On kick return No. 1,865 ... history
The Bucs have more than a half-dozen designed kickoff return plays, but everyone's new favorite - the one that led to the first touchdown in franchise history - is called Whip.
Blocking schemes for kick returns are incredibly complex. In simplified terms, Whip incorporates two mechanisms: a wedge and a trap. At the back of the formation, three blockers line up shoulder to shoulder 15 yards in front of the returner to form the wedge, which moves forward and clears a path toward the left. Several players drop back from the front line and trap would-be tacklers on the right. Together, the wedge and the trap create an alley up the middle for the returner to run through.
On Sunday's touchdown, the three-man wedge consisted of offensive lineman Matt Lehr in the middle and tight ends Anthony Becht and Keith Heinrich on the ends. Following the flight of the ball, Lehr set the wedge by positioning himself directly in front of the returner. The Falcons' first objective was to break up the wedge. They failed. Though it looked as though the wedge was going to move straight up the field, it veered toward the left and took out three of Atlanta's front-line defenders.
The other deep man
Most teams have two players deep to receive a kickoff - the primary return man and another to protect against a short kick. The second player for the Bucs on Sunday was Michael Clayton, who lined up in front of Micheal Spurlock to the right. Once it became clear Spurlock would field the ball, Clayton became a director. Because the kick was a little short - to the 10 - Clayton told the wedge players to turn around sooner than usual to avoid setting the wedge too deep. When everyone was in place and Spurlock was ready, Clayton set the return in motion by telling the wedge to go. Clayton's blocking assignment is to escort the wedge and clean up anything to its inside, which in this case was the right side.
The formation began with five players up front, primarily linebackers and safeties. When the ball is kicked, these players sprint back to the 30, turn and pick up the oncoming defenders. For Whip, four of those players, plus a fifth who began the play several yards behind the front line, execute the trap on the right side. The other, lined up on the far left side of the line, drops straight back and blocks on the backside of the play.
The return man
The ballcarrier needs 10 teammates executing blocks for a successful return. But with at least one defender unaccounted for, he must make one miss to get all the way to the end zone. Countless times, Bucs returners have seemed in the clear only to be brought down by the opponent's final defender, usually the kicker. Spurlock got outside the kicker and sprinted down the sideline. "The kicker has been kryptonite for some of our return men," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "Spurlock was immune to him." Spurlock outran a final defender to reach the end zone for a 90-yard score.
Rich Bisaccia (Bucs special teams coach) "That's a big monkey. Maybe a gorilla.Maybe even an elephant."
Kalvin Pearson "Once I saw him get a clean break around the corner, I knew he had a chance to go all the way."
"I actually didn't get a good block on my guy because he was running down so slow. I was looking for him, and I'm thinking, 'I'm about to get a big hit.' But I was sitting there waiting for him, and he ends up running into somebody else. I see Spurlock just gone. I tried to chase after him and almost pulled a hamstring. I was trying to celebrate, running down the field, and then I was like, 'Oh, shoot.' And then I forgot we had to go out and kick off. I started running over to the bench to sit down, and then I remembered. Man, I was so exhausted."
Ryan Nece "There were a few opportunities last week that we missed in our blocking, or this could have been done last week. I told Spurlock Sunday, 'If you hit it hard today, I promise, I feel like we have a chance.' He made one cut and was gone. I got my block and then I ran behind him holding up one finger because I knew he was gone."
Quincy Black "Whenever you're a part of history, it's something else. This has really been a big deal to (Bisaccia). He's been harping on this. He really wanted it. He's been telling us that we have the ability and the chance, and it finally came to fruition."
Will Allen "I think everybody on the kickoff return team was blessed to be out there on the first time in franchise history. To be on the field for that, that's deep for me. I mean, it could have happened after we were dead and gone. We were blessed to be on that team."
Alex Smith "Running it in practice, it looked good. It was something they wouldn't be expecting and we could probably hit it. We've been real close several times, one guy here or one guy there. If everybody does his job, it's a score. I didn't see it. I was on the ground, and I saw everybody going nuts."
Anthony Becht "I told Spurlock he's etched his name in stone because I don't know who else is going to do it again. It might take another 32 years."
Keith Heinrich "I was lying on top of my guy, so I just listened to the crowd roar."
Matt Lehr "I'm the fat kid. (Bisaccia)jokes around with me and says I'm the perfect size for that position because I can move, I'm big and I set the whole wedge just like a center does on the offensive line."
Michael Clayton "My job is to clean up anything extra off the wall. I'm the right edge. I whiffed and missed. There wasn't anybody there. Somebody else picked him up. If somebody would have shown up, they would have gotten headhunted."
Micheal Spurlock "Derrick Brooks always tells me, 'Today is the day to make history.' And it happened."
Joanne Korth, The St.Petersburg Times 17 December 2007