QB Brian Griese wants the Bucs to think of their record as 0-0 instead of 3-0
It's the Detroit Lions who are coming off a bye week in this Sunday's matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But as far as Bucs quarterback Brian Griese is concerned, his team hasn't played a single game yet.
That's the message Griese, as an emerging team leader, would like to get across to the younger Bucs, before anyone gets too confident about the team's actual record. Each opponent must be given the Buccaneers' full attention and effort, or that 3-0 start will dissolve in the blink of an eye. That begins with the 1-1 Detroit Lions, who visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
"The challenge for us is not to look at our team being 3-0," said Griese. "That's not the way I look at it. I want to go out and win every week. I look at our season now and we're 0-0. The challenge for us, from a leadership standpoint, is to continue to motivate the team like we are just starting out the season or like we are playing from behind. Going out every week and having that drive to win, and not resting on what we've done in the past is one of the biggest assignments for the leaders on this team."
Truth be told, it shouldn't be too hard to convince anyone of the threat posed by the Lions, who have prevailed in five of their last seven regular-season trips to Tampa. Detroit was beaten handily by Chicago in Week Two, but they handled Green Bay, 17-3, in the season opener and they've had two weeks to address the issues from the Bears game.
The Lions have the sixth-ranked defense in the league and have a talented offensive roster that belies their current low ranking on that side of the ball.
"If you look at their roster, man, they've got a lot of great players, and Steve [Mariucci] is a great coach," said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We respect that they're coming off a bye. It's going to be a handful for us. We're looking forward to the challenge."
The Lions' skill-position players are almost exclusively recent first-round draft picks, including quarterback Joey Harrington, running back Kevin Jones and the trio of dangerous wide receivers, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams and Roy Williams. Jones is coming of an 1,100-yard rookie season and the three receivers have an average size of 6-4 and 224 pounds.
Harrington, the first-round pick in 2002, is the key. A starter since his rookie year, he has a career passer rating of 66.6 and, with veteran passer Jeff Garcia out with a broken leg, no experienced backup. But Harrington is obviously talented, and he's surrounded by explosive weapons, so it could be just a matter of time until it all clicks for Detroit. Hopefully, that is delayed by at least one more week.
"They've got so many great offensive players," said Gruden. "I think they're just rounding into how they're using them all. The big Michigan State kid [Charles Rogers], Roy Williams, they've got the great runner [Kevin Jones], [Marcus] Pollard came over from Indianapolis…it's still early, but you see a big, physical play-making presence out there, I'll say that."
The Lions' defense is in its second year under coordinator Dick Jauron, a man who, according to Gruden, plays classical music in his office then gets his players flying around as if they're in a mosh pit.
Gruden is impressed with the Lions' discipline, versatility and scheming on defense. He knows the Bucs must be wary of Detroit's blitz package, which helped produce six sacks and three takeaways in the first two games.
"Any time you hold Green Bay to three points, that's a great accomplishment," said Gruden. "Detroit looks like a really good defensive team. I think [Dan] Wilkinson inside and [Shaun] Rogers are really playing well. Boss [Bailey] is a heck of a linebacker and Kenoy Kennedy, a big hitter, has helped them. And [cornerback] Dre' Bly's a fine player, that's for sure.
"There's no question that Detroit is a very talented offensive team and I think very underestimated on defense. It's another NFC opponent, a team that's on the rise, a team that's in first place. That's incentive enough."
Even the loss at Chicago before the bye week might not be as bad as the final score indicated. A punt return and an interception return for touchdowns in the second quarter caused the game to snowball on the Lions quickly.
"Watching tapes this morning on the Detroit Lions, they easily could be 2-0," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "They are a very talented football team, and we have our work cut out for us."
Brooks is another of the team's primary leaders, and he independently came up with the same message as Griese.
"They have a good record here in Tampa, we've got to respect that," said Brooks of the Lions. "At the same time, we are just going to go out there and try to do better than we did last week. Make sure we're on top of the details, and make sure we get our corrections from last Sunday taken care of."
The first time Juran Bolden saw Mike Williams in person, he thought his buddies were trying to pull one over on him.
