Panthers standout to face fresh meat

Published November 13, 2006

There has always been some bad blood between the Bucs and Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers.

Now there's Jeremy Trueblood.

The 6-foot-8, 320-pound rookie right tackle will square off tonight against Peppers, the NFC's defensive player of the month for October. The two-time Pro Bowl pick is third in the NFC with eight sacks and is a disruptive force.

"He's definitely the best defensive end that I've watched on tape," Trueblood said. "He's a destructive force. He has a lot of tools, and he knows how to use them. So it's going to be a huge challenge.

"He's a pretty big guy to be that athletic. It's a combination of those two things. He's just an all-around great player."

Peppers has made a living twice a year tormenting Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker. He recorded six tackles and a sack at Tampa Bay in the Panthers' 26-24 win Sept. 24.

Walker actually had played Peppers pretty even the past two seasons. But he is out for the season with a knee injury, so now it's Trueblood's turn.

Two weeks ago, the second-round pick from Boston College struggled early before buckling down on Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, the league's sack leader among active players.

"A lot is made of rookie this, rookie that. We got some rookies starting, too," Panthers coach John Fox said. "Trueblood is capable. He's starting in this league. I'm sure they'll have some designed things to help him."

While Trueblood figures to get some help from tight ends or running backs chipping on Peppers, he would like to see if he can handle him on his own.

"It's a challenge, personally," Trueblood said. "It's a challenge for the team, obviously, because I'm not the only one blocking him all day. But you have a lot of pride, and hopefully, if you say you did well against a certain person, you can always measure yourself against him.

"I'm going to go in there thinking I'm a big guy, too. I'm certainly not as athletic as him, but hopefully, I'm athletic enough to get the job done."

Bucs coach Jon Gruden praised Trueblood, who along with rookie guard Davin Joseph figure to anchor the right side of the Bucs' offensive line for years to come.

"It's a credit to (Trueblood)," Gruden said. "You consider some of the guys picked ahead of him haven't even been active yet, some really good young talent; Winston Justice in Philadelphia and others. Some first-rounders of a year ago didn't play until this year."

TRIO OUT: Defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder), tackle Ellis Wyms (ankle) and linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee) won't play. With three games in 11 days, the three stayed in Tampa and continued treatment.

Rice had not missed a game due to injury in six seasons as a Buc. Dwayne White, in his fourth season, will make his first start of the season for Rice. Second-year pro Barrett Ruud will make his third start of the season for Quarles.

Wyms, who leads the Bucs with four sacks, will be replaced by Jon Bradley, who will be making his first NFL start. Bradley played in 13 games as a rookie but was cut after training camp. He was re-signed after Anthony McFarland was traded.

VOICES OF REASON: Nobody has given up, but the Bucs at least are taking a more realistic view of their fortunes after a 2-6 start.

That said, they would like to make up some ground during the three-game stretch.

"The perception is we're not a good football team," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "I would look at 2-6 if I wasn't 2-6 and say, 'Yeah, that team is a bad football team.' You can't help it. But our effort is there. We're a team that plays hard. We just have been making critical errors at bad times in the game and causing us to lose."

Linebacker Derrick Brooks called himself a "realist" and says the team has to accept responsibility for the poor start.

"Obviously, I wanted it to be the other way around, but I accept responsibility of being where we're at because we deserve to be where we're at," Brooks said. "Hopefully, I'll get more opportunities to make more plays to pull us out of this. But until that happens, just keep playing one play at a time."

MISMATCH: The Bucs have been outscored 48-7 in the opening quarter. That's not a good trend against the Panthers, who have outscored opponents 51-9 in the first quarter.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com