By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 20, 2001
TAMPA -- After not showing up in the preseason opener against the Dolphins, the first-team defense looked its usual stingy self Saturday against the Browns in Cleveland.
And the newest member of that clan, right defensive end Simeon Rice, proved at least for one night that he is just as effective stopping the run as he is at chasing the quarterback.
The Browns appeared determined to run to Rice's side, but the sixth year pro held his own.
"That was one of the real positives of the game," coach Tony Dungy said Sunday. "Simeon looked like he will fit into what we're trying to do. They came out and had a plan to run to our right and Simeon played well. There wasn't much room to run over there. He had a couple of good rushes and I think he's just starting to feel pretty good about fitting into our group."
Rice came to the Bucs with a reputation for being one of the game's best pass rushers, with the knock that he was a moderate run stopper. But the Bucs coaching staff insists that in its speed-related defensive scheme, Rice will flourish against the run.
Cleveland's first play on offense was a run to the left that was stuffed by Rice. "I think he really fits in and should be an outstanding run defender," defensive line coach Rob Marinelli said last week. "I'm going to be extremely disappointed if he isn't as good a run defender as he is a pass defender."
ON THE WAY BACK: While the news of center Jeff Christy's injured knee wasn't good, the Bucs have some reason for optimism. Fullback Mike Alstott's left hamstring strain is recovering well and punter Mark Royals should begin kicking soon. There's a remote chance Alstott could play Saturday against the Patriots.
"He possibly could," Dungy said. "He actually ran the days in Cleveland and seems to be doing fine and Todd's pretty pleased with it. Whether he'll play this week or not, we'll probably know a little bit more by Wednesday or Thursday, but he's coming along fine. We'll play him if he's 100 percent ready to play, if not we'll wait until next week."
Safety Dexter Jackson, linebacker Jamie Duncan, receiver Jacquez Green, all nursing hamstring injuries, appear to be back to full strength.
Defensive end Joe Tafoya (strained hip) should play Saturday.
RYAN'S SONG: In his quest to lock up the third quarterback spot, former Charger Ryan Leaf may be trying to do too much, Dungy suggested. Against the Browns, Leaf was 3-for-9 for 28 yards.
"Ryan is still pressing and I think still trying to make too many big plays," Dungy said. "That's probably the biggest thing, being familiar with what we're doing, and familiar with the receivers and doing the normal things. I think that will come. Ryan has the ability to throw the ball and he knows the game. So, we just have got to give him a few more opportunities. He's not where he wants to be right now but he's doing okay."
GET BACK, COACH: In the second quarter, the Bucs forced Cleveland to punt from its 17, but a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed against special-teams coach Joe Marciano for interfering with the side judge.
Dungy was visibly upset with the call, which led to a Cleveland touchdown. Keeping players and coaches on the sideline is the responsibility of strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich.
"We fined Mark $5-million," Dungy said, joking. "He keeps the players back really well, but he said he didn't realize he had to keep the coaches back as well. But, we will definitely get that straightened out. ... He takes it seriously and he's going to have talk with our special-teams coach."
BUCS BITS: Second-year running back Aaron Stecker, who had five carries for 28 yards against Cleveland, continues to impress the coaching staff. "Aaron had a good day running the ball and (running back coach) Tony Nathan feels that he's just a little fresher and sharper and quicker having not come off an (NFL Europe) season. Actually he has run better for us than he did last year. ... The team likely will keep the starters together longer in practice this week, because they likely will play into the third quarter Saturday. ... The Bucs return to One Buc Place for the rest of the season. Practices are closed to the public.