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Truth hurts, opens hole in return game

By ROGER MILLS and ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


TAMPA -- In his fifth year, receiver Karl "The Truth" Williams was supposed to be the Bucs' punt returner for the season, but a knee injury sustained late in the third quarter could sideline him for a month or more.

Williams sprained an MCL in his right knee Sunday against Washington and is out about 4-6 weeks.

Starting receiver Jacquez Green and reserve receiver Andre Hastings likely will share the duties.

Green, who has returned punts in the past, returned two Sunday against the Redskins for 1 yard. Hastings, who has been inactive for all five games, has returned punts on several occasions with the Steelers and Saints.

"We don't know (exactly who will return punts)," coach Tony Dungy said. "It's a good chance that Andre might do the returning. He's going to be up for Karl and did a good job returning in the preseason, so that's a possibility as well. But we'll work through that this week and depending on what returns we have up, we'll see who's in there."

The Bucs have an open spot on the roster after placing tight end Blake Spence on injured reserve. Dungy said the team will look into signing a receiver to fill that spot.

FORGET CLIPPING: When Deion Sanders scampered 57 yards for a back-breaking punt return in overtime, the Bucs vehemently complained they were clipped (blocked from behind). Dungy agreed with safety Dexter Jackson and defensive end John McLaughlin but said that was half the problem.

"There was (clipping), but we had two guys that had a chance to make the tackle and didn't make it, and in those situations you've got to make the play," Dungy said. "We had two other guys that got blocked in the back. So, when you take four guys out of the coverage, it's tough to cover. But we had a chance to make the tackle right when he caught the ball, and we didn't do it."

MUST WIN, AGAIN?: After the loss to the Jets on Sept. 24, the Bucs pointed to Sunday's game against the Redskins as a must-win. Though Dungy wouldn't apply that label to Monday night's contest in Minnesota, he did admit to some urgency.

Fearing the possibility of falling three games behind the NFC Central-leading Vikings, Dungy made it clear that a loss to Minnesota could be devastating later.

"(Being behind) three games after six will make it very, very tough to win the division," Dungy said. "Minnesota is not the team that's going to fall apart, so we can't afford to let them get that type of lead on us.

"Obviously, it's not a must-win game because you can get in the playoffs and go somewhere without winning your division. But I think if we want to win the Central, it'll be tough to do if we don't win this week."

SAPPED: As rumored Sunday, defensive tackle Warren Sapp sat out the first quarter against the Redskins because he was late for a team meeting. Dungy wouldn't specify when Sapp was late but said he expected more from one of his leaders. Last season, Chidi Ahanotu, John McLaughlin, Darnell McDonald and Reidel Anthony were penalized for missing or showing up late for team meetings.

"We've had it happen in the past and that's kind of been the standard procedure that we use, sit out the first quarter," Dungy said. "I'm always surprised. We had a run of about four weeks in a row last year, and it's never a good situation.

"It's disappointing, but that's the way we handle it, and we go on and have guys that we think can go in and play and do the job, and we usually do. Tyoka (Jackson) did a great job (Sunday) and got us off to good start. It wasn't a major factor, but it is disappointing."

SAFETY FIRST: Look for second-year pro Dexter Jackson to get more playing time at free safety. Damien Robinson remains the starter, but secondary coach Herm Edwards said it's only fair to give Jackson a chance after he had a strong preseason.

"Dexter is a guy that in the preseason played well," Edwards said. "He got hurt and now he's getting better, and every game I'm trying to get him some more reps."

Robinson has not played poorly, getting a fumble recovery Sunday that led to the Bucs' first touchdown. But he has been a half-step off on a couple of deep passes. On a 47-yard pass from Brad Johnson to Albert Connell, Robinson may have broken up the completion if he had hit Connell a second sooner. Instead, Connell got leveled but held on to the ball.

"He's playing okay," Edwards said of Robinson. "The thing that's been hitting him is he's been involved in some plays where he's a good enough player, he should make the play and he hasn't done it. That's not good for him, not good for us and I think he's a little frustrated because he knows he can play a little bit better than he's playing."

Edwards went on to explain that while it may appear some plays are the fault of the free safety, that's not always the case.

"When you play free safety, you have so much range and so much visibility, everybody thinks you're sitting back there you should make the play," Edwards said.

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