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Stecker your preseason go-to guy

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


TAMPA -- Call him Mr. August.

Bucs tailback Aaron Stecker continued a strong preseason, catching a 21-yarder from Brad Johnson for the first touchdown in Tampa Bay's 20-3 preseason win Saturday against the New England Patriots.

The play was nearly identical to Stecker's first score, a "wheel route" into the back right corner of the end zone thrown by Joe Hamilton in the closing minutes of the preseason opener against Miami.

This time, Stecker barely got both feet in for the touchdown. The Patriots challenged the official's ruling, which was upheld upon review.

"I knew I had my left foot in and thought I had my right in, but when I saw the replay on the screen, it looked like my foot might have touched the line," said Stecker, tied for the team lead with two touchdowns after leading the team with three rushing scores in last year's preseason. "I said, "Please don't let this happen. I'm trying to get a big play.' Fortunately it was called a touchdown."

photo
[Times photo: Kevin White]
Warrick Dunn gets inside the 10 for a first down in the first quarter.
BREAKOUT RUNS: Warrick Dunn broke free for 35 yards on the Bucs' first play, and after the offense struggled to find a rhythm in the first quarter, Dunn jump-started things again in the second.

Dunn found a tiny hole on the right side and burst down the sideline, gaining 56 yards before he was pushed down from behind by former Hurricanes cornerback Leonard Myers. The run gave him 100 yards on five carries in the first 20 minutes.

"Everyone came out hungry and we were playing together as a group," said Dunn, who finished with 115 yards. "That was the first time, I think, all preseason where all 11 guys were on the same page."

LACES OUT: Johnson took over as Martin Gramatica's holder, with punter Mark Royals still sidelined with a sprained right knee. Johnson's first and last extra points went smoothly, though the second was blocked by Tedy Bruschi.

The last time Johnson was a holder at Raymond James Stadium was in the 1999 playoffs with the Redskins. As Washington lined up for a go-ahead field goal in the closing minutes, the snap to Johnson was low. He tried to pass but was brought down, preserving a Tampa Bay victory.

MUCH IMPROVED: After poor play in two games, Ryan Leaf had a solid showing in the fourth quarter, completing 3 of 5 passes for 49 yards.

"This felt like my first real week of settling in at practice," Leaf said. "I knew where we wanted to go with the ball. I didn't get any reps with the offense this week, but hopefully it'll show I was in my playbook all week, studying hard."

MIXED RESULTS: One of the Bucs fighting for survival in the first half was rookie receiver Robert Kilow, who handled punt returns.

Kilow's best showing was a 27-yard return down the left side that helped set up the first touchdown. He also muffed two punts, recovering both, and allowed two punts to bounce past him, costing the Bucs about 15 yards on each.

"I think the coaches know I can return the ball," Kilow said. "But putting me in a situation they did, as far as being the starting return man, I didn't do a good job. They put me out there and I let them down. I know I can do a better job."

The Bucs must trim their roster to 65 by Tuesday afternoon, meaning about 15 players who suited up Saturday likely were doing so for the last time.

Another bubble player who played early was punter Aron Langley, signed off waivers from the Jaguars last week. Langley averaged 42.6 yards on five punts, and when Terrell Buckley broke loose on a return, Langley brought him down in the open field. Andrew Bayes, competing with Langley while Royals is out, averaged 43.3 yards on three punts.

MIRROR IMAGES: Both teams had rookies from Florida named Kenyatta starting at left tackle, and the Bucs' Walker and the Patriots' Jones showed their inexperience at times. Walker had the Bucs' lone penalty of the first half when he was called for holding in the second quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick from USF, was routinely beaten by right end Simeon Rice, who sacked Drew Bledsoe for an 8-yard loss and came close to another on an incompletion.

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