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Bucs find road trip difficult

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Sometimes you have to take a bus for the point to be driven home.

That was what the Tampa Bay Bucs discovered Friday after leaving the University of Tampa long before daybreak on a boomerang trip to Jacksonville for two workouts against the Jaguars.

Bucs coach Tony Dungy rousted his team out of bed at 5:15 a.m., but the wake-up call officially didn't arrive for the '96 season until the morning practice session.

That's when the Jaguars, soft as kittens on offense last season while yielding a league-worst 57 sacks, got the Bucs' attention.

Playing without All-Pro tackle Leon Searcy, the Jaguars ran and passed effectively against a sluggish Bucs defense.

Tampa Bay's ground game also was slow to rise, with tailbacks Jerry Ellison and LeRoy Thompson finding little room to run.

But the eye-opener for the Bucs was their defense, which yielded big plays in team drills, including a 30-yard run by Roger Graham and touchdown bombs to Andre Rison and Jimmy Smith.

"I think they'll settle down," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "It's a new staff and even the veterans are trying to impress us as coaches. They panicked maybe, or not panicked, but maybe overdid it at times."

"It's a new scheme. They can go against themselves all they want, but Jacksonville has a different color jersey on and there's a big crowd out there (about 4,000 for the morning session and 2,500 in the afternoon) and stuff and they want to play well."

The Bucs seemed to shake off the daze of their 3{-hour bus ride in the afternoon session. The passing defense dominated in seven-on-seven drills and the running game squeezed out a few yards.

But the marathon session is not complete. Despite a late-night return to Tampa, the Bucs will hold an intrasquad scrimmage this morning at 9:30 at Pepin/Rood Stadium. If you're keeping score, that's three practices and seven hours of riding in less than 24 hours.

"I think it's been good, and a big part of it is to see how we respond (today)," Dungy said. "If we come out and we're sharp, it will be a success."

Some of the credit Friday belonged to Jacksonville, which has built a massive offensive line that averages 6 feet 6 and 316 pounds. Sprinkle in free agent additions such as Rison and running back Natrone Means to go with quarterback Mark Brunell and it can make any defense look tentative.

"I thought they were pretty good," linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. "I knew about their quarterback. He throws the ball well, and he's very accurate. Then there's Andre Rison and Natrone Means _ those guys should mean a lot to their offense. It was good for us to play against a good football team."

Bucs players did not complain about the quick turnaround trip, mostly because they understood Dungy's motives.

"It was enough to make you mad and go out and practice hard," defensive tackle Brad Culpepper said. "We were a little sluggish. It's hard to ride four hours, put on full pads and go out and get them.

"Everybody is pretty smart out there. It's the first week of training camp. It's not like it's the third week in October. The rookies are wide-eyed and nervous, but the veterans are like, "Let's just survive.' Do your assignments and try not to blow out a knee."

If there was a bright spot, it was the passing of quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Casey Weldon, although even that was tempered by two interceptions in a two-minute drill in the afternoon.

"Both sides did some good things," Dungy said. "On offense, we pass-protected well, but we didn't run the ball well. And our pass defense was better than our run defense. So we've got things we need to improve on both sides of the ball."

Despite the sluggish workout, Dungy wasn't sounding any alarms _ except in the dorm rooms again this morning.

"I didn't think it was too early," Dungy said. "It was kind of pretty at 5:15. The downtown was all lit up and we got out before the traffic got heavy."