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Once again, Abraham seeing tough road to the Pro Bowl

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000


TAMPA -- There ought to be a recount.

If you think something was wrong with the ballots in Palm Beach County, check out the early returns for the Pro Bowl.

Donnie Abraham isn't even the top vote-getter at cornerback on his team in preliminary fan balloting.

Nothing against Ronde Barber, who is having a great season with 5.5 sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown. But Abraham is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six and has 13 in the past 15 games.

"Maybe it's because Ronde is a twin," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.

Perhaps, but it's Abraham who suffers from mistaken identity.

In a conference that has more notable cornerbacks, such as Washington's Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders, Abraham could stay home again from the NFL all-star game.

"I actually thought he should've made it last year," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "I was surprised then, so I guess I won't be surprised this year if it doesn't happen. The best players don't always go, as we well know."

What makes Abraham deserving is that his interceptions number has risen despite him playing mostly zone coverage and providing run support.

"That is rare," Dungy said. "Usually in this system, the safeties generally get more interceptions than the corners because you're playing zone and you're isolated on one side of the field. But he really makes the most of his opportunities to get them. He doesn't drop many balls. He has a knack for it."

IN THE HUNT: The Bucs still must win nearly all their remaining games, but talk of defending their NFC Central title has crept into the locker room.

Back-to-back losses by Minnesota, to the Bucs and at Green Bay, have moved Tampa Bay within two games of first place. Dungy said he is not surprised by the tight race.

"Well, from what I saw just watching the tapes and watching the games, I didn't expect anybody to go undefeated, he said. "I don't think we had a team like Minnesota in '98, where they went up 15 points at halftime and just kept rolling through the whole league. I hadn't seen that.

"You just feel like, over the course of a season, things even out. That's what we kind of preached to our guys: Don't worry about where the rest of the league is. If we play better week in and week out, win our games, win the games that we should win, we'll have a chance to be there in the end."

HIT MAN: Rookie Nate Webster is a good player and a better trash talker.

He is the closet thing to Derrick Brooks the Bucs have had.

It's clear he enjoys playing on the Bucs defense.

"When I'm out there playing with Warren (Sapp), Derrick, John (Lynch) -- it's a bunch of gangsters, man," Webster said. "And you've got to be another gangster out there. You can't be no prankster. Once you're out there with those gangsters, you've got to be a gangster also."

CAN IT: The Glazer Family Foundation is sponsoring a holiday canned food drive before today's game with the Packers. The Divine Providence Food Bank will collect non-perishable food items at all six gates at Raymond James Stadium and will distribute the food in the Tampa Bay area.

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