere there is a cadaver missing an ACL that was sewn into Brian Griese's knee. Has anyone seen Simms' spleen?

If you quarterback for the Bucs, chances are you have lost a lot more than a few games. Namely, body parts.

Since Jon Gruden arrived in 2002, the Bucs have started five quarterbacks, with Bruce Gradkowski becoming No. 6 today.

Sooner or later, most wind up taking too many hits.

The latest example occurred two weeks ago, when Simms sustained a ruptured spleen.

No one is certain which hit caused him to bleed internally. In fact, many of the blows were not the result of poor blocking.

But when it is your job to keep the quarterback from getting whacked, it hurts.

"Obviously, we're always working for a perfect game," guard Dan Buenning said. "That means to keep our quarterback clean. That obviously hasn't happened. We take a lot of pride in our protection. We know when something is our fault.

"It's hard, but you've got to let it go now and just continue on."

Gruden bemoans the revolving door at quarterback. But the Bucs have to take a hard look at the lack of protection they have afforded those players.

Johnson missed the final three games of the regular season in 2002 with what was called a back contusion. Turns out, it was a slight fracture.

Simms' first NFL start, which came at New Orleans two years ago, ended with a separated shoulder sustained after right tackle Todd Steussie's matador block.

He missed four games, and Steussie never started another game for the Bucs.

Griese was 5-1 when blitzing Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas leaped over running back Michael Pittman and struck Griese on the knee.

Griese tore two ligaments and was lost for the season, an injury that hardly could be blamed on the line. But everyone feels bad for Simms.

"Obviously, you start with the camaraderie of the group," offensive line coach Bill Muir. "There's always that feeling when someone gets hurt - whether it's your responsibility or not - you don't ever like to see anybody get hurt. And particularly, you don't want to see anybody seriously get hurt.

"I think it's a prideful thing that your job, in terms of the protection element, whether that's the offensive line, the tight ends when they're involved or the backs, it's your responsibility to keep him clean. And if you're not keeping him clean and he's getting hit because of your breakdown, obviously, you ought to feel doubly bad.

"I don't think anybody takes their responsibility lightly. We all know it's part of the game. But nevertheless, it has an effect."

Muir offers this insight.

"At the end of the day, it's a violent game," Muir said. "And when the ball is snapped, the defense is after the ball. And if you've got the ball, they're after you. And there's going to be some collisions. Hey, if the guy is accounted for and the guy who is assigned to him breaks down, that's an issue. I'm not absolving the protection aspect from anything, I'm just saying that's all part of the issue."

Matter of trust

Everywhere you look for answers about the Bucs' struggles on defense, you hear this: Players are trying to do too much instead of just doing their jobs.

If true, this would indicate a lack of trust in each other. But how does that work? The Bucs return 10 starters, and Will Allen hardly is a newcomer.

But entering today, the Bucs are an embarrassing 31st against the run.

That's unacceptable for a defense that hasn't finished lower than 10th since 1997.

"We want to be the standard throughout the league," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We want teams across the league to look at us for the standard, and when it's not there, we know we've got to do better.

"It starts up front. When we've been good, we've been really good up front. We don't miss tackles. We understand our gaps. We play them hard, and that's where we've got to be. When we're playing well, you'll see that."

In the meantime, the Bucs defense doesn't like where it stands.

"We shouldn't be looking up at anybody," Barber said.

"And we are."