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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' talented defense might surprise opponents

TAMPA — There aren't too many surprises in the National Football League.

But one reason for the Bucs' optimism, especially on defense, is they could catch a few teams offguard.

It's very hard to simulate the speed, power and quickness of the rookie defensive tackles, first-round draft pick Gerald McCoy and second-rounder Brian Price. Though it might take several years for both to blossom, their ability to be disruptive should enhance a linebacking corps that is fast and furious, with Geno Hayes, Quincy Black and Barrett Ruud.

With coach Raheem Morris returning the Bucs to their one-gap, Tampa 2 defense, the learning curve has shortened, and the personnel is built to play that style.

With Morris at the controls of the defense for the final six weeks of last season, the Bucs allowed an average of just 17 points per game (but won only two).

More Rookies to watch: Two offensive players who could impress are rookie WRs Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

Williams, a fourth-round pick from Syracuse, is penciled in as a starter in Week 1 against the Browns. Most likely he will be joined by Sammie Stroughter, who has emerged as the most consistent receiver.

But Benn is closing fast.

For whatever reason — the style of offense he played at Illinois or his need for more reps — Benn has developed more slowly. But he is a diligent worker and has spent a lot of time after each practice with receivers coach Eric Yarber.

Benn has a body — 6 feet 2, 220 pounds — and a game that is reminiscent of a very young, callow Anquan Boldin. He could have an immediate impact in the red zone, where things get sticky and big bodies win jump balls.

"You look at any position in the National Football League and the receiver is always that one where somebody comes from nowhere and lights up your fantasy teams and (the media) run around talking about trading and doing all that stuff throughout the year," Morris said.

"You can get on the field, and you can get on it quickly (as a receiver). And you can make an impact for your football team fairly fast if you put the time and effort into it."

IN THE backfield: If you are looking for a player to come out of nowhere — much like Clifton Smith did two years ago — keep an eye on RB Kareem Huggins.

With Smith missing time because of a sore hamstring, Huggins is becoming the best option as the third running back. His quickness and ability to catch the ball have stood out in practice. Now the undrafted second-year player from Hofstra has to make that translate into game play in the preseason.

"He's very explosive. He's fast," Morris said. "He has a dynamic jump cut. And he's one of those guys that once you get to the preseason, you've got to let him go out there and play and let him determine his fate.

"He's a classic example of an angry worker. He went to Hofstra. They shut down the football program. … He should've been drafted. And now he's come to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via YouTube (video)."

LOOKING THIN: The Bucs are concerned about their depth at tight end.

Starter Kellen Winslow is the best offensive weapon. But he is permitted to practice only about a third of the time to save his right knee, on which he had a sixth surgery in the offseason. Backup Jerramy Stevens also is given a lot of days off from practice. John Gilmore is primarily a blocker and has been battling injuries.

The cupboard is pretty bare behind those three, although Ryan Purvis is improving.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' talented defense might surprise opponents 08/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 8:38pm]
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