"We've had very poor concentration," says defensive coordinator Herb Paterra of the offside penalties. "We tell the guys to anticipate the count, but we don't teach them to get offside. That is just players not making plays."
Speaking of not making plays, rookie defensive end Luther Elliss, the team's No. 1 draft pick in '95, is still looking for his first sack. Only Henry Thomas, an All-Pro tackle at Minnesota who signed with the Lions in the off-season as a free agent, has played the way Paterra and Teerlinck expect. (By the way, does a team really need a defensive coordinator and an assistant head coach for defense?)
Veteran Chris Spielman, with a team-leading 98 tackles, anchors a linebacking corps that's adequate, at best. The secondary is a mess. Cornerback Robert Massey, who last year signed a three-year, $3.6 million contract, doesn't even start. Safety Willie Clay has leg problems that hamper his running, and Blades, who's in his eighth year, has been exposed as being woefully slow, which was one reason he was tried at linebacker. Asked about his new duties, Blades said, "I'm going to take the Fifth."
At 5-5 the Bucs are a game behind the Packers and the Bears in the NFC Central race. And they'll have a big say in how the division shakes out. After this Sunday's game against Jacksonville, Tampa Bay ends with five games against division foes.
"I don't know when Tampa Bay has last been in this position," says coach Sam Wyche. "We can't let this fact escape: We're right in the thick of this thing."
The Bucs open with road games at Green Bay and Minnesota. Sandwiched between home games against Green Bay and Detroit is a contest at Chicago.
Wyche is hoping the Bucs can finish as strongly as they did last year when they won four of their last five. Only two of those games were against divisional foes, however. Tampa Bay beat Minnesota 20-17 in overtime and lost to Green Bay 34-19 in the season finale.
"I don't think there's any question we have the ability to beat anybody in our division," says cornerback Martin Mayhew. "I don't doubt that for a second."
Mayhew and fellow cornerback Charles Dimry can help the Bucs enormously down the stretch by maintaining their fine level of play. They've combined for 87 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 24 passes defensed. And the Bucs have been burned for only nine TD passes.