Bucs CB Lynaris Elpheage has 10 passes defensed through just three NFL Europe games
Lynaris Elpheage, Ben Claxton and Corey Smith – three of the six Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing in the NFL Europe League this spring – will not all meet on the playing field until Week Eight of the NFLEL season. By that point, league supremacy may be on the line.
On Saturday and Sunday, Week Three of the 2004 NFL Europe season, Elpheage, Claxton and Smith all helped their teams remain undefeated in the young campaign. Elpheage made four tackles and broke up four passes as the Frankfurt Galaxy beat the Rhein Fire on Saturday and staked out a 3-0 record. On Sunday, Claxton started at center and Smith at right defensive end as the Berlin Thunder matched Frankfurt's spotless record with a 35-31 thriller against Cologne.
Though there are only six teams in the NFLEL, Frankfurt and Berlin will not meet until the eighth of 10 weeks on the league's spring schedule. After the first showdown in Frankfurt on May 22, the two teams will get together again in Berlin on June 6 of the final weekend. The following Saturday, World Bowl XII will pit the two teams with the best regular-season records.
The other three Buccaneers competing in the NFLEL this season suffered defeat over the weekend. Guard Kevin Breedlove and tackle Chris Ziemann started for the Rhein Fire team that lost to Frankfurt. Defensive tackle Damian Gregory contributed to an outstanding defensive effort in a 3-0 loss to the Amsterdam Admirals on Sunday.
Elpheage's Galaxy earned a little extra credit on Saturday because they defeated Rhein, the third team that was undefeated through the season's first two weeks. And Elpheage continued his own hot play in helping Frankfurt hold Rhein to just 208 yards of total offense.
Elpheage came into the weekend tied for the league lead with two interceptions, and though he didn't snare a third against the Fire, he remained one of the league's top performers at his position. With his four passes defensed on Saturday, he has a remarkable 10 breakups through three games, perhaps attributable to opposing teams trying to pick on the diminutive (5-8, 171 pounds) corner...and paying for it.
"Some players probably underestimate me," Elpheage told NFLEurope.com. "I do look young and I'm very small, but I have a big heart and I'm feisty. That just drives me even more and gives me something to prove to people. I know I can play football and I want everyone to know that."
Elpheage's passes defensed came at key moments for the Galaxy. Early in the second quarter, he broke up a sideline pass from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Chad Hutchinson on third-and-four, killing a Frankfurt drive. Just before halftime, he did it again, disrupting a third-and-two Hutchinson pass from the Galaxy's 34-yard line, forcing a 52-yard field goal try that came up short.
In the third quarter, with the Galaxy leading 21-10, Hutchinson tried to get his team back into the game with a deep pass down the left sideline to Green Bay Packers WR Shockmain Davis, but Elpheage was there to deny it. The Buc corner then snuffed out Frankfurt's final hopes at the two-minute warning when he denied a fourth-and-five pass by former Tampa Bay quarterback Greg Zolman.
Claxton and Smith were involved in a much tighter affair on Sunday. After the Centurions scored late in the fourth quarter to pull within four of the Thunder, Claxton and the Berlin offense picked up two first downs, enough to run the final two-and-a-half minutes on the clock. Berlin's 35-31 victory was the highest-scoring game in the NFLEL so far this season, and a stark contrast to the defensive-minded, 3-0 Amsterdam win that same afternoon.
Here is how the Bucs' half-dozen NFLEL allocates fared in this past weekend of play:
- G Kevin Breedlove, Rhein…Started at guard for third consecutive week…Recovered a fumble by Rhein QB Chad Hutchinson. * C Ben Claxton, Berlin…Started at center and helped provide protection for Thunder quarterbacks to complete 21 of 29 passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. * CB Lynaris Elpheage, Frankfurt…Started at right cornerback in Frankfurt's 28-10 win over Rhein and recorded four tackles and four passes defensed. * DT Damian Gregory, Scotland…Started at right defensive tackle, recorded two solo tackles and helped Claymores defense hold Amsterdam to 196 yards of offense. * DE Corey Smith, Berlin…Started at right defensive end and recorded one tackle and one pass defensed. * T Chris Ziemann, Rhein…Returned to starting lineup, manning right tackle spot for the Fire.