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Gramatica regains his form


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000

TAMPA -- He has struggled for most of the preseason, missing his first three field-goal attempts and clanging balls off the post during practice.

So concerned was Martin Gramatica that his father, Guillermo, attended practice one day this week and stood under a goal post to give his son some encouragement.

It worked.

[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Kicker Martin Gramatica celebrates with long snapper Morris Unutoa after nailing his second of three field goals, a 36-yarder.
Gramatica not only connected on his first three field-goal attempts of Friday's game -- from 27, 36 and 41 yards -- he hammered his first two kickoffs into the end zone and put the third on the goal line.

Gramatica, who converted 27 of 32 field-goal attempts last season and set a Bucs scoring record with 106 points, celebrated in his usual exuberant manner, either high-fiving or jumping on every lineman.

In contrast, the former Kansas State standout was the picture of dejection earlier in the preseason, when he seemed incapable of kicking off in bounds and missed a career-worst three straight field goals.

SETTING THE TONE: Cornerback Donnie Abraham is off to a strong start. Abraham had seven interceptions last season, returning two for touchdowns, an effort many Bucs players and coaches thought should have been rewarded with a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Abraham made a statement early against Kansas City, batting away an Elvis Grbac pass on the game's first play, then intercepting Grbac two plays later. His 12-yard return to the Chiefs 12 set up a touchdown.

"We had been scouting that play all week, so when I noticed it, I jumped all over it," Abraham said.

ON FIRE: Veteran backup defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson, who entered the game fighting for his job, had two first-half sacks -- one each against Todd Collins and Warren Moon -- and added a tackle for a loss early in the third quarter.

ON FIRE II: Rookie linebacker Nate Webster, who blocked a punt against New England a week ago, continued to impress. He recovered a fumble in the third quarter, setting up Aaron Stecker's 3-yard touchdown run on the next play. Later in the quarter, Webster batted down a pass by Moon at the Bucs 1.

YOUR END ZONE, SIR: the first quarter, Keyshawn Johnson virtually escorted receiver Reidel Anthony and running back Warrick Dunn downfield on big plays. He blocked for Anthony on a 37-yard pass, then helped Dunn get his longest run in two years, a 48-yarder that got the Bucs to the 17 and set up a 1-yard Mike Alstott touchdown.

HEAVY HIT: The Chiefs likely were only going to give Grbac two or three drives as a final tuneup before the start of the regular season, but defensive end Marcus Jones may have hastened their decision.

On the Chiefs' second drive, facing a third and 3 at their 44, Jones plowed into Grbac just as he released the ball. Grbac remained on the turf for two minutes before walking off. X-rays of Grbac's ribs were negative and he is expected to be ready for the opener.

JOHNNY ON THE SPOT: Todd Sauerbrun's 66-yard punt in the second quarter seemed to pin the Bucs deep in their territory. But after hesitating, returner Karl Williams opted to pick up the bouncing ball at the 8. He gained 17 yards on the return before rookie linebacker Mike Maslowski punched the ball out of his hands. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the airborne ball landed in the hands of receiver Yo Murphy 4 yards upfield.

BUCS BITS: Backup guard Kevin Dogins left in the third quarter with a right shoulder sprain. ... Stecker had a team-high three rushing touchdowns in the preseason. ... Former Jefferson High star Kirby Dar Dar is back with the Chiefs after being cut in last year's preseason.

BALL HOGS: The Bucs have created 17 turnovers this preaseason, compared with eight in last year's preseason. Entering the game, their total of 13 turnovers was the best in the league and their plus-7 turnover ratio was tops in the NFC.

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