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Solid debut keeps LT platoon intact

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 5, 2000


TAMPA -- It has been a hot topic all through training camp and preseason. The issue of who will play left tackle for the Bucs isn't going to go away soon.

For now, as it was Sunday, it'll be Pete Pierson and George Hegamin.

"I think both are doing well and playing well, and we'll continue to go that route as long as it's effective," coach Tony Dungy said. "We don't mind playing a lot of guys."

With the season-ending injury to Jason Odom and the retirement of veteran Paul Gruber, the Bucs' left tackle fortunes now officially rest on the ability of Pierson and Hegamin.

Pierson is the starter but split time with Hegamin against the Patriots. Pierson played 36 plays, Hegamin 26. Both players say they are comfortable with the rotation and think it will benefit the team late in the season. Hegamin also could spell right tackle Jerry Wunsch.

"I'm happy for any playing time I get," Pierson said. "It's probably more difficult for George because he's getting one series, after my two. You have to stay warm on the sidelines and keep your head in the game. It's nice in a sense to get a break during the game."

Added Hegamin: "When you're trying to make a Super Bowl run like we are, you need as much experience at the tackle position as possible. This gives us a flat-out opportunity to go through the stretch run with three experienced tackles who have been playing the whole year. It can't do nothing but help us."

SPEAKING OF GRUBER: The Bucs' all-time leader in games played and starts (183 each) is scheduled to announce his retirement today at a 1 p.m. news conference in the locker room.

Gruber, who broke his leg in the last regular season game last season, spent the off-season rehabilitating and was in Colorado Springs for extended rehab during training camp.

NOW THAT'S A FULLBACK: With the loss of Kevin McLeod, the Bucs are going to continue to use veteran left guard Randall McDaniel occasionally at fullback, likely blocking for Mike Alstott.

Against the Patriots, the Bucs used the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder to block for Alstott four times for a total of 8 yards.

"We'll probably stay with it for a little while," Dungy said. "We're trying to get (tight end/fullback) Blake Spence a little more familiar with what we do in those situations. ... We'll continue to do that."

Dungy, who said McDaniel has played fullback before, raved about a tremendous block on linebacker Ted Johnson during the fourth quarter.

"He almost killed Ted Johnson on a lead block at the end of the game," Dungy said. "He wasn't as familiar as we would like because it's something we just got to at the end of the week, but if we keep him back there he'll do fine. He's a great athlete, he can make adjustments and obviously has a blocking mentality."

NO SPECIAL CHANGES: After fumbling the opening kickoff, then allowing a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown, another return of 39 yards and a kickoff return of 49 yards, the Bucs special teams likely will spend extra time this week fixing things. But Dungy said there will be no personnel changes.

"The guys who are there are going to be there," Dungy said. "I think what those young guys had to learn it's a little tougher in the regular season going against experienced guys. But that's their job and they'll do it well when they have to."

KEYSHAWN SPEAKS: Receiver Keyshawn Johnson may have accomplished what fans and media members have been trying to do for the past two seasons. In a wide-ranging interview with Boston Globe columnist Michael Holley, Johnson may have coined a nickname for the defensive front seven.

"We got all Rottweilers," Johnson said.

Said defensive end Marcus Jones: "I guess it's all right. Coach (Monte) Kiffin has always said we're like a group of mongrels, just ready to attack from any side. But we'll have to see. I would rather wait until the end of the season when we can call ourselves whatever we want."

In the column, Johnson also attacked critics of golf superstar Tiger Woods who claim Woods is not ethnic enough.

"Why don't they leave him alone?" Johnson said. "People have to understand that he's not like me, he ain't a thugged-out, from-the-projects, government-cheese-eating type of guy."

INJURY REPORT: Safety Damien Robinson played the bulk of the game and had no setbacks to his left hamstring. Safety Dexter Jackson (sprained right ankle) ran Monday. Dungy said Jackson could play Sunday against the Bears but more likely will be ready for the game against the Lions. Receiver Karl Williams (sprained left shoulder) might miss a couple of days of practice. Cornerback Floyd Young (hamstring strain) could go this week.

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