Berlin C Ben Claxton, a Buccaneers-allocated player, helped QB Rohan Davey throw four TD passes without being sacked
The Berlin Thunder is 5-0 at the midway point of the 2004 NFL Europe season and quarterback Rohan Davey, allocated to the NFLEL by the New England Patriots, appears to be well on his way to securing league MVP honors.
Davey, who threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in Berlin's 33-29 victory over Amsterdam on Sunday, is certainly deserving of that award, especially since his team is the leading contender for World Bowl XII. Still, even if he did have a hand in every Thunder score on Sunday, Davey can't do it all alone.
It's clear that Davey is playing in front of a strong offensive line. At the center of that line is Tampa Bay Buccaneers-allocated player Ben Claxton.
Against the Admirals, Davey wasn't sacked, giving him time to complete 10 of 17 passes for 149 yards and four touchdowns (two other Berlin quarterbacks combined to complete six of 10 passes and not take a sack). He also enjoyed the benefits of a strong rushing attack, which picked up 117 yards on 29 carries. In all this year, Davey has suffered just three sacks while completing 64.7% of his passes and compiling a 11-3 touchdown-interception ratio.
Claxton isn't the only Buccaneer contributing mightily to Berlin's success. On defense, end Corey Smith continues his destructive NFL Europe campaign, recording his sixth sack in five games on Sunday against Amsterdam. Smith, who ranks second in that category to Frankfurt's Bobby Setzer (seven).
Smith continued to dominate late in games. After sealing the Thunder's fourth win a week ago with a sack and forced fumble on the Rhein's final offensive play, he recorded his lone sack in the Amsterdam game during the Admirals' final drive. Smith dropped quarterback Clint Stoerner for an 11-yards loss on third-and-10 with under two minutes to play, and although Stoerner then completed a 23-yard pass on fourth down and a touchdown toss two plays later, the Admirals ran out of time in their comeback attempt.
Thanks to frequent updates from the Buccaneers' pro personnel department, Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Gruden has been able to keep track of the team's European representatives. With all six of the Bucs' allocated players filling significant roles and performing well, it has been an encouraging spring so far. Gruden is interested in seeing how those same players perform when they get back to Florida for training camp.
"Corey Smith arguably could have seven or eight other sacks," said the coach. "He's been close. He's been doing a nice job with his pass rush. Another defensive tackle we sent over there, (Damian) Gregory, has also flashed at us at times. But we will, I think, benefit from getting some of those guys back who have a little seasoning now and hopefully can compete for us during training camp."
Gregory has indeed played well for the Scottish team, and he contributed another sack on Sunday as the Claymores earned their first victory with a 13-12 thriller against the Rhein Fire. Gregory's play proved to be huge, as his fourth-quarter sack of quarterback Chad Hutchinson – a Dallas Cowboys' allocate and Smith's victim of a week ago – on third down at Scotland's 15 forced Rhein to settle for a field goal. Rhein thus improved its lead to just 12-7, setting the stage for Claymores quarterback Curt Anes to hit wide receiver Ronald Bellamy with a 28-yard touchdown pass on the last play from scrimmage.
Two other Buccaneers were on the losing end of that score, Kevin Breedlove and Chris Ziemann continue to start at right guard and right tackle, respectively, for the Fire. Rhein is now 2-3 after starting the season 2-0. They remain in contention for a World Bowl berth, however, as the NFLEL's championship game pits the two teams with the best records after the 10-week regular season. Rhein is tied with Amsterdam for third place behind Berlin and the 4-1 Frankfurt Galaxy.
Buccaneer cornerback Lynaris Elpheage had a hand in getting the Galaxy to 4-1, and keeping them just behind the Thunder, as he collected four solo tackles and two passes defensed on Saturday. Frankfurt, which lost in overtime to Amsterdam last weekend to drop a game behind Berlin, avoided another extra period on Saturday when running back Skip Hicks ran for a five-yard touchdown with 47 seconds left on the clock. That run capped a four-play, 60-yard drive that gave the Galaxy a 24-17 victory over the Cologne Centurions.
Elpheage, who starts at right cornerback for the Galaxy, continues to have an extremely active spring season. His two passes defensed on Saturday give him 12 for the season, exactly two per game. The next highest total on the Frankfurt defense is four, and no other player in the entire league has been credited with more than six passes defensed.
Claxton's Thunder and Elpheage's Galaxy don't meet until the eighth week of the season. In a pair of games that may decide the regular-season title, Berlin plays at Frankfurt on May 22 and Frankfurt heads to Berlin on June 6. World Bowl XII is scheduled for Saturday, June 12.
Here is a summary of how the Bucs' half-dozen NFLEL allocates fared in this past weekend of play:
- G Kevin Breedlove, Rhein…Started at right guard for fifth consecutive week. * C Ben Claxton, Berlin…Started at center for Berlin and helped Thunder's offensive line allow no sacks of three different quarterbacks…Also helped open holes for 117 rushing yards on 29 carries. * CB Lynaris Elpheage, Frankfurt…Started at right cornerback in Frankfurt's 24-17 win over Cologne and broke up two passes…Also made four solo tackles. * DT Damian Gregory, Scotland…Subbed at defensive tackle and contributed one tackle and one sack. * DE Corey Smith, Berlin…Started at right defensive end and recorded one sack, his sixth of the season…Also pitched in with two tackles and a fumble recovery that led to a Berlin touchdown. * T Chris Ziemann, Rhein…Started at right tackle for the fourth time in five weeks.