Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Great Start

Five of the six allocated Bucs won their NFL Europe League season openers this weekend, led by DE Corey Smith (two sacks) and CB Lynaris Elpheage (interception)

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Buccaneer DE Corey Smith had two sacks in his first NFLEL game, playing for the Berlin Thunder

Five of the six allocated Bucs won their NFL Europe League season openers this weekend, led by DE Corey Smith (two sacks) and CB Lynaris Elpheage (interception)

On February 9, the Berlin Thunder made Corey Smith the first pick of the 2004 NFL Europe League allocated players drafted.

Good choice.

The Thunder had the first pick thanks to a NFLEL-worst 2-8 record in 2003, but near-complete roster turnover each year means any team in the league can reasonably hope for a rapid turnaround. It appears Berlin increased its odds for a recovery in 2004 by starting with Smith, one of six players allocated to NFL Europe by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Sunday, the Thunder opened their 2004 season with a 20-14 victory over the visiting Scottish Claymores. Starting at right defensive end, Smith had two sacks of Claymore quarterback Nate Hybl, helping Berlin allow just 239 yards of total offense.

Smith, a 6-2, 250-pound pass-rusher with serious speed, is hoping to use his first European experience as a springboard to a more significant role with the Buccaneers next fall, and he's certainly off to a good start. The same could be said of all six Bucs playing overseas in Week 1; five were on winning teams and all six played significant roles for their teams.

Kevin Breedlove and Chris Ziemann are the starting right guard and right tackle, respectively, for the Rhein Fire. Their protection helped Fire quarterbacks Chad Hutchinson and Greg Zolman (a former Buccaneer) complete 15 of 23 passes for 233 yards while taking just one sack, combined. Rhein eventually won a wild one over the Cologne Centurions, 26-25 on a fourth-quarter safety.

Buccaneer Ben Claxton started at center for Smith's Thunder, helping such backs as Eric McCoo and Ray Jackson rush for 137 yards on 33 carries, and allowing no sacks.

Tampa Bay's Lynaris Elpheage played for the third victorious NFLEL team this weekend, starting at right cornerback for the Frankfurt Galaxy. The Galaxy opened the NFLEL season on Saturday with a convincing, 34-11 victory over the Amsterdam Admirals. Elpheage killed Amsterdam's last chance to get in the ballgame late in the third quarter, intercepting a Gibran Hamdan pass in the end zone to preserve a 24-3 lead. Elpheage, who signed with the Buccaneers in January, also contributed four tackles and knocked down three passes.

Defensive tackle Damian Gregory was the only Buc in the NFLEL not to taste victory over the weekend, but he had a strong game in helping his Scottish Claymores take Berlin down to the wire. Subbing in on the Claymores' interior line, Gregory had five tackles as the Thunder was held to 171 passing yards.

The wildest game of the weekend was in Rhein, where the Fire started off with an unlikely pair of 93-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns, one each by Rober' Freeman (allocated by Houston) and Shockmain Davis (Green Bay), but still needed an even rarer play to win the game. With a little more than four minutes left in the game and the Centurions leading, 25-24, Cologne set up to punt from its own 38. However, long-snapper Carl Morris (Miami) shot the ball over the head of punter Steve Cheek (Houston). Cheek eventually kicked the loose ball out of the end zone for a safety, giving Rhein what would prove to be the winning points.

It was a fine ending for the home fans at Arena Auf Schalke, where World Bowl XII will be played in June. In fact, it was a good weekend for the fans overall, as all three home teams won. And it was certainly a strong start for the Buccaneers' allocated players, all of whom tasted victory in their first NFL Europe experiences.

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