DE Simeon Rice has had more sacks against the Saints than any other team in the NFL
Football is back in New Orleans, and that has made a lot of people happy.
Count Simeon Rice among those walking into the Superdome with a smile.
Driven from their home and their city by Hurricane Katrina last year, the New Orleans Saints played a vagabond season, holding "home" games in San Antonio, Baton Rouge and even New Jersey. Of course, the devastation visited on the city, the many displaced residents, was an even more significant problem. The heavily damaged Superdome was an eye-catching symbol for all that needed to be fixed in the city.
Thus, when the Superdome reopened two weeks ago for a Monday night contest between the Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, the repaired Superdome became a new symbol for the city's rebirth. The crowd was positively raucous, and the emotional atmosphere helped carry the Saints to a 23-3 victory amid their surprising 3-1 start.
The Buccaneers can appreciate all of that from afar, of course. For Rice, however, the trip back to the Superdome is welcome because it has been the site of some of his best performances. In fact, two of the five times that Rice has had at least three sacks in a single game have occurred in New Orleans (a third was also against the Saints, but in Tampa).
Overall, Rice has victimized the Saints more often than any other team, with 16 of his 120 sacks coming against that team. The now-departed Aaron Brooks is his favorite individual victim (12 sacks), but Rice didn't let up against the Saints last year when Todd Bouman drew a late-season start against Tampa in Brooks' stead. Rice sacked Bouman twice in the 2005 season finale in Tampa.
Of course, an NFL player will be the first to tell you that past outcomes have little to do with today's success. What might be a better harbinger of a big game for Rice this weekend in the Superdome is the apparent fervor with which he is approaching the game. With his Bucs in an 0-3 hole and about to begin life with a rookie quarterback, Rice is determined to take his game to another level.
"I'm going to spark us again," he said. "You'll see it again. You're going to see a hellacious effort again by me. I think defensively, we will catch fire again and do what we need to do to really cement. It has to take somebody to take responsibility of a great effort. I'm talking a supreme effort, not a decent game, a supreme effort in the face of the adversity we stacked in front of ourselves. We stacked it in front of ourselves, and it takes a supreme effort to get out of it."
Obviously, Rice's supreme efforts can be game-changing. In addition to trailing only Michael Strahan in sacks among active players, Rice has forced 35 career fumbles with his trademark chop. His two forced fumbles in the third quarter against Carolina in the Bucs' last game helped set up two touchdowns and a rally that briefly put the Bucs in the lead after they were trailing 17-0.
Expect more of the same on Sunday, says Rice.
"For this challenge, you're about to see the best of my talents," he said. "This is where you see the great players shine. This is where you see a fighting team that wants to survive be who it says it is. We have a challenge in front of us."
Rice's predictions of greatness weren't the only topics being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for the team's return to the Superdome to play the first-place Saints. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
QB Bruce Gradkowski on his week of preparation: "The week's going well. It's going really good. We had a solid two weeks to prepare. I mean we've had a bye week. I told Coach [Jon Gruden] the other day I hate bye weeks. But he said, 'No, this is great' and he named how many reps I've got. It's going really well, though. The guys have to get a feel for me in the huddle; Different voice out there; different kind of tempo. So, we need to get this thing rolling. They need to get used to me, and I need to get used to them."
WR Ike Hilliard on how different it is to play with Gradkowski and if adjustments need to be made as a receiver: "We've had some time in the offseason. I think the good thing about Bruce, too, is when he tucks the ball and runs, he's got some wheels. He's not as slow as most quarterbacks, I mean, he can run a little bit. So teams have to pay attention to that a little bit. But it's too early to say right now. Right now we're trying to pan out the offense, do some things that we'll be comfortable hitting, and we'll build from there. But the kid can play. There's no doubt about it. It's unfortunate we lost Chris, but we know we have a guy that can come in and he can throw every ball. Coach [Gruden] is going to have him comfortable with the plays we're going to run."
QB Chris Simms on how Gradkowski will fare in his new role: "Bruce is an extremely talented kid, extremely smart. There's not a whole lot he needs to hear from me at this point. He's a good guy, he works hard, he's a good player. I'll just be happy…if he's got a question about this or that, I'm going to be happy to give him a little help here and there. But he's fully aware of what needs to be done. He knows the offense and I think he's learned a lot since he's been here since April. I think the guys on the team and me personally all have a lot of confidence in Bruce."
Gradkowski on who has given him advice: "Tim Rattay, Chris Simms, they do a great job in just helping me out. They've welcomed me since day one. And Chris has been behind me. He's been a great supporter. He's just been helping me out since I got here. He's just a great, great guy. So, I just lean on him and Tim Rattay. Then I have great coaches in Coach Hackett and Coach Gruden, and they're going to help me be prepared. I just have to go out and play football and just have fun."