Bolden knew of Williams, of course. Not only was the talented young receiver a collegiate star during his one year (2003) at USC, but both he and Bolden were Tampa natives. They had just never met in person, until this past NFL offseason, after Williams had been taken in the first round of the draft by Detroit and Bolden had signed as a free agent with the Buccaneers.
" I heard so much about him but never had a chance to actually meet him," said Bolden. "They [said], 'That's Mike right there.' I said, 'No, it's not. That's an offensive tackle.' He's a big guy."
Bolden laughed, but he wasn't really joking. Williams, a player the Bucs might have been interested in on draft day had running back Cadillac Williams not been available, could at least pass for a tight end at 6-5 and 234 pounds. Of course, Bolden is one of the league's bigger cornerbacks, at 6-3 and 210 pounds, and that makes him better suited than most to cover Williams and the other huge receivers who are suddenly all over the NFL landscape.
The Lions, in fact, have three such players in Mike Williams, Roy Williams (6-3, 220) and Charles Rogers (6-4, 218). Bolden knows he'll probably get a crack at all three of them as Detroit sends all of its big men into the open field on Sunday. Still, the Tampa connection makes the Bolden-Mike Williams duel a bit more compelling.
"I'll match up against all three of them; it all depends on what the offense is calling on that particular play," said Bolden. "Being a Tampa native and he's a Tampa native, I know there are going to be some people keeping an eye on that, so I look forward to that challenge.
"Coming home, playing in front of the home crowd, I expect him to be just as wired up as anyone."
That may be true, but Williams has always carried himself like a player who's mature beyond his years. While he was hoping the Bucs would draft him with the fifth overall pick in April, he says the team was up front with him about its hopes and that the selection of Cadillac was obviously a good one. He also says he will be able to keep his emotions in check during Sunday's homecoming.
"I've had friends who have gone home and were kind of nervous or kind of over-excited and for one reason or another didn't perform as well as they wanted to or did things uncharacteristic," said Williams. "It's just home; it's going to be a fun environment. I know the organization pretty well, but I'm just going to keep all of that other stuff under the rug and focus in on the game itself."
At the moment, Roy Williams, the 2004 first-round pick, remains the top option of the three, with seven catches for 109 yards and one touchdown through the Lions' first two games. Rogers, the 2003 first-round pick, has four catches for 62 yards while Mike Williams has just one catch for three yards, though it did go for a touchdown.
In time, the Lions figure to get all three receivers heavily involved in what could be one of the most unique passing attacks the NFL has seen. Bolden has no doubt that his fellow Tampa product can be a big part of that.
"We haven't really gotten into studying as much as we want to yet, but I see that he's a great guy down the field," said Bolden. "He uses his body to shield defensive players. I see the fact that he's a rookie, he's still learning, but he has the potential to be a great receiver."
It's an Honor
As Josh Bidwell pointed out on Wednesday morning, it's difficult for a punter to win a conference Special Teams Player of the Week Award, because it so often goes to a placekicker who makes a game-winning field goal or a return man with a long touchdown run.
Nevertheless, Bidwell took that honor this week for his outstanding performance at Green Bay on Sunday, one that is in keeping with all of his efforts since training camp started in late July. His appreciative coach wasn't surprised by the selection, only the second ever by a Buccaneer punter.
"We're very proud of that, very pleased obviously with how Josh is playing," said Gruden. "It's a great honor and it's well-deserved."
Bidwell might have gotten a little extra kick out of the award since he won it in his old stamping grounds of Lambeau Field. Bidwell was a Packer from 1999-2003 and still has fond memories of the place. One of the first people to call and congratulate him on Wednesday was his best friend on the Packers, kicker Ryan Longwell. Bidwell also said he got a warm welcome from the fiercely partisan Lambeau crowd on Sunday.
"It's kind of neat, it was a good time, the fans were nice, and I talked to them before the game," he said. "All the players from the other team came up and said hi, gave me five when they were running by, so it was special."
Bidwell was also quick to share the honor, complimenting the rest of the men on the Bucs' punting unit, which helped the team compile a net punting average of 40.2 against the Packers.
"The Lord's given me a good opportunity this year to have a great season," said Bidwell. "A good offseason is really paying off so far, and hopefully our punt team will continue to do well. Dave Moore's been doing a great job snapping the ball. In the conditions that we had up there he did a phenomenal job and that was exciting. The guys covered well, so it will be exciting if we can continue this trend."