The Steeler Connection
When free safety Thomas Everett pushed for a trade last spring from the two-time Super Bowl champion Cowboys to lowly Tampa Bay, there were those who thought he needed to have his head examined. The Bucs, after all, had suffered through 11 straight double-digit losing seasons and had a defense that was ranked 22nd in the NFL last season. But Everett, whose wish was granted by Dallas management, had his reasons for wanting to play for Tampa Bay.
First of all, he was scheduled to make $690,000 this season in the final year of his three-year contract with Dallas, and Everett, a seven-year veteran, knew that because of the salary cap, there was no upside to his earning potential on the star-studded Cowboys. Sure enough, he signed a new three-year deal with the Bucs that will pay him $3,275 million. Second, he wanted to play on the grass field at Tampa Stadium to save some wear and tear on his knees. Last but not least, Everett wanted to be reunited with Buc Pro Bowl middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, his roommate when they both played for the Steelers from 1987 to '91.
These days Everett and Nickerson, both 29, are the keys to Tampa Bay's 4-2-5 defense, which is designed to better contend with today's pass-happy offenses by deploying three safeties and two corner-backs. After two games the Buc defense was ranked 11th overall in the NFL.
Part of Everett's job is to motivate and teach his young teammates. To illustrate Everett's impact on the defense, Buccaneer defensive coordinator Floyd Peters points to a play in the Bucs' opener against the Bears. On a third-and-four in the third quarter, Tampa Bay was guessing that Chicago would pass. "Suddenly Thomas yells, 'It's a run!' " says Peters. "Hardy immediately calls the right stunt, and Thomas nails Merril Hoge in the backfield for a loss. There are just so many things that you have to be alert for, a young guy can't sort it all out."
On the Chopping Block
Even though he has never started a game, Viking right guard John Gerak has already earned a reputation in the NFL—one that offensive linemen absolutely dread. He has been cited twice for chop-blocking, the outlawed practice of hitting a defender in the legs when he has already been engaged by another blocker. The first offense, which was the more flagrant, earned him a $7,500 fine.
Gerak is a second-year player out of Penn State, where he started his career as a fullback. He later moved to guard and played well enough to be taken by the Vikes in the '93 draft's third round. His chop blocks—one in each of the Vikings' first two games—caused Viking coach Dennis Green to moan, "He's hurting us." Gerak is hurting himself, too. The $7,500 fine he got for his first offense ate up most of his take-home pay from his estimated $14,000-per-game salary. The sympathetic Viking press corps jokingly started a food drive to case his financial burden.
Gerak's first victim was the Packers' Reggie White. Near the end of Minnesota's season-opening 16-10 loss to Green Bay, Gerak blocked White at the knees, an illegal move since Viking center Jeff Christy was already blocking Reggie. "It was pretty bad," White says. "I'd say the fine was sufficient, but if I had blown out my knee, then no, it wasn't."
Lion linebacker Tracy Scroggins was Gerak's second victim. Scroggins was working against Viking right tackle Chris Hinton when Gerak chop-blocked him, drawing a 15-yard penalty. "That was dirty," Scroggins says. "By the grace of God, I didn't have my leg planted. Otherwise I could have had a serious injury."