Josh Freeman, at the helm of the most productive offense of the past month, threw nine touchdown passes in three October games. Five of those went, unsurprisingly, to starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, and one each went to primary tight end Dallas Clark, starting tailback Doug Martin and oft-used third receiver Tiquan Underwood.
That left one scoring pass for a wild card in the Bucs’ offensive mix, and that’s a good term for the team’s free-spirited fullback, Erik Lorig.
In Tampa Bay’s 36-17 win at Minnesota last Thursday night, Lorig scored his first career NFL touchdown on a one-yard pass. After a pass to Dallas Clark set up a first-and-goal at the one in the first quarter, Lorig lined up in front of Martin and appeared to be targeting S Harrison Smith for a seal-off block on the left end of the line before he shot around Smith and into some wide-open space at the front of the end zone. Freeman zipped a pass to Lorig’s hands before the nearest defender could recover.
It was the classic play-action short-yardage pass to the fullback, which has a great opporunity for success if the timing is right (i.e. the defense is definitely expecting a run) and the execution is good (i.e. the fullback sells the lead block fake and makes it past the defender without getting caught up). Freeman and Lorig ran it to perfection and it was another career milestone for the converted defensive end. The post-TD moments, in which he slipped to his backside while celebrating, could have been executed better, but he was caught up in the moment.
“It was a joyous occasions, just a lot of celebration,” said Lorig. “It was just the culmination of a lot of preparation and detail. It was one of those situations where I ended up getting my name called, and that was it.”
Lorig has eight catches for 52 yards this season, which are not enormous numbers but represent more than half of his career NFL catches. Lorig, who initially went to Stanford as a tight end before switching to defense, made his conversion back to offense during the early weeks of his 2010 rookie season. Since the Achilles injury that ended Earnest Graham’s 2011 season last year, Lorig has been the team’s primary fullback, and he’s gradually becoming more and more involved in the offense.
“Since the beginning it’s been a process of fitting into the offense and having a personal vision within the offense,” he said. “It’s just been a matter of fulfilling that week to week on the details, prepping for the game each week, prepping for the Raiders, prepping for other teams. I’m just seeing more and more development, more and more detail in my own development.”
Lorig has also helped rookie tailback Doug Martin put up outstanding numbers during the first half of the season, and the offense as a whole has taken off in recent weeks, averaging 34 points and 472 yards in the last three games.
“I think it’s just been a collective effort, a continual effort leading up to game day,” said Lorig of the offense’s improvement. “I think you’re starting to see the benefits of all that effort. It’s the day-to-day detail, buying into that, buying into perfection and leading up to every game continuing to beat that down.”