Abraham picks off attention for himself
Tampa Bay cornerback's interception binge culminates his plan to round out his game. Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham continues to build himself into a Pro Bowl player, but he just chuckles at the suggestion. "That's not up to me," Abraham said. "I just gotta go out and do my job and help anyway I can."

Abraham helped his team and helped himself to greater prominence Monday with a prime time performance in a showcase game. Abraham had two interceptions and five passes defensed to lead a secondary that shut down the Vikings' stellar receivers. Abraham started early with a 55-yard interception return to stake the Bucs to an early 7-0 lead. He snared a Jeff George pass at the line of scrimmage, leaping high to grab the ball intended for receiver Jake Reed, then raced into the end zone after breaking a Leroy Hoard tackle.

It was a play sure to make all the season-ending highlight reels. "The play was a blitz," Abraham said. "We knew George likes to throw little hitches out to the receivers and he throws them low, so all week we worked on the blitz and tried to get our hands up." Abraham added a second interception in the end zone to thwart a Vikings scoring opportunity, and then his other three passes defensed came on the Vikings' final drive.

Abraham needs that kind of exposure if he hopes to make Hawaii in February, and the timing couldn't have been better. Players and coaches are scheduled to fill out their Pro Bowl ballots in two weeks. Although he came into the 1999 season with 11 career interceptions (13 counting the post-season), Abraham was not that highly regarded outside of Tampa Bay and the NFC Central. That may be changing now that Abraham has six interceptions this year.

Not only is that the most by a Buccaneer since 1990, but it ties him for the NFC lead and is second to Miami's Sam Madison in the NFL. Abraham has produced five of his interceptions in the past three games. "We haven't changed anything; I haven't changed anything," Abraham said. "It's just patience. Patience is the key."

But Tony Dungy disagrees. He said he has noticed a difference since he implored his team to produce more turnovers. "I think all the defensive backs looked at it in Week 8 and we had (Seattle defensive tackle) Cortez Kennedy with more interceptions (two) than our whole secondary," Dungy said last week. "I think they just took it upon themselves, 'Hey we've gotta start making more plays.' Donnie in particular."

Abraham has responded with two INTs for touchdowns. They are only the second and third defensive touchdowns the unit has scored in the Dungy era. After failing to create a turnover in the Oct. 31 game against Detroit, the Bucs have at least two turnovers in the past five games: 12 interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

Being a league leader in interceptions is the last building block for Abraham. The first step was breaking into the Bucs starting lineup midway through his rookie season in 1996. The second was establishing himself as the team's best cover corner in 1997. In 1998, he focused on more physical tackling. This season, Abraham has concentrated on getting interceptions and breaking up passes. After defensing 44 passes in his first three seasons, Abraham now has a team-high 25. With one more interception, Abraham will move into third on the Bucs career list with 18.

Ernest Hooper , The St.Petersburg Times 1999