In the locker room before the Buccaneers' first preseason game,
left guard Randall McDaniel asked a teammate for help tugging his
jersey over his shoulder pads. Maybe it was the style or the fit
or, perhaps, the unfamiliar colors, but once he was dressed in
his new uniform, McDaniel, who went to a record 11 consecutive
Pro Bowls as a Viking, walked over to the mirror and did a double
take. "I stood there for a second and stared because I just
couldn't picture myself in pewter," says McDaniel. "It doesn't
look right yet. But I suppose if we're fortunate enough to make
it to the Super Bowl, by then it will look great."
This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue
That's a very reachable goal for Tampa Bay, which last season won
the NFC Central and made it to the conference title game. The
defense, arguably the best in the league, held the high-powered
Rams to a touchdown and a field goal--St. Louis got its other
points on a safety--but an anemic offense, which averaged only
16.9 points per game in 1999 and ranked 28th in the league, could
muster only a pair of field goals in an 11-6 loss.
"That game made it pretty obvious that our system wasn't working
and we had to make a lot of changes," says right guard Frank
Middleton. "We were sick of the Power I up the middle. We were so
basic and repetitive. All the guys really wanted was some chance,
just a chance, to feel like we could score some points when we
The Bucs have given themselves that chance, and more. Their
biggest off-season splash was trading for wideout Keyshawn
Johnson, but they also made waves when coach Tony Dungy
reluctantly fired offensive coordinator Mike Shula and replaced
him with Les Steckel, who had held the same position with the
Titans. Tampa Bay then went about upgrading its offensive line,
with three major objectives: cut down on sacks, open up the
running game outside the tackles and give second-year
quarterback Shaun King a bit more time in the pocket as he
learns Steckel's ball-control offense, which features a lot of
one-back sets and underneath routes. "The team has brought in
all these guys up front to make us better," says Middleton. "So
now everything falls to us. If we don't play well, it's going to
be on the five guys up front."
Tampa Bay signed free agent Jeff Christy, the NFC starting center
in the Pro Bowl the past two seasons while playing for the
Vikings. Christy, in turn, helped recruit McDaniel, who had been
released by Minnesota in the off-season. Christy is undersized
but smart, and McDaniel, even at 35, is still a force. The tandem
gives Tampa Bay exactly what it was missing up front: athleticism
and Pro Bowl talent.
Jerry Wunsch, a 1997 second-round pick, returns at right tackle,
while Middleton, an aggressive and tenacious blocker, must be
more consistent. The biggest question mark along the interior is
Jason Odom, who was sidelined after three games in 1999 due to a
back injury, then underwent surgery in the off-season to try to
correct the problem. If Odom can't go--he has been a spectator
during the preseason--Tampa Bay will probably turn to journeyman
George Hegamin or Pete Pierson, who has made eight starts in six
years with the Bucs, including two in the playoffs last season.
"We know how far running [fullback] Mike Alstott up the middle in
every game will get you," says Christy. "With a more athletic
line we hope to open up defenses a bit more. We know we can get
to the NFC Championship Game with the old attack. But our goal is
the Super Bowl."
Those hopes may hinge on Christy, who will be making the line
calls and occasionally pulling, along with McDaniel and
Middleton, to lead the attack outside the tackles. Last year
Alstott gained 949 yards and scored seven touchdowns to earn his
third Pro Bowl trip, but that came at the expense of tailback
Warrick Dunn, who scored no rushing touchdowns and averaged a
career-low 3.2 yards per carry. If Dunn becomes a weapon again on
the ground and King gets the time he needs to connect with the
dangerous Johnson, the Bucs will score enough points to make them
the first team to play at home in the Super Bowl.
With the rock-solid defense that Tampa Bay has, Dungy won't be
needing too much from the offense. "I'm pretty sure this new line
can get us what we need to take the team to the next level," says
Middleton. "Which, if you think about it, should only be about 14
Sept. 3 at New England
17 at Detroit
24 N.Y. JETS
Oct. 1 at Washington
9 at Minnesota (Mon.)
