G Kevin Dogins has made the most of his starting role
What Kevin Dogins and Marcus Jones went into the Buccaneers' 1999 training camp with was their coaches' confidence and the desire for an opportunity. What they didn't have was a lot of fanfare. Two players who came to the Bucs' roster from opposite ends of the spectrum – Jones was a first-round draft pick and Dogins was an undrafted free agent – they both appeared to be destined for fringe roles. Instead, they have become key players down the playoff drive stretch for Tampa Bay.
Both Dogins and Jones are likely to be in the starting lineup this Sunday in Oakland, as the Buccaneers seek the single win needed to clinch a playoff spot. Dogins will be making his third consecutive start at left guard since taking over for Jorge Diaz, while Jones will be the team's starting right end if Steve White is unable to play due to a turf toe injury. White is listed as doubtful on the team's injury report.
Even with their late elevations to the starting 22, neither Dogins or Jones are seen as a downgrade for the Buccaneers. In fact, Tampa Bay's coaches have supreme confidence in these two.
"Marcus had a great camp and a great pre-season," said Buccaneers Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli. "He's right on course for what we thought he would accomplish this season. Every time he goes in, he plays great…he had a great game last week (against Detroit). We won't miss a beat (with Jones in the lineup)."
"Kevin has played well, done a nice job," said Buccaneers Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster. "He has worked very hard. We were looking for a little more consistency at that position, a little more production, and he has given us that. He's had no major problems. Everyone is going to get beat every now and then, but there are no glaring errors in Kevin's game, which is good."
Both Jones and Dogins toil at positions that can be largely forgotten until the big play comes along. Last Sunday against Detroit, Jones played about 20 snaps filling in at both left and right end but didn't receive much recognition until he dropped QB Gus Frerotte for a 13-yard sack to kill a Detroit drive that had reached Buccaneer territory. Dogins helped provide time for rookie QB Shaun King to throw for 297 yards, unusually high by Tampa Bay standards, but was most visible pulling to the right to deliver a key block on Warrick Dunn's 68-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter.
Both players also extol the virtue of being ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along. Dogins made the Bucs' roster in December of 1996 after spending most of the season on the practice squad, and has remained active ever since. However, he appeared in only three games in three seasons before starting the final four contests of 1998 after Diaz suffered a broken foot. A strong performance in that stretch brought him into 1999 as a top reserve, and no he has taken that one step further.
"Yes, I think I've earned it," said Dogins. "I've worked hard every day, and I feel like I've been playing well. If somebody gives me an opportunity, I'm going to make the most of it."
Jones was the second of two first-round picks by Tampa Bay in 1996, but an average rookie season was followed by injury-plagued and unproductive campaigns in 1997 and 1998. With little to show for his lofty draft status entering 1999, Jones began an experimental switch from defensive tackle to end, and has taken to the new position like a fish to water. Despite starting just three games and playing an average of about 15-25 snaps per game in the non-starts, Jones is fourth on the team with a career-high five sacks. He also has 30 tackles, after recording a total of 32 in his first three seasons. His versatility to play on either side of the line has also helped the Bucs keep their starters fresh into the third quarter.
And, as Marinelli points out, Jones has kept the Bucs' level of play stay high even when White has been injured. Jones started two games for White earlier in the season (at Minnesota and at Green Bay) and had 11 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in that span.
"I have nothing to lose and everything to gain," said Jones of his approach to the 1999 season. "I just go out and play my game; even if you only have five snaps in a game, you have to be accountable for those five snaps. I had an opportunity coming into this season, and I figured I could do one of two things. I could make it count or I could waste it, and I didn't want to waste it. I never gave up on myself. I just kept working, and I will keep on working."
He should see a lot of work this Sunday, when the Bucs' try to improve their record to 10-4 and take another step toward the NFC Central title. When and if that occurs, Tampa Bay will likely still be known nationally as the team of Alstott and Dunn, Sapp and Brooks, King and Lynch. However, Jones and Dogins' names will be right there in the box score with them, quietly producing the plays Tampa Bay needs to win.