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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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1 ton of blockers to get 1 tiny yard
In short-yardage situations, the Bucs often use 96 Power, a running play with a bevy of heft.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007
Bucs running back Earnest Graham converts the important fourth and 1 in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Saints. Four plays later, the Bucs scored the game-winning touchdown.
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
TAMPA - At first, it might have seemed risky when the Bucs offense, trailing by three points late at New Orleans, came back on the field for a fourth-and-1 play.
Then the play was called.
As the Bucs broke the huddle with the game on the line, every player headed to the line of scrimmage supremely confident this play would result in a first down. The Bucs' bread-and-butter running play, 96 Power, always gets at least a yard.
"There are a lot of plays we want to call our staple plays, but that is the staple play of our offense," right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "It all starts with that. It's embarrassing as an offensive lineman if they call 96 Power and we can't get a yard.
"We knew we were going to get a yard."
Actually, Earnest Graham got 2.
Four plays later, the Bucs scored the winning touchdown with 14 seconds left, thanks in large part to their ability to execute one of the oldest plays in football. Every team runs a version of 96 Power, from peewee leagues to the NFL.
Especially the Bucs.
"That's a core play for us," said coach Jon Gruden, who selected it from among more than 200 on his play sheet. "When you get in that situation, you want to go with your best play behind your best players. If they stop that play, I was willing to go on the airplane feeling good about not winning because I know I could hold all those guys accountable for that play."
From the first day of offseason workouts to Sunday's pressure-packed fourth down at the Saints 28, the Bucs have run 96 Power so many times - we're talking in the thousands, here - the players probably could block it in their sleep. Offensive line coach Bill Muir is especially fond of this particular play.
"On Bill Muir's gravestone, it's going to have a diagram of that play," running backs coach Art Valero said. "If there was ever a play that epitomized a man, that play is him."
Here we come. Try to stop us.
"It's an attitude play," Muir said. "It's a muscle play. It's a play where you know that they know what you're going to do and you do it anyway. That's one of the great satisfactions of football."
Against the Saints, the Bucs used a variation called 96 Power King, which adds two tight ends to the right side of the line of scrimmage to help clear the way. Center John Wade takes on one defensive tackle, and Trueblood and right guard Davin Joseph double-team the other. Tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith double-team the defensive end.
"That's my favorite play," Becht said. "It's a point-of-attack block. The end has to be blocked. It's not really a secret when we do it. It's more of a gut check, mano-a-mano type of thing."
First through the hole is fullback B.J. Askew, who provides a kick-out block on the first free defender he sees.
"I'm looking for the first color that I see," said Askew, referring to the Saints' black jerseys. "It doesn't matter who it is. It could be a linebacker, a defensive back, a safety. I prefer the big guys. Maybe I'm crazy, but I like the heavy collisions."
Next through the hole is the left guard, Arron Sears, pulling from the opposite side of the formation. He takes the first free defender he sees, usually a linebacker.
That's a total of seven blockers weighing a combined 2,014 pounds - more than one ton! - clearing the way for one little ol' running back trying to gain 1 little ol' yard.
"There's lot of bodies in there," Trueblood said, "lots of collisions. And you never know when the running back is going to pop out of there."
Earlier in the game, the same play resulted in Graham's 25-yard touchdown run. This time, the Bucs needed only a yard to sustain a potential winning drive.
How could it fail?
"Well, truth be known, we had some penetration by the defense," Muir said. "We lost the pulling guard, and Earnest Graham wound up in the hole one-on-one with a defender."
Graham, built like a 5-foot-9, 225-pound earthmover, lowered his shoulder and bulled into linebacker Scott Shanle, bigger by 5 inches and 20 pounds.
"It's got a lot to do with pad level, gauging where a defender is at and how he's going to take you on, especially when you know you need a yard," Graham said. "I don't want to run right into him, but I want to give him a shoulder, keep my legs driving and be able to fall forward."
First down, Bucs.
"It didn't go exactly as we planned, but the attitude, the demeanor we try to project when we're in that formation with that personnel group, I think that spilled over," Muir said. "It might be the signature play of this year."