CB Donnie Abraham is gaining national exposure
Head Coach Tony Dungy says he's in a zone. The Buccaneers' underpublicized and maybe underappreciated left cornerback, Donnie Abraham, has made so many big plays in recent weeks that he is starting to get some regular exposure. On Wednesday, he was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against Minnesota on Monday night.
It marks not only the second such award in Abraham's career but the second time he has taken the honor in a three week span. The Bucs' fourth-year cornerback was also the Player of the Week for Week 11, following a two-interception, one-touchdown effort in the Bucs' 19-10 win over Atlanta (11/21).
Abraham's recent interception and scoring stats may be gaudy, but he still fits the complimentary bill of 'steady performer' in Dungy's mind. "Donnie played pretty well for us in his first year," said Dungy, referring to Abraham's rookie season of 1996. "He made a lot of spectacular plays once he got in the starting lineup. He's pretty much been steady for us ever since.
"But that game on Monday was special. You don't have a defensive back get his hands on five balls in a game very often."
Dungy is referring to Abraham's remarkable five passes defensed against the Vikings, a total that pushed his season mark to 25 breakups in just 12 games. Two of those were interceptions, the first of which he returned 55 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. Abraham made an incredibly athletic play to notch his second TD in three weeks, pulling out of a corner blitz to leap at the line of scrimmage and snare a bullet from Jeff George about five yards after it left George's hand.
"When you make a catch like that, you're in a zone," said Dungy. "We practice that play in practice a million times and maybe catch it once."
Abraham has five interceptions over the last three games and a career-high six on the season. From Abraham to Dungy, all involved swear that there has been no change in the approach the defense or its cornerbacks have taken in recent weeks. "It could be anything," said Abraham. "We do the same things every week, but now you are starting to see the turnovers come and you're starting to see our confidence out there."
Abraham's award is the sixth NFC Player of the Week honor given to a Buccaneer this season. DT Warren Sapp (Week Two) and LB Derrick Brooks (Week Seven) have also won defensive honors and DE John McLaughlin (Week Three) and K Martin Gramatica (Week 11) have taken home special teams accolades. That marks the most Player of the Week awards a Buccaneer team has ever received in a single season; the 1997 squad was honored five times.
While Abraham is obviously earning recognition from the National Football League, it remains to be seen if he has raised his league profile to the extent of earning Pro Bowl consideration. Four of Abraham's defensive teammates, DT Warren Sapp, LBs Hardy Nickerson and Derrick Brooks and S John Lynch, are veterans of the Pro Bowl and the Bucs are hoping for multiple nominations from that squad this year.
"Pro Bowls are mainly statistics and exposure," said Dungy. "Lots of guys that are good enough to go to the Pro Bowl don't make it."
Of course, Abraham is gaining in both statistics and exposure. He is now tied for the NFC lead in interceptions and is just one behind league-leader Sam Madison of Miami. He also performed his latest Player of the Week show in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. What Abraham does not have is a streak of self-promotion.
"You basically see two types of personalities at that position," said Dungy. "You either have a guy who's ultra-confident, ultra-swager, or you have a guy that just comes in and quietly does his job. You don't see much in between."
Abraham clearly falls into that latter category, although his play has been anything but quiet lately.