G Cosey Coleman is familiar with blocking for Brad Johnson, but not with many of his new teammates
When Cosey Coleman lines up at right guard for the start of Sunday's game in Washington, D.C., he'll have a new teammate, Todd Steussie, on his right. While the man to Coleman's left, center John Wade, has been in that spot for a year, the left side of the line blurs back into newcomers, with Matt Stinchcomb at guard and Derrick Deese at tackle.
And Coleman might stop to think of how he got to that spot, surrounded by mostly new teammates. There was an unsatisfying free agency period, a serious intestinal problem that required surgery and led to an enormous weight loss, weeks of training to regain strength and bulk, and a serious amount of competition for his seat of incumbency.
In other words, just a typical year on the Bucs' offensive front.
As Head Coach Jon Gruden said, his Bucs of 2002-04 have not been 'blessed with continuity' on offense, particularly on the line. The team's Super Bowl season two years ago started without the right guard or right tackle in place, as Coleman was injured to start the season and Kenyatta Walker was deactivated for one game. Last year, injuries to Jason Whittle, Kerry Jenkins and Roman Oben led to season-long shuffling up front.
So Coleman, and his O-line teammates, are used to this sort of thing. They believe they are ready to start the season strong, even after Deese and Stinchcomb missed a lot of preseason playing time.
"Well, it's just the first game," said Coleman. "It's still early and everything is looking good up until this point. All the minicamps all through the off season, as well as the preseason. But nothing is official until we go about game one."
The Bucs have searched for a long time for a dominant front. Coleman would like to see this group make its mark on a team that has traditionally been led by its defense.
"We are a rugged group, a veteran group, to say the least," he said. "We still have a point to prove around here since the defense has carried this team for so long. From an offensive standpoint, especially the linemen, I think we are still in the process of trying to create an identity, a name for ourselves around this league."
The man for which this issue is most important – quarterback Brad Johnson – believes in the group protecting him from the league's crazed QB hunters. He knows the front will get a very interesting opening-day challenge from Washington, which uses exotic blitz packages to confuse opposing lines and put pressure on the offense.
"We'll be better week five than week one, and we'll be better at the end of the season than now," said Johnson. "But with the players we have, the progression we've made at training camp, I feel comfortable going into the first game. You never know what teams have shown, what they will bring at you during the first game. A lot can happen during the first game, especially at Washington, with their blitz packages."
Here are some other thoughts from Buccaneer players overheard in the locker room this week:
LB Derrick Brooks on getting the season started: "It feels good. This year is a little different because we have 10 days to prepare for our first opponent. We are ready to get the season kicked off. It starts tomorrow night. It leaves you antsy till Sunday, but we have to hold the anxiety back and get this work in today, tomorrow and Friday, and hopefully go to Washington and get a win."
WR Joey Galloway on opening day: "I am excited. I have been excited since I got here in April. I think as a receiver we have always admired what Coach Gruden has done, wherever he has been. I finally have a chance to be a part of that, to get into the system and hopefully be successful in the system is exciting for a receiver."
DE Simeon Rice on Joe Gibbs' homecoming: "There's going to be a lot of hysteria. I think they're going to over-blow the situation a little bit. That's just my personal opinion."
DE Greg Spires on the atmosphere surrounding this game: "It feels like it's a playoff game. We want to start the first game of the season on a good note, so this game is important."
Brooks on Joe Gibbs: "We can't let it be a distraction. We know it's his first game back at home, so there will be a lot of things going on out there. We have already discussed it behind closed doors and we can't let all of their excitement become a distraction. We have to keep our minds focused on the game. When all of the fireworks have settled, it's time to play football. Period. He deserves it. He is one of the best in the business."
Rice on last season: "Another moment in my history, another moment in time. Last year is in the past. There's nothing you can do about that. When you look back from a player's standpoint, it doesn't even mean anything to me anymore. You can't walk out there with past demons on your head, you're not moving forward."
QB Brad Johnson on the success they had against Washington last year: "Last year really has nothing to do with this year. They do have some of the same players, but they have added some players and changed their schemes a little bit. Two different schemes, totally. It's been explosive. I believe they had two shutouts in the preseason. They've opened up a can of worms for what they are doing defensively. They've got some guys who can run, some playmakers that strip the ball. It's hard to make a lot of big plays on these guys. They do a great job of disguising the blitzes, especially with the guys they have."
Johnson on how much Joey Galloway will help him: "It opens us up quite a bit. At different times you can take a shot. More than anything it helps our running game. It's going to be interesting to see how they play some of our different receivers and to see how explosive we can become."
Galloway on the Bucs' offense: "I'm excited about the offense. I'm excited about the capabilities. The guys that we have, the veterans, a lot of us are new, but a lot of us have played a lot of football. I think right now we have a pretty good grasp of what needs to be done. There's always room for improvement, but we plan to be successful."
WR Michael Clayton on talk about rookie of the year: "You do what you have to do. If it's my award to win, I'm going to win it, doing what I am supposed to do on the field, but it's not about the individual accomplishments because right now the main goal is to win the championship. Whatever comes along with that will come."
Brooks on this year's defense being stronger than last year's: "We'll see. I'm not big on comparing. We'll see when the season's over. This defense matches up on paper as good as the others. Now, we have to go out there and execute. I'm really not big on comparing. We have had a good preseason, now hopefully we can continue that momentum over to the regular season."
Coleman on the personalities of the offensive line: "We have a lot of characters on the team this year. We all come together with the same agenda, the same task in front of us and regardless of the personality, we all have the same goal, the same mission, and that's to give Brad time to do his thing and open holes for our running backs."
Clayton on the best advice he has received from Tim Brown: "How to relax. When I came in, anxiety was flaring up. I was winded after two plays. Sometimes I would be down on myself because I was making mistakes. He said that no one plays this game perfect. I have been able to go out there and perform and catch the ball like my normal self."
CB Brian Kelly on the secondary coming together for the first game: "We know what we can do as a unit. We know we're very talented back there. These guys that we have back there in the secondary can all pull their weight and we're looking forward to doing that this season."
S Dwight Smith on the importance of turnovers and defensive scores: "Super Bowl year, we had a lot of defensive scores during the year and in the playoffs, so we figure that's the type of thing we need to get us back where we need to be."
Rice on whether the team is set defensively: "Yes, defensively I think we'll be cool. That's my personal opinion."
Rice on whether the team can be a Super Bowl team again: "I think so, definitely. Right now this is like starting out in school, everyone has all A's. We want it all."
Smith on the intensity he shows on the field: "It doesn't matter who we play or where we play, my intensity is always going to be the same. I am always ready to play and just the chance to get out there and play and make plays is what gets me going."
Spires on Washington's players: "They have a great team over there. They have a very good offense, so we have our work cut out."