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Tampa Bay Buccaneers digging deep into their bag of tricks

They're the kinds of plays you might etch with a stick in the dirt during a backyard Turkey Bowl.

With a little razzle, they might dazzle if everything goes perfect. Some are high-risk, high-reward calls that you don't think twice about making if all that's at stake is the loser buys the beers.

Need examples?

A dribbling onside kick with the team trailing by a touchdown in the third quarter; the backup quarterback entering the game to fake a draw play and keep the ball on a sweep, pass for a first down or line up at receiver; the third wideout taking a direct snap and passing to the fullback on fourth and 1 from midfield; a play-action pass to the 330-pound tackle reporting as an eligible receiver on third and goal.

In the past three games, Bucs coach Raheem Morris has sent those plays in with varying degrees of success. He wants to create a bold, go-for-broke mentality that is partly responsible for Tampa Bay's 7-3 record heading into Sunday's game at Baltimore.

"It's better to watch us now, isn't it?" cornerback Ronde Barber said. " … But good teams assume their head coach's personality. They do. In 2002, we were Jon Gruden. We had that brashness, that high level of expectation, everybody being accountable and we won. This team is just like Raheem is, a willingness to take chances. He takes chances. We're willing to do some ignorant stuff for the benefit of the football team. That's winning football for us."

Last week's 21-0 shutout of the 49ers in San Francisco might have provided the most outrageous opportunity for the Bucs' trickery.

On third and goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, left tackle Donald Penn and defensive tackle Roy Miller checked in as eligible receivers. Miller lined up at fullback, and Penn played tight end on the left of the formation.

A basketball player in high school with nimble feet for a big man, Penn had lobbied offensive coordinator Greg Olson for more than a year to use him as an eligible receiver, ever since he caught a deflected pass from Josh Freeman a year ago and rumbled 15 yards for a first down.

"You see it in practice, and you joke about it, saying, 'He's never going to get that called in a game,' " receiver Micheal Spurlock said.

After the play was called, players and coaches inched closer to the sideline with anticipation, and Penn feared the disguise would be lost if he didn't wear a poker face.

"I was just trying to be calm and not walk up to the line with a smile on my face so I wouldn't give it away," Penn said. "I was just trying to do everything normal. We knew it was going to be wide open and that's the least thing they would expect."

The Bucs sold the play-action fake to LeGarrette Blount, who followed Miller through the hole. Penn blocked down on a 49ers defensive end before pivoting into the left flat and making a difficult catch of a touchdown pass from Freeman that was below his waist and away from his body.

"The good thing is Josh is one of the few people who knew how good my hands are," Penn said. "That probably won't ever happen again in my life, but that's one thing that I'll never forget."

Like all coaches, Morris is always looking for an edge. You could probably count on one hand the number of trick plays used in the Gruden and Tony Dungy days. But Morris understands he has players with multifarious talents and intends to use them.

"I never want to be considered static," Morris said. "I always want to be improving or working on something to find a way for our team to get better. For us, special teams has always been a weapon. So you'll see some form of weapon on special teams. And you also see it in our offense.

"We've had Zebra J.J., or whatever you want to call it, the Tampa Bay offense with Josh Johnson. We've had passes to Penn, and we've had great calls from our offensive coordinator with some of those things. I think things are just working out because of the fact we're becoming unpredictable. We're really impossible to ignore. That's what we're selling to people. I think we're a really exciting team to watch."

Johnson, who started four games last season, has plays in the game plan each week. He has rushed four times for 39 yards this season, including three carries that resulted in first downs. He has passed for 95 yards, which makes defending him in the Bucs' version of the wildcat difficult.

"He's a very good quarterback, but he possesses a lot of skills a lot of other quarterbacks don't possess," Olson said. "I just think he deserves to be on the field because of his skills set."

Thinking out of the box hasn't always worked this season.

Connor Barth's recovery of an onside kick at Atlanta was overturned when instant-replay review determined the ball struck him before it traveled 10 yards. Last week, facing fourth and 1 from the Tampa Bay 47 with a 0-0 score, Spurlock, who was a quarterback at Ole Miss, took a direct snap from center before firing incomplete to fullback Earnest Graham.

"It's not a major part of practice, but you do work on it," center Jeff Faine said. "They're good tools. Even if the play isn't tremendously successful, it's worth making the other team have to prepare for it."

That's what Ravens coach John Harbaugh has spent the week doing to prepare for Sunday's game.

"I think they're in a position right now with their team of, why wouldn't they do that sort of stuff?" Harbaugh said. "(Raheem's) done a good job of determining what his guys can do and picking the right spots to do those things. That's good coaching. We're going to have to try to anticipate what the next move is, you know? What he might be doing next.

"That's what you do as a coach. He's been very successful with that stuff, and it's made a good difference for them."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers digging deep into their bag of tricks 11/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 27, 2010 5:00pm]
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