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Graham, Dunn On Record Pace?
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's teams haven't been known for producing offensive juggernauts during his tenure in Tampa Bay.
That holds true for the team's running game, which has struggled more often than not under Gruden. Tampa Bay's ground games ranked 27th, 24th, 29th, 14th and 28th during Gruden's first five seasons with the Bucs.
To say Gruden was frustrated by his run game's production, or lack thereof, would be an understatement. Remember – he went as far as saying he did not want to be in Tampa Bay if the Bucs couldn't run the football better. That comment came after the 2004 season when Tampa Bay's running game ranked 29th.
The Bucs did something about that by using their first-round draft pick to select Cadillac Williams in 2005. Williams rushed for over 1,000 yards en route to winning the NFL Rookie of the Year award, and Tampa Bay's running game improved as a result, finishing the '05 season ranked 14th overall.
One of the most inconsistent areas on Tampa Bay's offense has found consistency over the past two seasons behind undrafted free agent Earnest Graham, who rushed for 898 yards while filling in for the injured Williams and Michael Pittman in 2007. The Bucs running game finished the 2007 season ranked 11th, which was the highest ever under a Gruden-coached team in Tampa Bay.
With a young and talented offensive line leading the way this season, Tampa Bay's ground game has improved even more. The Bucs are averaging 130 yards rushing per game, which ranks ninth in the league nearly midway through the 2008 season.
The Bucs haven't had a top 10-ranked running game since 2000 (ninth overall) and the highest its rushing attack has ever ranked was fourth, which came back in 1998.
Warrick Dunn, now 33, teamed up with Mike Alstott to help the Bucs accomplish that feat back in '98, and he and Graham have played integral roles in Tampa Bay's success via the running game this season, combining for nearly 1,000 rushing yards through seven games.
Dunn has rushed for 423 yards (4.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Graham has rushed for 456 yards (4.8 avg.) and four touchdowns.
Graham barely missed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last year, but he's on pace to accomplish that feat in '08, 1,042 yards to be exact.
At his current pace, Dunn would barely miss the 1,000-yard mark. He's on pace to rush for 966 yards. However, with Graham still serving as a lead-blocking fullback while B.J. Askew recovers from a torn hamstring, Dunn likely will continue to get plenty of carries in games, which will increase his chances of eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark with Graham.
Can you imagine? Two 1,000-yard running backs in one season in Tampa Bay? Gruden wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to run the football, was he? He made it no secret that he makes a point to get both Dunn and Graham involved in the offense each week.
“We’ll talk about that later,” Gruden said when asked if he was aware of Dunn and Graham being on record pace. “So far we’ve had seven pretty decent games. Both of them have touched the ball 110 times apiece running and receiving. They’re a big part of our offense and we try to use them in a creative manner.”
Having both Dunn and Graham rush for over 1,000 yards would be more than an impressive feat. It would make history.
Did you know only three teams have ever produced two 1,000-yard running backs in one season? The teams and running back duos are listed below.
1972 Miami Dolphins
Larry Csonka – 1,117 yards
Mercury Morris – 1,000 yards
*14-game regular season
1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
Franco Harris – 1,128 yards
Rocky Bleier – 1,036 yards
*14-game regular season
1985 Cleveland Browns
Kevin Mack – 1,104 yards
Earnest Byner – 1,002 yards
*16-game regular season
Note that all three teams were – and still are — members of the AFC. Not only would having Dunn and Graham rush for 1,000 yards in the same season put Tampa Bay in the history books as the first NFC team and only the fourth NFL team to conquer that rare accomplishment, history also suggests it would increase the Bucs' chances of making a serious run at the Super Bowl.
Miami, Pittsburgh and Cleveland each played in the AFC Championship Game the same year they produced two 1,000-yard rushers, and the Dolphins went undefeated and won the Super Bowl.
Two 1,000-yard rushers for the Buccaneers? It could happen, and that piece of history could go a long way in Tampa Bay's attempt to become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
McCoy's Release Was In Works Before DUI
It might be difficult to believe it was a coincidence that the Buccaneers released linebacker Matt McCoy just hours after he was arrested for driving under the influence, but it apparently was.
The Buccaneers started planning to release McCoy on Friday due to Maurice Stovall's hamstring injury and Joey Galloway's foot ailment, which prompted the team to promote WR Brian Clark from the practice squad to the active roster for Sunday's game vs. Seattle. With seven linebackers on their 53-an roster, the Bucs could afford to cut one, and McCoy was the odd man out.
Perhaps McCoy got word of his pending release on Friday and drank away his sorrows. Maybe he wasn't drinking at all. He is, after all, presumed innocent until proven guilty.