15 Open date
19 DETROIT (Thurs.)
Nov. 5 at Atlanta
12 GREEN BAY
19 at Chicago
Dec. 3 DALLAS
10 at Miami
18 ST. LOUIS (Mon.)
24 at Green Bay
1999 Record 11-5 (1st in NFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 15/30/28; defense 5/2/3
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 9
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .531
Games against playoff teams: 9
PLAYER TO WATCH
Not long ago defensive end Marcus Jones wanted just to walk
without pain again. Midway through the 1997 season he had been
forced to the sideline (and under the knife) by walnut-sized bone
spurs in both ankles that had rendered him useless as a player.
"They were dang near crippling," recalls Jones, a first-round
draft choice in 1996. "I'd run and just fall flat on my face. To
even call me a one-dimensional player was too much. I was
no-dimensional." Not anymore. In a reserve role last season,
Jones racked up seven sacks, second on the club to Warren Sapp's
12 1/2. Jones has been just as impressive in training camp. Don't
be surprised if he unseats right end Steve White early this
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Tony Dungy
Fifth season with Buccaneers (35-29 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Shaun King 74 146 att. 89 comp. 61.0% 875 yds.
7 TDs 4 int. 82.4 rtg.
RB Warrick Dunn 92 195 att. 616 yds. 3.2 avg. 64 rec.
589 yds. 9.2 avg. 2 TDs
RB Rabih Abdullah 273 5 att. 12 yds. 2.4 avg. 2 rec.
11 yds. 5.5 avg. 0 TDs
FB Mike Alstott 63 242 att. 949 yds. 3.9 avg. 27 rec.
239 yds. 8.9 avg. 9 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Keyshawn Johnson 20 89 rec. 1,170 yds. 8 TDs
WR Jacquez Green 135 56 rec. 791 yds. 3 TDs
WR Andre Hastings 213 40 rec. 564 yds. 1 TD
TE Dave Moore 181 23 rec. 276 yds. 5 TDs
K Martin Gramatica 156 25/25 XPs 27/32 FGs 106 pts.
PR Jacquez Green 135 23 ret. 8.9 avg. 0 TDs
KR Reidel Anthony 240 21 ret. 20.7 avg. 0 TDs
LT Jason Odom 6'5" 312 lbs. 3 games 3 starts
LG Randall McDaniel6'3" 279 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Jeff Christy 6'3" 285 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Frank Middleton 6'3" 334 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Jerry Wunsch 6'6" 339 lbs. 16 games 13 starts
LE Chidi Ahanotu 33 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
LT Warren Sapp 41 tackles 12 1/2 sacks
RT Brad Culpepper 54 tackles 6 sacks
RE Steve White 16 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Shelton Quarles 54 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Jamie Duncan 5 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Derrick Brooks 153 tackles 4 int.
CB Donnie Abraham 78 tackles 7 int.
SS John Lynch 116 tackles 2 int.
FS Damien Robinson 73 tackles 2 int.
CB Ronde Barber 77 tackles 2 int.
P Mark Royals 90 punts 43.1 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Buccaneers
I don't know if the offense is good enough to win the Super Bowl,
but the defense is. If the Bucs get fourth-quarter leads, they'll
let their defense play offense for them. This is one of the few
situations I've ever seen where a team would rather have its
defense on the field late in games.... They need to be more
aggressive on offense, and Keyshawn Johnson will help them do
that. He will force them to attack just by his personality. You
know he won't stand for it if they go conservative.... On defense
Jamie Duncan is going to be just as important. They lost their
defensive quarterback, Hardy Nickerson, in free agency, and
Duncan has to pick up the slack. He's good against the run, but
Nickerson was the heart of that defense. How will Duncan do as a
leader?...If they've lost Jason Odom to injury--and I hear he
won't play this year--that would really hurt. They have to keep
pressure off Shaun King, but playing Pete Pierson or George
Hegamin could affect King's confidence. I think King will be
poised enough, but I don't know if he'll be accurate enough.