Simms on if he feels like he could come back late in the season: "There's been talk. I think the greatest thing the Bucs are doing for me right now is they're just letting me have a week or two here to kind of feel how this plays out a little bit. Because this is not your garden-variety injury, your ankle sprain or knee sprain. I need a few days just to kind of feel how my body's recovering, because right now just being up here for two or three hours like I was yesterday I just get worn out quickly."
DE Simeon Rice on if the defense has to play big to help Gradkowski: "It's no question. That's a segue into something that's very elementary. That's an obvious thing. We definitely need to really do what we need to do. We need to turn in a standout performance. It's going to take a supreme effort by an individual on this team, whether it be me, whether it be anybody on offense, we need that in the biggest way. If we can get that accomplished, it's going to catch fire and spark the rest of the individuals and the units on this team."
WR Joey Galloway on helping Gradkowski in the huddle: "I don't think Bruce [Gradkowski] will need help. He's been here since [May] and he's been working out with us. So, after being around Bruce, he's not the kind of guy that I feel like we'll need to help out."
Gradkowski on how much time he has taken off since being named the starter: "I had a day off or two, but I was around. I got some work done. But Coach [Gruden] also, he's like, 'Get out of here. Go relax a little bit.' He gives you your props when you need them and tells you 'Good job' and keeps you going. I mean you also need rest at this thing, but hey, I'm ready to go. I need all the preparation I can use right now. So, these guys around me are doing a great job. I mean I have great weapons around me to just lean on. I have Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard, all the receivers are doing a great job. [Carnell] "Cadillac" Williams and Mike Alstott behind me, Michael Pittman, the offensive line. Those are the guys I need to lean on. This isn't a one-man show. So, I feel confident coming in here."
Galloway on what he sees in Bruce that tells him ready to start: "He is a calm guy. He's not the kind of guy that gets real excited. When we've been with him in the huddle and I tend to joke around with guys in the huddle just to keep them loose, he handles all that well. He handles Coach well when coach gets crazy. Bruce handles all that well and we expect him to be able to go into this situation, down there it's going to be loud [and] it's going to be crazy, so if he can keep that same demeanor, he'll be fine."
Gradkowski on how nervous he is: "Any time I throw up I feel like I'm going to have a good game, so I might have to. But I'm going to be excited. The nerves are going to be running a little bit, but that's normal. When I get the nerves running I feel like I'm ready to play. It's going to be fun. I'm just going to go out and have a good time. Just remember, this is football. This is what I've been doing since I was eight years old."
Hilliard on if Gradkowski's mobility changes anything on offense: "We'll have to see that. I mean, he made some plays in the preseason. Not that it's any different, but teams don't really game plan you much in those situations. So now with coaches game planning in every situation, I'm sure mobility helps. But at the end of the day, who's to really say, unless you have a breakdown in protection where he may have to escape and make a play with his legs, or at least buy some time and make a play with his arm. But I don't want to say it's overrated or underrated, but I know we're not going to be running any quarterback sweeps with Bruce. The kid's strength is throwing the football, and now we have to elevate our games as receivers to help him out."
T Jeremy Trueblood on if Gradkowski's mobility will help him: "I don't think that has anything to do with me because when I go out there I'm just trying to make the block. I'm not trying to think about if the quarterback can outrun him if I miss. With that mindset, I don't think I'd be doing very well."
Gradkowski on how much the offense has changed since he has taken over: "I mean we've changed the offense a little bit. I don't know how much Coach Gruden's going to call with me in there. But we're different types of players. Chris [Simms] is a big, taller guy. I'm a little shorter. We have different styles of games. But we just have to get after it. I'm just going to go out there and try to play my game, and do what I need to do to try to win. And like I keep saying, I have great guys around me that I'm going to lean on. I know this is a team game and [I need] to use the weapons around me."
Galloway on the biggest challenge rookies face going into their first game: "Probably the speed of the game will be a little quicker. He played well in the preseason and that's a step up from what he was used to and he handled it well. We expect him to handle this situation well. It will just be a little faster."
Davis on being excited for the young players: "Those guys are ready to go. Those guys are so excited to get in there. And those guys are ready to play football. For me, I was nervous my first couple of weeks. I was nervous. I had to calm down because like you say, this is a business. All that nervousness, you have to throw that type stuff out the window and play football. You have to help your team win. And I think that's what those guys are ready to do. They're both coming from college. They were the best on their line in college, sitting out a little bit, I know was kind of tough for them. Right now, they both get a chance to play. So I'm looking forward to seeing them. And it's tough, too. I mean they look at us, too. We have to set an example for them, too. Especially me, I have to set an example for [Jeremy] Trueblood. Show him the right things to do, things of that nature. So, we'll be fine."
