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Bucs' ailing line worries coaches

With Jason Odom and Paul Gruber hurting, Tampa Bay looks for a trio of linemen to step forward.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2000


TAMPA -- Quarterback Shaun King has been labeled the biggest question for the Bucs going into this season.

But three days from the start of the team's preseason, precisely who will protect King's blind side is equally concerning.

With Jason Odom's back hurting and Paul Gruber rehabbing in Colorado Springs, the job of playing left tackle is up to Pete Pierson, George Hegamin and DeMarcus Curry.

"This is the time of the year when you have to start doing it," coach Tony Dungy said. "All through the spring and the first two weeks of training camp, guys catch your eye and you say, "This guy's had a good camp, this guy's had a good off-season.' "But the proof is in the games. If guys can carry that over into the games, that's when we get really excited. This is when they're going to make their statements."

Despite a minor hamstring aggravation sustained Monday and a slight cold, Pierson moves to the top of the depth chart. In his sixth season in the NFL, all with the Bucs, Pierson is not a stranger to the position. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from the University of Washington started the Bucs' two playoff games last season as Gruber's replacement.

"At this level you have to take advantage of whatever opportunity you get, and that's the attitude I have to go into it with," said Pierson, who has eight career starts. "I don't know what Jason's situation is, and right now I have to look at it as it's my responsibility to uphold the job as the starter."

For Pierson, the carousel of moving from the starting role to the bench and back to the starting role is also manageable.

"It's not easy, but you keep a frame of the mind that you're one back injury away from being the (starter)," Pierson said. "I guess it's your state of mind, you have to keep on track so that it's not going to be such a strange turnaround."

Offensive line coach Chris Foerster said the team recognized going into the season that it would need depth at left tackle and hinted that Hegamin, who is in his seventh year in the NFL, could be an answer should Odom be out indefinitely.

"If Jason is long-term, then George will move over to the left tackle position to compete full time with Pierson and DeMarcus," Foerster said. "It's all based on whos, whats and ifs. We're speculating at this point."

Standing 6 feet 7 and at 331 pounds, Hegamin has played the left and right tackle and left and right guard positions. Counting stints with the Eagles, Cowboys and Bucs, Hegamin has made 16 starts in 48 regular-season games. He is the only member of the Bucs with a Super Bowl ring, as a Cowboy in 1995.

"As of right now, I'm just trying to fit in anywhere I can," Hegamin said. "Nobody likes to see a guy go out with any kind of injury. However, it's still a good opportunity for others to be evaluated and get some playing time.

"The only thing that bothers me is that when you're trying to challenge somebody for a starting job, you really would like to get most, if not all, of your reps at one position. ... I'm pretty familiar with all of them so it really doesn't matter at this point."

After spending the regular season on the practice squad, Curry said he's salivating at a chance to not just stay on the roster but earn playing time.

"I feel this is a big chance for anybody, it's a big chance for me and it's coming real soon," said the 6-5, 332-pounder in his second year out of Auburn. "I'll be able to pick up on everything I need to pick up on, and I'll be ready for just about everything.

"You can only focus on yourself; that's all you can do. If you start worrying about what's being done over here and what's being done over there, you'll get caught up in the shuffle. So you do what you do best and work on what you don't do best."

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