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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Second-year safety Piscitelli gets first start vs. Chiefs

TAMPA

Two plays against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday illustrate the difference in styles between safeties Jermaine Phillips and Sabby Piscitelli.

Receiver Terrell Owens caught two 5-yard hitch passes from quarterback Brad Johnson. On the first one, Phillips exploded and drilled T.O. in the back, making the tackle.

On the second, Piscitelli gambled trying to make an interception and came up with a fistful of air, giving Owens 4 more yards before Ronde Barber made the tackle.

"And I went, 'Hey, that's who you are,' " defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said he told Piscitelli. "Because if Brad had made a good throw, he might've gone 60 (yards).

"I can't get mad at (Piscitelli) because (Owens) got 4 more yards. That wasn't the defining moment in the game, and that's how we're going to play in the secondary. We're not going to blink, and refuse to."

That's because Piscitelli already has had his eyes opened during the season, playing about 35 percent of the snaps at both safety positions as part of a three-man rotation with Phillips and Tanard Jackson.

With Phillips now out indefinitely with a broken left forearm sustained against the Cowboys, Piscitelli will make his first pro start Sunday at Kansas City. It should be the first of many.

Phillips, 29, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and has not received a contract extension despite enjoying arguably his finest season as a pro. He is second on the team with 58 tackles, trailing only Barrett Ruud's 78. Phillips also has an interception he returned 58 yards and a 38-yard fumble return against the Green Bay Packers.

"Jermaine was playing at a Pro Bowl level," Morris said. "He's hitting people and making a bunch of tackles. He was touching the ball. He had one score, picked another one off, ran it pretty far. Caused a fumble. He was doing a lot of good things.

"We're going to miss that, of course but you've got to get the production from somewhere else, whether it's Tanard Jackson, whether it's Sabby Piscitelli, Ronde Barber. Somebody else has got to pick it up."

The future has always belonged to Jackson and Piscitelli, a second-round pick by the Bucs from Oregon State last year who played in three games as a rookie before suffering a season-ending foot injury. It's just that the future may have arrived earlier than expected.

"It's exciting to have that challenge and to have that opportunity," Piscitelli said. "The biggest thing is what (Derrick) Brooks said to me. He said, 'Just relax. Don't overhype anything. It's the same thing.' That's kind of the approach I've been taking.

"I've been having my friends calling me and asking, 'Are you excited?' Of course you're excited. You want the opportunity. But it's still a football game, and you're still going out there playing. I think Coach Raheem did a great job of having a three-man rotation, so I've gotten into games this year. I've been comfortable making a few plays here or there. Now I'm just playing more plays. But I'm real excited to help this team win."

Piscitelli, 25, already has made a contribution, recording 23 tackles and one interception this season. Piscitelli also won't be playing without a net. Veteran Will Allen, who started 24 games from 2005-06, will now be part of that three-man rotation.

"You put Will in there and you give him 25 hungry snaps," Morris said. "Will's got to work on his tape, too. That's why he's been out here training; that's why he's on the team."

At 6 feet 3, Piscitelli is 1 inch taller than Phillips and a bit of a ball hawk, a reputation he earned at Oregon State.

He also has great range in the passing game.

"Jermaine Phillips brings an unbelievable violence to the game. Sabby tries to bring that violence. That stuff has to come with time," Morris said. "Sabby brings Sabby. He brings athleticism, he brings size, he brings splash-play ability, ball skills.

"It's going to be a little bit different than Jermaine. I've got to adjust to Sabby. That's why they pay us. I've got to get Sabby's vibe, see how he's playing, get him comfortable and let him play. If there's something that's too much, I've got to know when to pull back, I've got to know when to push. I'll figure it out. I'm looking forward to playing with him to be honest with you."

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Second-year safety Piscitelli gets first start vs. Chiefs 10/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:06pm]

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