Rookies look to vets for playoff prep
Alex Smith 's last playoff experience was the 2001 Seattle Bowl pitting his Stanford team and Georgia Tech. The rookie tight end knows what he and his young teammates will see Saturday in their pro playoff debut will be something very different. "I'm expecting it to be a lot like what I've seen these last few weeks," Smith said. "Everybody's been fighting for a spot and for position. There's definitely been some hard-fought games lately. We have to step up."

The Bucs will have several rookies playing important roles. Even for some of the young players who have been in Tampa Bay a couple of years, this will be their first flirtation with the NFL postseason. But that's where the veterans come in. "It's everybody else's job on this team to make sure they're ready for that," said cornerback Ronde Barber , who is entering the playoffs for the sixth time. "They'll get the feel for it. Playoff football has a different air to it. But in the long run, it's just another football game, and they have to prepare as such."

Leaders such as linebacker Derrick Brooks will stress that way of thinking as the Bucs enter an intense week of preparation. But Brooks said he preferred his understudies not change anything from the regular season. Apparently, ignorance really is bliss. "Sometimes that can be your strength: that you don't know," Brooks said. "You go out there and you prepare. But I just think we (need to) stay the course. Guys are going to spend a little extra time, but we've been doing that. Just a little more attention to detail."

That was also Smith who sheepishly helped douse Jon Gruden with the contents of a Gatorade bucket at the game's conclusion. Smith begrudgingly helped fellow tight end Anthony Becht soak the coach at the behest of Chris Simms and Joey Galloway . Smith tried to talk his way out of it. "I wasn't trying to be the one to do it," he said. "But they didn't want to do it, so they got the rookie."

Smith wondered what reaction the move would elicit, but Gruden responded with a hug and a few heartfelt words. "It was cool," Smith said. "(Gruden) just said, "I love you man. Let's get it done.' I'm happy he wasn't too mad."

Stephen F Holder, The St.Petersburg Times 2 January 2006