Much-Maligned Offensive Line Silencing Its Numerous Critics
The Tampa Tribune, published 13 January 2003

A request came from behind the huddle of reporters surrounding Bucs center Jeff Christy at his locker. ``Ask them, Can we get some good criticism this week?' '' said a jovial right tackle Kenyatta Walker, who reiterated the question several times at his locker.

Maligned for much of the season, the offensive line played one of its best games in the biggest of the year. The San Francisco 49ers had only one sack in the Bucs' 31-6 win, and the Bucs rushed for 121 yards. More importantly, the offensive line helped control the line of scrimmage. The Bucs held a 36:46-23:14 edge in time of possession. ``The offensive line was awesome today,'' quarterback Brad Johnson said. ``They gave me a lot of protection back there.''

But that has not always been the case. In the Bucs' four losses, the line allowed 19 sacks, almost half of its 41 allowed this season. Some of the blame for a running game that averages 97.3 yards a game also has fallen on the line. After Sunday's performance, Walker and his linemates hope the detractors start to realize how much they have progressed. ``I feel like we've been criticized this whole year,'' Walker said. `` `We won't do nothing. We're not good, not talented.' It's about time we start getting some good criticism instead of all this bad criticism. We're [13-4]. We won the NFC South. We gave a good performance today, so we can't be that bad.''

Offensive tackle Roman Oben said part of the earlier struggles came as the linemen adjusted to each other. Oben and left guard Kerry Jenkins are new starters, while Walker switched to the right side. Oben pointed to how the Pittsburgh Steelers' and the Tennessee Titans' lines do not get as much criticism because they have played together for several years. ``We're peaking at the right time,'' Oben said. ``We've still got, I don't want to say a long way to go, but hopefully we just keep playing well and keep giving ourselves an opportunity to keep playing on Sunday. That would be the biggest measure of how far we've come if two Sundays from now we're sitting here still playing in a football game [the Super Bowl].''

For that to happen, the line is going to have to play much better in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles than it did in a 20-10 loss at Veterans Stadium on Oct. 20. The Eagles dominated at the line, producing six sacks and some of the most heated criticism toward the Bucs' offensive line. Walker said he just laughed at it, much like he did Sunday after yelling across the locker room to Christy. ``You can definitely smile a little better now,'' Walker said. ``This is a big [win] for us. Everything was clicking and it feels good. But if we go out and have a horrible game this Sunday, we'll be a horrible offensive line again.''