Second-year G Davin Joseph and the Bucs' offensive line will get a sturdy test this weekend from the Jaguars' massive defensive tackles
Through nearly three weeks of training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have labored under the intense Florida heat, repeatedly hitting sleds, bags and each other as they attempt to become a more physical football team. In five short days, they'll have a chance to gauge their progress when they take on the league's gold standard for physicality, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For the sixth consecutive year, the (1-1) Buccaneers will play the (0-1) Jaguars in a preseason intrastate matchup. Even in August, the series has typically delivered hard-fought and physically demanding games. Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden said Monday he expects more of the same when the two teams meet Saturday night. In fact, Gruden said he's looking forward to the smash-mouth style of play that characterizes the Jaguars, and he expects his team to return the favor in kind.
"[Marcus] Stroud and [John] Henderson and the Jaguars defense – they're as physical as they get, and I think our defensive line has brought it every day too, so hopefully that's going to help our team as we prepare for the regular season," said Gruden. "We're going to have to play a physical game, and we're looking forward to going up there and playing them."
In the last two years, the Jacksonville defense – led by the two mammoth tackles Gruden highlighted above – has made things difficult for the Buccaneers' offense. In 2005, the Bucs managed a mere 66 yards of offense in the first half and 123 yards through the first three quarters of play. In addition the unit suffered three sacks and had one pass picked off in a 20-17 loss at home. At Jacksonville last year, the Bucs again had difficulty running the ball early, gaining just 12 rushing yards before halftime in a 29-18 Jaguar win. Buccaneer quarterbacks were sacked five times that night, including three first-half takedowns. The Jags D also came away with two interceptions while limiting the Bucs' rushing attack to two first downs and 58 total yards.
"Let's be honest, they have physically taken it to us," Gruden acknowledged. "Their defense has been more physical than we've been offensively in the last two or three outings. You're not going to find a defense that's more physical than the Jaguars. Baltimore is very physical. There are a lot of physical teams in this league. This team is at the forefront in football at being physical. [They've got] Stroud and Henderson, and they've got two good edge rushers. They all run and they all hit."
That's exactly why Gruden is excited. He knows this type of game will provide his offense with the kind of test the unit needs. The Bucs' stable of running backs will have to find a chink in the armor of a very sturdy run defense. And the passing attack will have to function under serious duress from the Jaguars' relentless pass rush. Accomplishing those goals will largely depend on how the unit neutralizes the 6-7, 325-pound Henderson and the 6-6, 306-pound Stroud – a burden that will at least be partially shouldered by promising young guard Davin Joseph and Arron Sears.
"It's a great test to play those guys," Gruden said. "It's a great amount of fun to prepare for them because they bat balls down, they can reach across the formation. They've got arms that are 70 inches long, it looks like at times. These are real big guys, and we're looking forward to going up to Jacksonville and hopefully playing better than we did the last few times we've seen them."
Rush for Results
Versatility. Flexibility. Possibilities.
Those buzz words could be heard when the Buccaneers signed linebacker/defensive end Patrick Chukwurah this past March. They became even more common after the signing of Kevin Carter – a veteran defender with extensive experience as a tackle and a defensive end. They became standard terms in describing the Bucs' defense after the team used two of its draft picks on linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward – both 'backers capable of playing with hands to the ground as pass rushers.
Today though, Gruden eschewed any colorful descriptions for his defense, instead opting to focus on the one thing that matters: results.
"Flexibility and versatility – those are overused words in my opinion," Gruden said. "How about getting it done? How about getting a turnover and getting a sack and stripping the ball away and hitting the quarterback? That's what we need. Quincy Black will put his hand down and get some opportunities to rush. Gaines Adams is going to continue to come on and get better. [Kevin] Carter didn't get to play much in the passing downs last week. [Patrick] Chukwurah got some looks last week. We'll continue to get him some. And we think [Greg] Spires can still rush, so we do have some versatility and flexibility and all these other darn words. We just need to get to the passer with decisiveness."
The Buccaneers' defense posted the second-lowest sack total in the league in 2006, with 25. That's a number that has to increase if the team is going to be successful in 2007, Gruden said.
"You can't make excuses, man," he said. "You're going to see the three-step drop in the NFL. You're going to see time where the guy takes a three-step drop, and we cover all their receivers, too. And we've got to get there. We've got to get there. We've got to get there. We've got to get there. We've got to get there."
Make those the new buzz words.
Bucs Sign Fullback
With a roster spot available – the unfortunate result of fullback Mike Alstott being placed on injured reserve – the Buccaneers signed fullback Zach Tuiasosopo on Monday. In accordance with team policy, terms were not disclosed.
Tuiasosopo entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and had stints on the Steelers' and Oakland Raiders' practice squads as a rookie. He spent the entire 2006 season on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice roster before being released on July 10, 2007.
Tuiasosopo, who has been assigned jersey number 45, is the younger brother of former Oakland and current New York Jets quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. His father, Manu, played defensive line in the NFL from 1979-86 with Seattle and San Francisco.