DT Chris Hovan says the Buccaneers' defense has to get back to its swarming ways
This week, the NFL Network moved the New York Giants into the top spot on their team power rankings. Frankly, Raheem Morris isn't one to argue with that.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on those Giants this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium and Morris, the Buccaneers' head coach, clearly relishes this particular matchup. He is eager to see his young squad juxtaposed with the exact sort of team he is trying to construct in Tampa.
"Every game presents an opportunity, you know that, but this one for me, personally, is stuff we've been talking about all year," said Morris. "You think about the things I've been saying: the mental toughness, the toughness of the team, the physical play, the violence of this football team. All that's the New York Giants. That's the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans. [We] study their tape and want to look like them and want to be like them."
Make no mistake, this is not some far-distant dream, some ideal that will hopefully be achieved over time. This is the mold the Bucs want to be cast from right now. They want to prove their toughness in 2009, not next year or 2011, and they want to prove immediately that they can match up with the most physical teams in the league. Defensive tackle Chris Hovan sees it as more of a necessity than a challenge.
"If you don't like being physical, you're about to get exposed right now," said Hovan on Wednesday. "I'm telling you right now – if you're a guy who has shied away from contact your whole life, you're about to be exposed. Not only are these guys good, but you're on a stage right now where millions and millions of people are watching, and they can tell who's a fake and who's a fraud out there. We're about to find out real quick who likes to hit or not. Tape doesn't lie. Rod Marinelli taught me: Tape doesn't lie. Words lie. Tape doesn't lie."
The problem for the Buccaneers is that they're coming off a Week Two game at Buffalo in which they missed 24 tackles, by their own count. That's not the calling card of a team that can physically impose its will on its opponent. Hovan said the Buccaneers would put on the pads in practice and drill incessantly on technique and pad level. However, the no-nonsense veteran said that the problems in Buffalo were not all related to technique.
What surprised Hovan against the Bills was how often the Bucs defenders did not swarm the ballcarrier.
"Guys are going to miss tackles; there are premium running backs in this league," he said. "At the same time, since I got here in 2005, and since 1996 when Tony [Dungy] first got here, it's, 'Hustle. Hustle and hit. Hustle and hit.' So let's say Barrett [Ruud] misses that tackle. Big deal; who cares? There should be 10 other guys racing to that pile and that's what we have to get to. That was uncharacteristic of us last week but I promise you we're going to be on our screws this week."
The Bucs actually tackled fairly soundly for most of their season-opener against Dallas but were stung repeatedly by deep passing plays. Either one could be a problem against the Giants, who have the league's fifth-best passing attack through two weeks plus a power running game with Brandon Jacobs that has yet to get rolling. For a defense that has allowed 450 yards per game so far and is still looking to get steady on its feet, Sunday's game is a significant challenge. That's what both Morris and Hovan want.
"So it went from big plays to missed tackles," said Hovan. "Alright, so now we have no more excuses. We need to go out there and we need to get this done. Enough's enough already."
On Tuesday, after he found out his season was over but before he was to undergo surgery on his left hand the following morning, safety Jermaine Phillips called Morris and told his coach he would still help out however he could.
"He told me whatever I need him to do for the team in whatever fashion, he's willing to, more than willing to," said Morris, obviously disappointed by the loss of his veteran defender. "He'll be missed."
The Buccaneers placed Phillips on injured reserve on Tuesday after examinations showed his thumb fracture to be more significant than expected. Phillips will require what Morris called "complex surgery" and thus the Bucs will be without one of their most experienced defenders for the rest of the fall.
Phillips was originally slated to play weakside linebacker this season, after using the entire offseason and most of training camp to learn the position. However, he was moved back to the secondary when the team lost starting free safety Tanard Jackson to a four-game NFL suspension. Morris wanted to preserve his rotation of three starting safeties, which was originally going to be Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen.
