Tampa Bay's coaches are so disappointed by the play of defensive end Eric Curry that they sat him down on Sunday, starting Karl Wilson in his place in the Bucs' 20-6 loss to the Bears. It now looks as if Curry, the sixth pick overall in the 1993 draft, may be another in a long line of Buc first-round flops (see Broderick Thomas in '89, Keith McCants in '90 and Charles McRae in '91).
Curry got off to a promising start in his rookie year, getting five sacks in his first 10 games, but then he sprained his left ankle and missed the rest of the season. So far this year he hasn't exactly been the comeback kid. Curry has one sack and 11 tackles in the Bucs' nine games. He failed to make a single tackle in three games, including Sunday's, in which he shared time with Wilson, and had only one in three others.
Curry has made a shambles of defensive coordinator Floyd Peters's 4-2-5 scheme, which relies heavily on pressuring the quarterback. In addition to Curry's ineffectiveness, defensive tackle Santana Dotson, who was the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1992, has just one sack and 15 tackles. After Sunday's loss the Bucs had only eight sacks, which puts them 27th overall in the NFL in that category.
How disgusted are the Bucs with Curry? Well, for one thing, they're questioning his toughness. "When you're young, the world is your oyster; everything is happy, and you're playing good football," Peters says. "Then all of a sudden, pow, you get hurt. Now you think, This is no fun. Unfortunately, young man, you're an adult now, and they're paying you to play in the NFL. You've got to put on those boots and go shovel a certain amount of——."
Even some of Curry's teammates are questioning his heart. "As my friends and I used to say back home, 'We don't want to be like the Tin Man,' " says linebacker Hardy Nickerson. "That Wizard of Oz character had a heart, but he didn't know it. Curry won't know it until he decides to let it all hang out on the field and starts studying hard." Nickerson says that he has gotten so frustrated with the lack of a pass rush that he asked the Bucs' coaches if they would let him play on the defensive line.
"[Curry] has unlimited potential—great size [6'5", 270 pounds], phenomenal quickness—he could dominate like a Bruce Smith, and he doesn't realize it or he doesn't know if he wants it," says Nickerson. "I've talked to him, and he just gives me an 'O.K., yeah, yeah, yeah' kind of answer. It can be turned around. This is not at a point of no return. But either he gets productive, or he's going to get tired of having his coattail tugged."
Can the Bears Hold On?
If you are looking for one key statistic to get a handle on the Bears, try turnovers. According to Geep Chryst, an assistant coach and statistical guru for the Bears, from the time Dave Wannstedt took over as coach in 1993 through Sunday's 20-6 win over Tampa Bay, the Bears are 8-0 when they have fewer turnovers than their opponents, 2-3 when they have an equal number and 2-10 when they have more turnovers than their opponents.
Going into Sunday's game against the Bucs, the Bears were in a two-loss tailspin that featured an alarming rash of turnovers—four in their 21-16 setback in Detroit on Oct. 23, and five in their 33-6 drubbing by Green Bay on Oct. 31. In the six games before that deluge, Chicago had turned the ball over only five times and was 4-2.
In an effort to stop the avalanche, Wannstedt benched quarterback Erik Kramer for the Buc game in favor of backup Steve Walsh, who had committed only one turnover in his three previous starts. In practice the Bear coaching staff also made it a point to emphasize holding on to the football—instructing the defenders to tug at the ball every chance they got and continually shouting "High and tight!" to ballcarriers. The moves paid off, as the Bears turned the ball over only once on Sunday.