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Younger players step up

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 15, 2001


TAMPA -- There were letdowns by veterans on offense and defense and coach Tony Dungy made that abundantly clear. But after watching the film of Monday's 17-14 loss to the Dolphins, Dungy was ready to tip his hat to some of the younger players trying to make the team.

He praised rookie free-agent linebacker Marq Cerqua for his aggressive play which included two fourth-quarter sacks. He acknowledged Robert Kilow, who had a 41-yard punt return at the end of the third quarter. He complimented running backs Pepe Pearson (14 carries, 50 yards) and Aaron Stecker (13, 36), along with offensive linemen Kenyatta Walker and Cosey Coleman.

"There were a lot of positives to come out of the game," Dungy said. "But, when you have fumbles and sacks and dropped balls and penalties, those are the things we stress, then those kind of things put a dampener on (their effort). Overall, I was probably as pleased with our young guys as we've been starting any preseason yet."

Rookie cornerback Dwight Smith, a third-round pick out of Akron, has had a solid camp and showed his kickoff return potential by bulldozing his way to a 32-yard run.

"He's learning right now," Dungy said. "He's fiery. He has a nose for the ball. He's a strong runner when he gets the ball in his hands. He's competitive and is going to do some good things for us."

GOOD TO BE BACK: Linebacker Derrick Brooks was a training camp holdout for 10 days and at one point looked like he would miss one or more preseason games.

But the Pro Bowl player who has started every game for the Bucs since 1996 said it was important for him to be on the field Monday.

"It was nice," Brooks said. "I got out there, got a couple good pops early and re-established myself that I'm going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Unhappy with a contract that will pay him about $3.5-million for the next two seasons, Brooks held out to try to get a new deal and a healthy signing bonus that will likely make him the highest-paid linebacker in the game. He reported to camp Aug. 8, after getting some assurance from the team that a new deal will be struck.

"I was still a little rusty," Brooks said of his play Monday. "I still didn't get the feel I want to feel because I did miss the first few days of camp. But, all in all, I can't say that I'm totally happy because we lost, but for me personally, I'm going to learn from this game and get better for next week."

SMOKIN' JOE: Reserve quarterback Joe Hamilton made a habit of impressing the coaching staff with late game heroics last preseason and was back at it again Monday.

He tossed a 6-yard go-ahead touchdown to Stecker with 1:09 left to give the Bucs their only lead at 14-10.

Dungy said he continues to be impressed by Hamilton and admitted he has considered playing the second-year quarterback with some of the first unit.

"We have thought about it, and we'll continue to look at it," Dungy said. "But, it isn't quite that easy. The first thing we want to do now is make some first downs with the first team."

Hamilton, who was 6-for-11 for 68 yards, is thought to be fourth on the depth chart but has always been praised by Dungy for his productivity. He spent last season as a third-stringer.

"Joe does pretty well and you can see why they won a lot of games at Georgia Tech," Dungy said. "He's a guy who understands what he's doing, he makes the most of his opportunities. He's a very poised guy and it seems like in the preseason he's always in when we're behind and somehow takes us to the go-ahead touchdown. I guess those are good qualities to have. Joe keeps doing the things that you have to do to move the ball."

A DAY AT THE BEACH?: If it seemed like the Bucs were playing Monday on Clearwater Beach rather than Raymond James Stadium, there's good reason. Dungy agreed the turf was sandier than usual.

"I think we haven't had as much rain, but no one really complained," Dungy said. "It definitely wasn't like it was last year, but the footing wasn't bad. I don't know that much about it in terms of the drainage and water and all that but it was drier than usual."

INJURY UPDATE: Offensive guard Russ Hochstein broke a bone in his left foot and should be out 4-6 weeks. Defensive end Joe Tafoya has a stress fracture above the left ankle and could miss a week. Running back Jeff Chaney (ankle) could begin practice this week. Receiver Jacquez Green, running back Rabih Abdullah and linebacker Jamie Duncan, all slowed by hamstring problems last week, are expected to return to full practice today.

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