DT Chris Hovan says the Bucs' defensive line will have to play a disciplined game on Sunday
When the Dallas Cowboys' starting offensive line carpools to work, do they make Kyle Kosier sit in the middle?
After all, at 305 pounds, Kosier is the "lightweight" of the group.
The Cowboys have long been known for their enormous (and enormously talented) offensive lines, and the 2009 version is no different. Kosier is by no means a small man, but he gives up 13 pounds to the next two lightest linemen and 48 pounds to right guard Leonard Davis. At 6-5, Kosier does have an inch on center Andre Gurode, but overall the Cowboys' front five runs an average of 6-6 and 326.4 pounds.
The Buccaneers' defense knows that finding a crack in that looming wall will be of utmost importance when Tampa Bay takes on Dallas on Sunday in each team's 2009 season opener. The Cowboys have a power rushing game featuring Marion Barber and a quarterback in Tony Romo who is adept at creating big plays when the pass rush gives him too much time. That mountainous line makes both aspects of the offense work.
"They are very big up front as far as their offensive line," said Bucs starting left end Jimmy Wilkerson, who runs 270 pounds himself. "Our key job is to stop Marion Barber and [Felix] Jones and get to [Romo], take him out of the game and control the time."
Left tackle Flozell Adams and right tackle Marc Colombo round out the Cowboys' starting line. They are not invincible, of course – Dallas ranked 21st in rushing yards and 13th in sacks allowed per pass play last year – but they definitely present a formidable challenge. The Buccaneers' linemen will have to be at the top of their game as the season begins in order to meet that challenge.
"The integrity of pass rush lanes is going to be huge this week," said defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "We are going to have to hit Romo and get in there early. They can run the ball too. They probably have one of the best backs in the league. They don't talk about it as much as they should. This guy [Barber] is really a bowling ball. He can do it all, he can protect, block, catch. He is a formidable asset to that team. He is going to be a high, high priority."
The Buccaneers did sack Dallas quarterback Brad Johnson three times last year – one by Ryan Sims and two by Gaines Adams – and were able to limit the Cowboys to 172 yards of offense despite losing, 13-9. However, Romo is significantly more mobile than Johnson, and that performance might not be of much predictive value anyway because Tampa Bay is operating a new defensive scheme in 2009 under Coordinator Jim Bates. Bates likes to press aggressively with his cornerbacks to take away routes and make the quarterback hold the ball longer than he wants to. Theoretically, that gives the pass-rushers a bit more time to get to the passer. However, if the pressure doesn't arrive, the burden becomes great on the rest of the defense.
That's especially true with the sometimes elusive and often creative Romo.
"That's his most dangerous asset," said Sims. "He knows how to get away from rushers, and that in turn gets the defensive backs looking back in the backfield, and then these wide receivers get wide open. He's really good at that, and that's what we have to stop. We've got to keep him down so that the man coverage can work. They can only play man for so long, so we've just got to get to him."
Sims says the Buccaneers may rely on blitzes from time to time but the key to long-term success on Sunday will be getting pressure with just the front four. That means a long, hard day for him, Wilkerson, Adams and Hovan, as well as whatever reserves the team keeps active.
"You have to do some things to try to get around this offensive line," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "They are monsters, who are we kidding? They are big guys. Maybe you want to use some movement, you want to hit them right in the mouth, you want to try to go around them and you have to outwork them. You have to do some different things on them. You are talking about an offensive line that is stacked. You are talking about big bodies in there that once they get on you they can absolutely maul you. They are strong, they are physical and they are violent. They are very good. We just have to hope that we can hold up."
Better Late Than Never for Arrington
Kyle Arrington wasn't on the list when the Buccaneers formed their first regular-season roster last Saturday. However, the first-year cornerback will be on the team when it plays its first regular-season game on Sunday.
Originally waived on Saturday, September 5 and signed to the practice squad the next day, Arrington got the call up to the 53-man roster on Thursday. The team waived rookie cornerback William Middleton to make room. Middleton, a fifth-round pick by Atlanta in April, had been claimed off waivers by the Buccaneers on Sunday after he was a cutdown victim of the Falcons.
Arrington has been with the Buccaneers for most of his NFL career, which began in April of 2008 after he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles. He made the Eagles' practice squad to begin his rookie season, but was released after one week and signed a week later by Tampa Bay. Arrington spent the last 14 weeks of the 2008 season on the Bucs' practice squad and then re-signed with the team in January.
The 5-10, 196-pound Hofstra product shares an alma mater with Morris and practice squad wide receiver Mario Urrutia. As a senior at Hofstra, Arrington tallied 53 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles.
During the 2009 preseason, Arrington played in all four of the Buccaneers' games and produced 10 tackles, one tackle for loss and a team-high four passes defensed.
The official injury report for starting wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton changed on Thursday, but their outlook for Sunday's game did not.
Bryant (knee) and Clayton (hamstring) had practiced on Wednesday, which was noted on the season's first injury report. Both were then marked as "limited participation" on Thursday, but that was more a reflection of the unusual schedule of Week One than any lingering health issues.
The Buccaneers had an extra day to work with since there was no game on Sunday. Morris chose to push the week up a day, giving the players Monday off and holding the usual Wednesday practice on Tuesday, which put the extra time at the end of the week. The usual Thursday practice was held on Wednesday, which gave the team two days to perform its usual Friday review. With another chance to go over the game plan on Friday, Morris chose to take a cautious approach with his top wideouts.
Tight end John Gilmore, linebacker Adam Hayward and rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers all missed practice again on Thursday; their official status for the game will be announced with Friday's injury report. Rookie defensive end Kyle Moore was added to the report after not practicing on Thursday due to a groin strain that Morris characterized as very mild.
Though the Buccaneers are deep at the tight end position, Gilmore is the team's best blocking tight end and the opponent on Sunday certainly knows how to bring pressure off the edges.
"He's our blocking threat as far as the tight end position goes, with the other two guys being mainly wideouts," acknowledged Morris. "But you did see Jerramy Stevens this preseason start to develop some blocking aspects to his game, becoming the Y, becoming better at that. He was actually being pushed by Gilmore, being pushed by Kellen [Winslow]. Kellen is not afraid of it; [he's] just a smaller body, so he can do it a little bit for you, too. You can go to the well, you've got to have a big body on your team like B.J. Askew. You've got a seventh tackle that's going to be up. You've got all kinds of issues you're going to have to deal with and you've got to be ready to play. We'll be ready to go."