Trueblood on if he feels he is ready to start: "I feel like I am qualified to do the job, or I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. I feel ready. I can't put it any easier than that. I'm ready to go."
T Anthony Davis on the loss of Kenyatta Walker: "To a certain extent, he set the level for our line. He's a guy that knew what it took to get there. To see a guy like him go down, it's tough, but we just have to re-load. You have [Jeremy] Trueblood, you have Cornell Green, those guys are players. Trueblood, he rotated for him in camp so he knows what to do. I have all the faith in the world in him. Just like him, we all have to step up. We all have to step up now and play ball and come together as a group. But that's a good thing about this group, we all stay ready to go. No matter what happens we all just stay ready to go. We feel for a guy that goes down but at the same time we just have to keep playing ball. That's the name of the business. That's what we have to do. I think we'll be fine, of course I said that two weeks ago, too. We'll be alright. I think we'll be fine."
Davis on Kenyatta playing injured: "His toughness. That's what our whole front is all about. We have a lot of guys that are nicked up and banged up, but no one speaks about our toughness. He came out, he fought with his knee and he fought to the very end. He came out, he went through camp with that knee, he went through practice with that knee, so it's toughness. And that's just a reflection of what Bill Muir teaches us, just to be tough out there on the field. He's an old school coach, if you can walk you can play, that's the style of football. And that's what we try to do for him. Toughness, that's what we are all about."
G Davin Joseph on if it makes him more anxious to get back knowing that Jeremy Trueblood is now starting at right tackle: "I've been anxious since day one. That doesn't change for me. I've been anxious to get out there and play since I've been here. But Trueblood, I'm happy for him and I think he's going to do great out there."
Joseph on what he thinks his injury status is: "I really don't have anything to do with it. I just listen to Todd Toriscelli to see what he says and I just go with a day-to-day plan. I'm not sure where that's going to lead me as far as game-time and all that stuff."
Joseph on what he has done to stay in shape: "I've been doing different stuff, just keeping a variety to stay in shape. But football shape is different."
Joseph on how he's feeling: "It feels good to be back. As far as where I'm at, you've got to ask Todd for all those details. It feels good to be back with the guys out on the field again."
Trueblood on what he sees out of the Saints' defensive line: "They're an active d-line. They look like they're good players. I'm going to get in there as much as I can this week and try to zero-in on a few things."
Hilliard on the emotions of the city and the Superdome crowd this year: "We know what we're up against. Our backs are against the wall right now. We lost our starting quarterback – nothing against Bruce [Gradkowski]; he's going to do a great job – but it changes some things. We're going up against a team that's pretty hot right now even though they lost a game against Carolina that I'm sure they felt like they could have won. We're a team looking for our first win in a place where a lot of things went on and people are excited about having them back. And they're winning. It won't be easy."
RB Carnell Williams on playing in the Superdome: "It's going to be so fun. It kind of reminds me of the college atmosphere. The fans, I know they're going to be crazy, big party, Mardi Gras. So it's just going to be fun to go back there and be in that excitement."
Hilliard on what he finds special about playing in the Superdome: "I grew up in Louisiana, so it's always good to go and play in front of a bunch of home fans, relatives and people you grew up with. It's good to be back in that stadium. I haven't been there in awhile; 1997 was the last time I was in there. It will be good to go back in there and hopefully get a win."
Williams on what's going to help him have a big game: "I need it. I need it. But I think most of all we need it as a team. We definitely need more plays out of me and I'm praying that coach goes to me a lot. I'm healthy, I'm feeling good, and I'm just ready to get this thing turned around any way possible."
Simms on how he feels his injury situation against Carolina was handled by the team doctors: "I think everything possible was done in my best interests throughout the whole procedure. I never felt like I was in danger. It's hard for an athlete to ever say you're in danger because we think we can play through anything. At the same time, throughout the game I told Dr. [Joseph] Diaco, 'I feel okay. I feel like I can play' and that's all there really is to it. It's a tough position for him, too. You guys have to realize that. Here I am telling him I can play and that I feel okay. What's somebody supposed to do?"
Simms on how close he came to pulling himself out of the game: "You know, I pulled myself out of the game there when I took the knee. That was the first time I'd ever done anything like that. I couldn't believe that. I told Dan Buenning, our left guard, I'm extremely excited he jumped offsides on that play. I don't know if you guys remember, but as [Michael] Clayton was going in motion, I was just blacking out. We had a run play called to 'Cadillac' [Williams] and I don't know what would have happened if he didn't jump offsides and they blew the whistle."