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Bucs to go with youth up front

Jeff Christy is Tampa Bay's third injured offensive lineman. He is expected to be sidelined for three to five weeks.

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
The Bucs' starting offensive line continued to sputter against the Browns Saturday.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 20, 2001


TAMPA -- If you want to know what's missing from the Bucs offense, go ask the trainer.

The next available appointment is in September.

Adding to Tampa Bay's woes on offense, the Bucs expect to open the regular season in Dallas with three offensive linemen who have no NFL starts.

An MRI Sunday revealed that Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy will miss 3-5 weeks with a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He was injured during Saturday's 7-6 preseason loss at Cleveland.

Fourth-year pro Todd Washington will replace Christy and most likely make his first NFL start against Dallas. He joins rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker and second-year guard Cosey Coleman as first-year starters.

"Jeff feels like he'll play in the opener," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "I think (trainer) Todd Toriscelli feels it's maybe one week after that. Right now the opener is not out of the question, but it's certainly not guaranteed, either."

Christy's injury, which occurred during Martin Gramatica's 58-yard field goal, would end his streak of 48 regular-season games. He started every game six of the past seven seasons and has not missed one since 1997 after a broken left ankle forced him to finish the year on injured reserve.

Christy is the third starter on offense forced to miss time this preseason because of injury. Fullback Mike Alstott (hamstring) has not played in the preseason but has begun running and could play Saturday night against New England. Receiver Jacquez Green (hamstring) returned against Cleveland.

Dungy said Christy's left MCL is partially detached but is similar to the injury that sidelined Alstott for four weeks last season.

"Mike actually got back in four weeks," Dungy said. "So four weeks is probably the best estimate. But Jeff would not have to do some of the cutting and maneuvering that Mike had to do and might be practicing a little sooner than Mike did. We're all hoping for three weeks but, probably realistically, four."

Washington, a fourth-round pick by the Bucs in 1998 out of Virginia Tech, has played only 20 regular-season games. But Dungy says he has had a good training camp and the Bucs will not have to alter the style of their offense without Christy.

Rookie free agent Leon Hires from Florida will back up Washington at center and recently signed former Florida State lineman Eric Thomas will get some snaps at center.

"Todd Washington is playing very well," Dungy said. "And Todd will go in there and do a good job and we would expect to function as we always do. It would probably hurt us if there was another injury down the road.

"Usually other positions, you can shift people around and guys can move there. But you have to have a backup center. So if Jeff is not able to go, that would kind of force us to do some things a little differently."

In two preseason games under quarterback Brad Johnson, the Bucs' first-unit offense has totaled 68 net yards -- all but one coming Saturday at Cleveland -- and two field goals.

Johnson went 7-for-13 passing for 43 yards against the Browns. Most of it came on a 21-yard strike to Reidel Anthony.

"We were better," Dungy said. "We made some improvement and did some things well. We moved the ball on a couple drives. We just continue to short-circuit and we're just a little off in our passing game.

"We just have to do it more and do better and I think by the time the regular season opens up we will. The first game he really didn't miss any throws and this game we missed a couple that we should've had. ... There were some positives to come out of it, but just not quite enough."

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