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Drops become costly for Bucs
By RICK STROUD
Published November 16, 2006
TAMPA - Dropped passes have become such a problem for the Bucs that receivers can expect to have more money fall out of their pockets for every football that hits the ground.
That includes games, practices and walk-throughs.
The increased fine system was agreed upon by the receivers in the wake of the Bucs dropping five passes in Monday night's 24-10 loss at Carolina.
"We've got a little something going on in the receivers meeting room to take care of that," veteran Ike Hilliard said Wednesday. "We're putting a little more emphasis on it, whether it's a walk-through situation or in the game. Most importantly, in the game. Whatever the situation is, we're trying to keep the ball off the ground. (The drops) hurts us as a team. ... We got to have (the catches) in order for them to be comfortable throwing the ball to us."
Third-year receiver Michael Clayton dropped a slant pass for what would have been a first down on Monday's first play. He was separated from the ball later on a similar route and was fortunate it wasn't ruled a fumble.
Clayton, receivers coach Richard Mann said, was simply guilty of trying to get too much out of the play and not protecting the football. Other drops, he said, have been indefensible.
"I thought up in New York, when we dropped those balls up there, those were just good catches," Mann said. "I think we just let the elements get us. It wasn't real cold up there; the wind was blowing a little bit. But as a professional football player, you've got to adapt to the environment. Those are just drops, and we fess up to those.
"The ones the other day, the ones that Mike had, he got hammered and he let it out of there. So what he's got to do is be smart. When he makes tough catches down inside, on those catches, you'd better get down at some point.
"Now, we put our pads down. But at some point, if you've got a lot of people surrounding you, it's the guy surrounding you that gets it out. So what's got to happen, when he makes that tough catch, if he ain't got that free look, he's got to put his pads down and get down."
That's what Clayton was working on after practice Wednesday, when he would catch a pass and drop to his knees, protecting the ball with his body.
What Mann won't tolerate are receivers who collapse for no reason.
"I don't like receivers that catch it and get on the ground. We're not talking about that," Mann said. "We don't do that. It's when there's nothing there, if at some point you don't see everything, you've got to put your pads down and get down. If you catch something clean and it's one guy, that's something different."
Much of the blame for the losses has been heaped on Bruce Gradkowski. The rookie quarterback has struggled to hit open receivers downfield. But coach Jon Gruden said he hasn't gotten much help.
"I'll say we probably dropped more balls in nine games than the previous two years combined," he said. "We work at it. We'll continue to do so.
"There are steps backward, there are steps forward. But you can look at the tape and see promise. I think we've got some guys that are very young, inexperienced players right now that are getting their eyes opened that you can play hard and prepare hard. But when you go out there and play against the caliber of teams we're playing, you're going to (get beat) if you don't make plays when you get your chance to, and certainly if you turn the ball over."
The lack of offensive plays may also have contributed to the lack of attention to detail. Two weeks ago, the Bucs went three-and-out on six straight possessions, so there is pressure to maximize chances.
"We have to mentally get it together to take care of every play, whether you have 50 plays or 75 plays," Hilliard said. "That's what's most important.
"We've gotten good opportunities, we've had good plays, we just waste them away or we turn them over. It's a shame. It's a shame. We're not a bad 2-7 team."
After upping the fines, the receivers may need an accountant to enforce accountability for dropped passes.
"It's a way to criticize, yet have fun with it. We're just trying to stress it. Over the years we've done it, and at the end of the year they have a good time with it," Mann said of the money that usually pays for a season-ending party. "They've even charged me for certain things. I pay my dues.
"With the situation we're in right now, we need to do something to keep us going. There's a little fun in it, but still, there's a chance to emphasize."