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Offensive line has 'to start showing up'

Bucs' focus tonight: offensive line's ability to rebound from woeful start.

[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Center Jeff Christy struggled against Miami on Monday.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 18, 2001


CLEVELAND -- Quarterback Brad Johnson is known for his pinpoint accuracy. He certainly had no trouble nailing the Bucs' reasons for failing to protect him during the preseason opener against Miami Monday night.

Johnson was sacked three times in seven passing attempts, committing a fumble that set up a Dolphins touchdown and producing a single net yard of offense in three series.

"There's no excuse for what happened Monday night," he said. "What (Miami) did the other night was simple. That was just one-on-one football. That's what catches you offguard. It's simple things you take for granted.

"It's unbelievable. The plays we ran and the defense they were in was exactly the ones that were scripted when we practiced against them (Friday)."

Johnson is better at assigning blocking schemes than he is blame.

He wouldn't elaborate on the mistakes or single out teammates, but it's clear the Bucs' ballyhooed offensive line suffered mental collapses and put Johnson in the cross hairs.

So when the Bucs play the Browns tonight, the focus will be on the offensive line's ability to rebound from a calamitous start.

"Jiminy Christmas. He got sacked three times," Bucs offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "It's ridiculous, it's just ridiculous. It just can't happen, whether it's this year, last year or any year."

While rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker was beaten by Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor for the sack and forced fumble, the first two breakdowns were mistakes by center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel.

"Christy and McDaniel both struggled with one look and (Miami tackle Darryl) Gardener got McDaniel once," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. "One of the looks on Christy was tough. They switched the strength of the defense over and we didn't slide back with them.

"It was more us malfunctioning. We convert the two first downs and have an offside penalty. What should've been an 80-yard first quarter was a 1-yard first quarter."

Walker, the Bucs' first-round pick from Florida, and Cosey Coleman, a second-year pro from Tennessee, might be inexperienced but should benefit from veterans like Christy, McDaniel and tackle Jerry Wunsch.

How long it will take for the offensive line to jell could determine the fortunes of the season. But Christensen has not been pleased with the progress.

"It's got to start showing up," Christensen said. "The mistakes we made were bad football mistakes. They were bad. We played just like we practiced. That's how we'd practiced.

"If this is the third preseason game and you're doing it, then you're up on the Sunshine Skyway bridge. To give up three sacks in 10 plays with your (first team), you sure don't want to do that. And to get your quarterback hit and risk losing him."

Christy, a Pro Bowl center who has played alongside McDaniel virtually his entire career, took some responsibility for the failure to pick up the Dolphins' array of blitzes.

Although they worked on blitz pickups in the practices with the Dolphins, the Bucs might have been surprised by Miami's aggressiveness on first and second down.

"That's just an excuse. We consider ourselves a veteran group outside of Cosey and Kenyatta," Christy said. "I should've been able to take control of the situation and get everyone in the right position and I didn't. I learned a valuable lesson from it and it won't happen again.

"It definitely bothers me. I think it's impossible to go out there and be perfect. But you want to go out and make a good impression, move the ball up and down the field and show what you can do. You don't want a bunch of mental breakdowns and basically look bad on national TV."

On the positive side, the offensive line is more athletic than before and the running game should benefit behind Warrick Dunn, who averaged 5.5 yards on two carries.

"I said at the beginning of camp I think our offensive line will be better than at any point since we've been here," Christensen said. "We struggled the first three drives up front, they came after us a little bit and that was disappointing."

Bucs at Browns

8 tonight, Cleveland Browns Stadium. TV/RADIO: Ch. 44; WQYK-AM 1010, WQYK-FM 99.5.

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