JACKSONVILLE — There were times Saturday night when the Bucs defensive tackles seemed to be in a race. On each occasion, the finish line was the same: the quarterback.
Jaguars starter David Garrard played the entire first half, and he'll have the bruises to prove it today.
He was sacked only twice, but he was decked and pressured throughout.
Defensive coordinator Jim Bates likely was happy to discover he had a variety of willing participants, including tackles Chris Hovan, Roy Miller and Dre Moore and even end Gaines Adams, who did not make many plays to speak of in the preseason opener at Tennessee.
And the Bucs managed to pound Garrard without using many blitzes, instead employing mostly a standard four-man rush. That's an important point given the difficulties the defense had in coverage early, giving up passing plays of 74 and 61 yards.
The unusual thing about the pressure was the source. The interior linemen, for the second week in a row, often had their way against the guards and center.
Emblematic was Hovan's burst off the ball in the first quarter, beating a guard into the backfield and coming within a hair of grasping Garrard. When the quarterback stepped up in the pocket to avoid Hovan's rush, he was buried by Ryan Sims.
It was teamwork at its finest.
"I just put a power rush on (the offensive lineman), and Hovan made the quarterback tuck the ball," Sims said. "As soon as he pump-faked and brought it back down, I was right there on him.
"It was just good defensive pressure all around from the whole line."
Rookie Kyle Moore notched the other sack, but the pressure and hits applied to Garrard were productive even when they did not result in a sack. Garrard was forced to leave the comfort of the pocket repeatedly.
That's an encouraging sign for a defense that hasn't displayed much consistency in this critical phase during the past few seasons.
"As long as we are making improvement each week," Hovan said, "then we are heading in the right direction."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.