Tony Dungy praised the play of Todd Washington and the Bucs' other backup interior linemen
During an NFL football game, some things are obvious from any point in the stadium. Others don't become apparent until you watch the videotape the next day.
For instance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running game produced only 50 yards on 26 carries Friday night as the Bucs downed the Washington Redskins 13-12. While that seemed like the only real negative out of a strong first performance, it was in fact not as upsetting as the raw numbers would have you believe.
That, at least, is the opinion of Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy after he had reviewed the tape from Friday's contest, and we tend to put a lot of stock in that opinion.
Specifically, Dungy felt that the 1.9 yards per carry posted by the rushing attack was symptomatic of minor issues, not serious personnel problems.
"I came away last night disappointed because I thought we'd run the ball better," said Dungy. "But, in looking at the tape, we had some things that were very close that, when we clean it up, we'll get that. I came away encouraged about our run offense, and I think we'll get it going."
Asked to elaborate, Dungy said: "Just backs missing the cut, not reading it properly. One guy just being a little bit off on his block or his head placement, and therefore it's a one-yard gain instead of a possible big-gainer. A couple things like that. But we had some plays where we blocked very well by seven or eight guys, we just had one breakdown. It wasn't as disappointing to me in watching it as the numbers indicated."
Falling into that more obvious category, of course, was the play of second-year safety Dexter Jackson. Dungy was as impressed as the fans in attendance, and feels that Jackson may be forcing himself into the rotation. That's a tricky issue, since the Bucs are quite pleased with their starting safety pair of John Lynch and Damien Robinson, but it's not unprecedented with Dungy's Bucs.
"We did the same thing with Ronde when he started playing well two years ago," said Dungy. "That's what happens – you just force yourself to put him in there. Damien was in that situation with Charles Mincy (in 1998). We'd just go in with the plan that we were going to play Damien one series in the first quarter, one series in the third quarter. When guys merit that, when they make plays, you have to try to do that."
On the more immediate front, Jackson will continue to be featured prominently as Robinson completes his recovery from a hamstring strain suffered in the first hour of camp practice. Jackson isn't alone, as some other previously lower-profile Bucs may be earning a longer look. Tampa Bay isn't ready to make roster decisions yet, but they're moving in that direction.
"We don't have to cut for two more weeks, and we really didn't look at it that way (on Friday)," said Dungy. "Some guys will get a little more playing time now because of what they've demonstrated, and other guys will maybe get a little bit less. Some guys really got after it, especially on special teams."
But who, Coach, who? Dungy is rarely prodded into comparing his players against each other, but he was willing to point out a few Bucs that caught his eye on Friday.
"I thought Rabih Abdullah had a big day, making some things happen," said Dungy. "Chris Daniels snapped the ball for us a little bit and showed some good work in coverage. The returners, I thought, hit it pretty well. Aaron Stecker…Rabih had a couple chances there. It was encouraging for the most part."
"I thought George Hegamin did a very good job after just a couple days of work at left tackle, and that was pleasing. Cosey Coleman came in there and played well inside. I thought our backup three inside guys – Cosey, Kevin Dogins and Todd Washington – went in there on our touchdown drive and really did a nice job. That was good to see."
Uh-huh. Anyone else?
"Our young DBs played pretty well, got the ball back for us. Nate Webster went in and played well the time that he was in. Jamie didn't get that many plays because we had all those three-and-outs early, so Nate ended up playing a little more. Both of those middle linebackers did well and that was pleasant to see."
Dungy didn't like everything he saw, of course. There were, after all, only 13 points on the board for Tampa Bay at the end, not a comfortable figure when your opponent scores 12. There were also some conspicuously wasted opportunities, though Dungy was less worried about a pair of missed field goals by Martin Gramatica than by other lost chances.
"Not making the kicks, we're always disappointed in that, but it's not something that we're too alarmed by," he said. "I'm pretty sure Martin's going to make those (in the regular season). We've got to eliminate the penalties, we've just got to do that. It cost us a lot of big field position. Probably the biggest disappointment in the game was getting in the plus territory seven times and only getting two scores out of it. We've got to execute a little better down there close. We've got to make our field goals, we can't throw the interception. That can really change the momentum of the game. If we correct those mistakes, it would have been a good night."
The Bucs also struggled a bit to pick up Redskin blitzes, though they surrendered just one sack. Overall, that's not an issue that's keeping Dungy up at night. "We have to be better against that, but that will come," he said. "We haven't had many blitz periods (in practice). We've worked on our base offense and defense. The more we work on it, the better we'll be. You're going into a situation where you really don't know what to expect (in the preseason opener). You know there's going to be some blitzes, but you don't know exactly what they are. From here on out, you have some tape to look at and you have a better shot at preparing for it."
Dungy doesn't necessarily expect an overwhelming amount of blitzing from the Miami Dolphins next Thursday, but he is looking forward to playing against the 'Phins excellent bump-and-run style of defense. He is also anticipating the return of a few key players. Among the players who will be evaluated during Tuesday's full-pads practice in terms of their availability for Thursday are James Whalen, Damien Robinson, Mike Alstott, Jason Odom and Pete Pierson "They're all guys that we're going to see how they feel on Tuesday," said Dungy. "If they're able to go through the Tuesday morning practice, then we'll feel a little better about our evaluation."
You can bet those players are eager to get back, especially as their backups began to draw some attention. "There is always motivation when guys at your spot do well," said Dungy with a laugh. Overall, there was a lot more on Friday night to bring a smile to Dungy's face than a frown.