Now, Allen will assume a stating role, with Jackson not set to return until Week Five. The Bucs' only other safety is second-year player Corey Lynch, who was signed off Cincinnati's practice squad on Wednesday morning. Morris will obviously not have his desired three-man rotation, but he has plenty of confidence in Allen, a former starter for the Buccaneers.
"Like I [said] on Will Allen a long time ago, I felt like I had four starting safeties around here," said Morris. "Will didn't get a chance to play as much last year, but in '04 and '05 and '06, he played a lot, was a starter. He was in that flipping, dual role that I talk about all the time that I play with my safeties. We've got a lot of confidence in Will's ability, we've got a lot of confidence in his knowledge, we've got a lot of confidence in what he can do. He'll be back there joined with Sabby. Those two guys have got to pick up the slack and play like starters, and be starters."
Another member of the Bucs' somewhat depleted secondary, cornerback Elbert Mack, remains on the injury report with a shoulder ailment, though he practiced fully on Wednesday. Tight end John Gilmore, who hasn't played since mid-August due to an ankle injury, also practiced without limitations to begin the week of New York Giants preparation.
The same could not be said for six other Buccaneers, including center Jeff Faine, who remains out with a triceps injury suffered on opening weekend. He is not likely to return to action this week against the Giants. The Bucs do hope that two other players who were held out on Wednesday – wide receiver Maurice Stovall (knee) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (ankle) – will recover in time to play this weekend.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant practiced in a limited fashion, just as he did last Wednesday. However, that was all the action Bryant got last week and he didn't travel with the team to Buffalo. Since his knee injury is seen as a day-to-day situation, the Bucs are hoping that things will go differently this week.
"Obviously, A.B. wants to play," said Morris. "I've got a great feeling about it. I'm sure he does as well. I believe in A.B. and what he can do. We're going to try get him out there as quick as we can, as quick as he can go. We're just all hopeful right now that he's going to be out there."
Running backs Earnest Graham (hamstring) and Clifton Smith (quad) were limited in Wednesday's workout. Linebacker Matt McCoy was on the injury report with a back ailment but was able to participate fully.
The Giants released a fairly lengthy injury report, as well, with eight players who were not on the field to start the week of practice. That included four starters: wide receiver Domenik Hixon (knee), defensive end Justin Tuck (shoulder), cornerback Aaron Ross (hamstring) and safety Kenny Phillips (knee). Wide receiver Mario Manningham, who leads the Giants with two touchdown receptions and is second in both receptions (13) and receiving yards (208) so far, was limited in practice due to a shoulder injury.
Jovita Hollins was driving down Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa when she got the phone call, and at first she thought it was one of her friends pulling a prank.
After all, how could she have won a trip for London? She never even entered a contest.
What Hollins failed to recall was that when she signed up for the brand new One Buc Club on Buccaneers.com in June, she was automatically entered into a series of drawings for some very valuable prizes. One of those prizes, to be awarded to a One Buc Club member chosen at random, was a trip for two to London to watch the Buccaneers take on the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium on October 25.
Once she was convinced the Buccaneers ticket office representative on the other end of the line was real, Hollins was elated. The trip to London, which includes air fare, accommodations and tickets to the game, will be the most adventurous trip of her life so far.
"I was very excited when I got the call," said Hollins, who came to Buccaneer headquarters on Wednesday to claim her prize. "I'm still excited. This will be a very nice life experience for me."
Between post-practice meetings and a treatment session on his hamstring, Graham came out to the lobby to personally present the prize envelope to Hollins. Graham said the London experience was one he was going to happy to share with some of the team's fans, including the very fortunate Hollins.
The Buccaneers have already awarded several valuable prizes through the One Buc Club since the season began. Another lucky Bucs fan recently won a luxury suite at Raymond James Stadium for the opening-weekend game against the Dallas Cowboys. More drawings are to come, and all you have to do to be eligible is join the One Buc Club. It's free, it's easy to join and it's a whole new way to get closer to the team.
Click here to find out more about the One Buc Club and its advantages. New prize opportunities will be announced soon.