When a team’s rushing attack is ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the league, it not unusual for critics to label an offensive line as “soft.”
Unless you’re the Denver Broncos, who pundits have described as more of a ‘finesse’ type of blocking team, rushing the football is typically associated with being tough or strong up front, even mean.
However, Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis says a lack of toughness isn’t a concern with this line.
“It’s hard to say because last year we got the reputation of being physical and now this year we got the rep, according to some people, as not being physical.
“If we have a reputation of anything, it’s for not executing. I think our problems are more a result of a missed block here, a missed block there, or a step here or there.”
Davis deflected any of the blame off of running back Cadillac Williams, saying he is doing the same things he did last season when he rushed for 1,178 yards on the season and the team averaged 105 yards per game on the ground.
Through nine games this year, the team’s rushing average has dropped to 81 yards per game while Williams’ yards per rush has sunk from 4.1 to 3.6.
“I mean we were good last year and everybody loved us,” Davis said. “This year [the offensive line] is taking a lot of hits and a lot of criticism.
“As long as we don’t start pointing fingers at each other, we’ll get it turned around. [Offensive line coach] Bill Muir coach told us not to listen to what people out there have to say, and
John Wade, who has been in this thing for almost a decade, so he’s been through it all, also said don’t listen to what everybody says.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden blamed some of the team’s rushing woes on the fact opposing defenses are creeping safeties up toward the line of scrimmage. But Davis refused to acknowledge that as a legitimate excuse.
He pointed out the fact that teams were doing the same thing against them last season and they were still successful gaining ground. So the criticism the line receives is well understood by Davis. In fact, the players have even been critical of one another, albeit in a more constructive way.
Davis sprained his ankle during Wednesday’s practice session and was added to the injury report as questionable. Cornell Green worked in his place.
YOUNG AND YOUNGER It will certainly be a welcomed change for Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski this week to square off against an opposing quarterback with less experience than him.
In fact, the Bucs’ rookie is a veteran compared to Washington’s Jason Campbell, who will make his first NFL start against Tampa Bay Sunday. Even though Campbell is the older of the two, he has been inactive for all 25 games of his pro career since entering the league as a first-round pick out of Auburn.
Campbell was given the nod by Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, replacing the league’s fourth-oldest starting quarterback, Mark Brunell (36), after the team’s 3-6 start.
“I think obviously, it’s very tough to make a decision like that when you have a classy guy like Mark who has played so well for us,” Gibbs said during a media conference call Wednesday. “What we’re wanting to do is be more productive, so we made a decision to go with Jason.”
Brunell's production wasn’t terrible by Bucs’ standards. His 62 percent completion percentage is 10 points higher than Gradkowski’s with one more touchdown (8) and one more interception (4). The old timer has the edge in quarterback rating as well, 86.5 to 70.7.
Earlier this season against Houston, Brunell set an NFL record by completing 22 consecutive passes.
The old record was held by Oakland’s Rich Gannon, who completed 21 straight against Denver on Nov. 11, 2002, a month prior to his 37th birthday. That was a mark that stood for nearly 20 years. Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson hit 21 straight in 1983, his 11th year in the league. With two inexperienced signal callers getting the start on Sunday, it wouldn’t seem to be coincidence that all three marks were set by quarterbacks with several years of experience. Or would it?
“I’m not sure if it has anything to do with veterans, really,” Gruden said. “I don’t care if you’re 26, 36 or even 46, if you can go out there and make completions and rally and move your football team, we’ll sign you. If you know any of those guys, let me know.” But sometimes veteran savvy must give way to youthful athleticism and Brunell hadn’t led the Redskins offense to a touchdown in their last three NFC East road games.
“Certainly, it’s not one man’s responsibility and I told everybody here, if there is any one person’s responsibility for us being 3-6, it’s me,” Gibbs said.
In the team’s conference call with the media Wednesday, the Redskins’ newly anointed starter said Brunell has been very supportive and is sharing a lot of information with him.
“Mark has helped me out tremendously, you know it’s a process, he’s been through before,” Campbell said. “But at the same time he’s at the end of his career and he wanted to finish here starting.
“You know anytime you’re taken out of the starting position, you’re kind of upset at the moment. It’s a business and it’s tough on anyone. But overall, he’s been very helpful.”
ROOMMATES Washington drafted Campbell out of Auburn with the 25th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was one of four Tigers taken in that first round. Two of the other three, Cadillac Williams (No.5) and Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers (No. 9) will join him on the field Sunday.
“I talked to him last night,” Williams said about Campbell. “He’s excited about getting a chance to play. I told him I wish him the best, but not this week.”
The running back gave an impromptu scouting report on his former quarterback, saying he can make all the throws and has a great arm, especially when it comes to the deep ball. Unfortunately, the deep ball is what has been the Bucs’ Achilles heel lately.
Rodgers will be on the other side of the ball when Cadillac gets the handoff. Roommates at Auburn, the two are the best of friends and talk sometimes twice a day.
When asked if he had a message for his buddy, Cadillac declined, saying Rogers typically does enough talking for the both of them.
ON THE MEND Coach Jon Gruden declined to classify Simeon Rice’s left shoulder injury as either sprain or strain, instead calling it “bothersome.” He also said if it were up to Rice, he would’ve played last week, but it was the club’s decision to hold him out against Carolina.
When asked if he thought he would need surgery, Rice said he didn’t think so and that he felt like the injury was getting better.
Gruden wasn’t so sure.
“There is a chance [it may require surgery], but we obviously don’t want to lose him,” he said. “We need him for these final six or seven games of the season.”
Rice was one of three defensive starters who missed Monday Night’s game due to injury.
Defensive tackle Ellis Wyms stayed in Tampa while getting extra treatment on a high ankle sprain. He says he is day-to-day, but he hopes to be ready for Washington Sunday.
“We’re icing it, trying to get strength back in it,” Wyms said. “A high ankle sprain is always tough to come back from.
“They thought it would be in the best interest of the team for me not to make the trip [to Carolina]. They thought the elevation on the plane might bring some of the swelling back so stayed back and got some extra treatment on it.”
Linebacker Shelton Quarles, who was out with a knee injury, remains listed as questionable along with Rice and Wyms.
Rice and Wyms sat out of practice on Wednesday.
“All I can say is I hope we see them tomorrow because its hard to play these guys until they can come out and physically practice, so we’re concerned about them,” Gruden said.
Looking back at the Panthers game film, Gruden felt their replacements did “pretty good.” He gave particular praise to linebacker Barrett Ruud, who filled in for Quarles.
“He made some sideline-to-sideline plays and played physical inside,” Gruden said of Ruud’s performance. “I thought he made some good calls and really communicated our defense well. I was impressed with him.”
The coach also praised defensive lineman Jovan Haye and Dewayne White.
INJURY REPORT Cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), T Anthony Davis (ankle), T Donald Penn (foot), RB Michael Pittman (shoulder), LB Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle), DE Simeon Rice (shoulder) and DT Ellis Wyms (ankle) are all listed as questionable.
Bolden, Rice and Wyms missed practice Wednesday.
BUCS SIGN WR LUCAS When Tampa Bay promoted rookie defensive end Charles Bennett to its active roster Monday, it created a spot on the team's practice squad.
The Bucs didn't take long to fill it, though. On Wednesday, Tampa Bay signed wide receiver Chad Lucas to its practice squad. Lucas had spent a week on the Bucs' practice squad in October before being released.