By Compiled by ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2000
Tampa's Keith Newman will enjoy a homecoming today, but it won't be a coming-out party.
Newman had his big debut in Week 1 when he opened Buffalo's season with a bone-crushing tackle against Eddie George on the first play from scrimmage.
"It's a lot of emotion, especially when it's your first time starting an NFL game, and especially a game of that magnitude: a national TV game on Sunday night and a team that beat us in the playoffs," Newman said. "I think there were strong feelings both ways. I got to give the first hit of the game on Eddie George.... To be able to get a hit that early in the game settled down a lot of the emotions that allowed me to play from that point on."
Since then, Newman has done little to disappoint. The former all-state standout from Jefferson High has admirably replaced former Bills linebacker Gabe Northern in Buffalo's 3-4 scheme, recording 65 tackles and five sacks. He's tied for fifth in tackles with fellow Tampa native Ted Washington.
"Basically, I think Keith has exceeded a lot of the expectations people had on him," linebacker Sam Cowart said. "He's made that transition (to starter) and done a great job for us. He's getting better each week and his confidence is getting better each week."
Newman is expecting great things from himself, in part because he didn't waste his first year with Buffalo even though he was inactive 12 of 16 games last year. He made it a point to follow the game from the sideline, and he also sought wisdom from anyone willing to offer advice: Cowart, Washington, former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and former receiver Andre Reed.
"I don't care who it is, I like to listen and learn," Newman said. "Whether it's a guy like Bruce Smith who had been in the league 15 years or a guy like Sam Cowart who is a young guy."
3-3-5: Thanks in part to Newman's outstanding play, the Bills have gone to a new defensive scheme in passing situations. Instead of adding two defensive backs and taking away two linebackers, the Bills are using five cornerbacks and leaving Newman on the field with Cowart and outside linebacker Sam Rogers.
With six passes defensed, including two interceptions, Cowart is terrific in coverage. Rogers has five sacks the past four games and Newman also has five sacks on the season.
JOHNSON'S THE ONE: Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson has won nine of his 15 career starts, but his biggest victory may have been last week's come-from-behind win over Kansas City. Not only did the win keep the Bills in the playoff hunt, but it went a long way in quieting those who wanted to see Doug Flutie start.
Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who played with Rob Johnson in college at Southern Cal, has nothing but respect for his Trojan alum.
"I know the quarterback is going to be ready to prove a point just to shut up all y'all," Keyshawn said of the media. "He was my quarterback in college, so I know how he is. If he gets hot, forget it. He's one of those guys who can go 15-for-15 in a heartbeat, 24-of-24."
In his past 11 completed starts, Johnson has thrown 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. If there is one knock against him, it's that he holds the ball too long, which explains the 45 sacks in those games.
Last week, he was sacked three times, but by most accounts he did a better job getting rid of the ball. He better be prepared to do the same today.
SECONDARY'S PRIMARY PROBLEM: Antoine Winfield's season-ending injury weakens a Buffalo secondary already beginning to struggle. Kansas City's Elvis Grbac became the first quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against Buffalo in 38 games. Bucs quarterback Shaun King may be the second given the Bills' injury woes.
The injury to Winfield (torn shoulder muscle) makes fourth-year man Donovan Greer a starter. Greer is considered a solid third corner, but he is nursing a sprained ankle. If he's unable to play, return specialist Chris Watson will start and Daryl Porter will play the nickel spot.
WEATHER WORRIES: The Bucs were thankful for many things Thursday, not the least being the chance to play at home instead of Buffalo, where 25 inches of snow fell in a day.
"We were kind of hoping they might move the game up here," Bills coach Wade Phillips said last week.
Phillips explained that while the weather made travel difficult, it had no affect on preparation because the Bills have an indoor facility.
"We've gotten better the last few years when the weather has gotten bad because we go indoors and our indoor facility is probably better than anyone else's in the league," Phillips said.