No one knows what really happened, but Tampa Bay did not release McCoy as a result of his DUI arrest. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden have seen similar incidents with player arrests for LB Cato June, wide receiver David Boston, safety Donte Nicholson and cornerback Torrie Cox. None of those players were released within hours of their legal trouble.
The Bucs' mentality is to let the judicial system run its course before passing judgment on their own players. McCoy wasn't afforded that opportunity because he was already on the way out of One Buccaneer Place before the alleged incident ever occurred.
Turf Concerns At Ray-Jay
Since Raymond James Stadium was built back in 1998, it has been considered one of the best stadiums in the National Football League, and that includes its grass playing surface.
But several Bucs players have expressed concern and frustration with the playing condition of the grass at Ray-Jay this season, and the feedback has been unsolicited by Pewter Report … until now.
After surveying the Bucs locker room, the results were mixed regarding the playing condition of the field at their home stadium. The complaints come as a result of some slipping, but mostly divots.
Every player Pewter Report talked to went out of their way to recognize the groundskeepers for the job they do in terms of getting the field ready to play on.
The main problem seems to stem from the fact that two football teams – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and University of South Florida Bulls — call Raymond James Stadium home. The two teams have played a total of 10 games on Ray-Jay's field since August, which makes it difficult to keep the field in prime playing condition.
"The problems are mostly right in the middle of the field," said Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "But that is a high traffic area no matter where you are playing. I think our grounds guy are doing one heck of a job just to try to make it work on Sundays.
"I know the grounds crew is doing the best they can. This type of thing happens when you share a field with a college team."
The grass at Ray-Jay is considered a fast playing surface, but it apparently has trouble holding up as a game progresses. The Tampa Sports Authority told Pewter Report this week that it replaced the center of the field the week leading up to Tampa Bay's home game vs. Seattle and plans to treat the surface and replace sections of the sidelines over the next two weeks since the Bucs and Bulls will play away from home.
A soccer game on Nov. 8 will be the only contest played at Ray-Jay until Nov. 15 and 16, which is when the Bulls and Bucs host their next home games, respectively. Although the Tampa Sports Authority said it is not doing anything unusual to the field in an effort to improve and/or maintain the playing surface, some of the Bucs players were pleased to learn that the replaced sections of grass will have a chance to settle over the next few weeks.
"I'm not a big fan of the field and wasn't last year," said Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli. "I guess it's good that they're going to replace it. It looks good at the beginning of games, but by the middle or end of it it's really torn up and there are a lot of soft spots and some divots you step in. The field crew does a good job of preparing the field, but the grass sometimes just isn't good enough to hold up."
Piscitelli sustained two serious injuries in his first two seasons in the NFL. He suffered a broken leg, which ended his rookie campaign prematurely, and more recently, a dislocated elbow, which he has since recovered from. Piscitelli does not believe it was just a coincidence that both freak injuries occurred at Ray-Jay.
"Both," Piscitelli said when asked if he believed one or both of his injuries occurred due to the playing surface at Ray-Jay. "My trainer said that it looked like my hand landed in a hole or something on the field. You can't prove that, but it didn't look right and it was a freak [elbow] injury. Last year was definitely the field. I have never felt a hole in the ground like I did that game. It was an uneven spot and my foot was at an angle. You can't necessarily blame the field because it could happen anywhere, but the better the grass the faster you play and the better you feel."
While some players, like Piscitelli, are not big fans of Ray-Jay's playing surface, others concur with some of the voters that have anointed the Bucs' home playing surface one of the best in the NFL.
"I'd rank it pretty high compared to other fields," said Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton. "I like it. The grass is low. Compared to playing in Chicago, it's night and day. The grass is way higher there. It's a fast turf. The grass is good. You don't slip. I would rate it one of the top fields I've ever played on."
So how much of an issue has Tampa Bay's home playing surface been this season? It all depends on whom you ask.
“We’ve had some issues there, but it’s a great stadium,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of the playing surface at Ray-Jay. “Plus, USF has some bigger and faster players there now. They’re tearing that thing up over there, you know what I mean? That’s the way it is. At the end of the day, if you give somebody something to complain about, whether you’re writing or playing, you’ll find something to complain about. There aren’t a lot of people that like the way we’re calling plays right now, but there are a lot of people that are fired up about it. You can probably write an article about that. The field is bad, the food is bad and the weather isn’t great today. Hey, we have the best stadium in the league. I love it. There are some issues with the sod, but that’s the way it is when you have a grass field.”
STAT OF THE WEEK
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-8 all-time in the regular season and post-season vs. the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. But did you know that the Cowboys are just 8-4 over their past 12 home games?