Even before the Bucs called, Ron Warner believed he could flourish under Rod Marinelli and Tampa Bay's system
All Ron Warner needed to revive his NFL career was a wake-up call.
Now, understand that Warner, a former University of Kansas star who spent the 2000 season in the Canadian Football League, had lost none of his drive or confidence. He wasn't 'in a rut' or 'down on himself.'
No, he literally needed a wakeup call.
"I was just lying in bed thinking, 'Man, somebody's got to call, maybe somebody like Baltimore that relies on speed,'" said Warner. "Then Tampa Bay called. (Director of Pro Personnel) Mark Dominik called me and said, 'Ron, we want to bring you in for a workout.' At first I thought it was somebody playing with me on the phone."
On the contrary, Dominik and the Bucs were serious. In fact, Warner got the impression that there was a roster spot waiting for him in Tampa if he could deliver a good 40-yard dash time during his workout. That was music to the ears of a man whose top five assets, in his own words, are 'speed, speed, speed, speed (and) speed.'
Actually, Warner was referring more to the Buccaneers' defense when he ran down that list, and that's why Dominik's wake-up call has, he believes, revitalized a once stalled NFL career. He is a speed guy, a player who was turned loose in the Jayhawks' defense for two years and needed just that pair of seasons to become Kansas' all-time sack leader, with 20.5 QB takedowns. He is so fast, in fact, that he arrived at the idea of coming to Tampa before the Bucs did.
"The whole time I was in Canada, I was watching Tampa Bay," said Warner. "Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay. I told my wife, 'That would be the perfect spot for me.' And then, bam! The next thing you know they called me, brought me in, worked me out and signed me.
"And now I'm glad I'm here because, working with (Defensive Line Coach) Rod Marinelli, I've finally got somebody who understands speed. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Warner's NFL career began in New Orleans, the team that drafted him in the seventh round in 1998. He likely would have gone higher had he not suffered a torn ACL on a freak play in the 1998 East-West Shrine Game; in fact, Warner says the Bucs told him he was high on their draft board before the injury. Dominik confirms that Warner was considered much better than a 7th-round prospect before the East-West mishap.
Instead, Warner came to the Saints as a bit of a medical project, in that they expected him to need the entire '98 season to rehabilitate his knee. He was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list that August, but recovered quickly and was added to the active roster by early November. Though generally inactive on Sundays that rookie season, Warner did play in the Saints' season finale – at linebacker! – against Buffalo and turned in four tackles.
Warner was all over the NFL map the next year. Released on the final cutdown by New Orleans, he signed on briefly with Washington in the early going and Chicago near the end of the season. When none of those spots proved permanent, Warner turned to a new map with a little more Northern exposure.
"After that, nobody called, so I was off to Canada," said Warner. More specifically, Winnipeg, where the Blue Bombers of the CFL gave him a chance to display his speed rush. Warner answered with 19 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed. He also refused to let the detour to Canada derail his NFL hopes.
"I've never had a negative feeling about my career or life," said Warner. "I knew the right situation would come along. My skills need to be fit in with a defense, and I need to be with a defensive coordinator that understands speed, strength and power. Some teams want just power."
Warner feels he brings the entire package to the table – speed, strength and power – and is looking forward to proving that in the Bucs' upcoming training camp. He's also flexible, willing to fit in wherever needed, so he may be worked as a right and left end 'swingman.' Early this offseason, he has seen the majority of his work at right end, where his most impressive natural asset, speed, would be best utilized. The starting spot on that side is the dominion of newly-acquired speed-rusher Simeon Rice, but Warner believes he can offer the same look when Simeon needs a breather.
"I'm like Simeon's twin, if you want to put it that way," said Warner of the scouting reports, which indicate that both players can get around the corner on a tackle. "I'm known as a speed guy who can get around the tackle and make big plays. I like being called that."
Warner has confidence to go with his scouting report, and everyone agrees that he has top-notch speed. Whether he can translate those qualities into a significant role on the team this fall will be determined in training camp, beginning July 29, but Warner feels he has already made a positive impression in the earlier practice sessions.
"I feel like I've put the ink on the paper for the coaching staff here," he said. "I'm the type of person who works hard at everything I do. I run to every play and I don't take any plays off, and that's what they like. That's what this organization is all about: hustle. If you hustle, play together as a team, have 11 guys hustling at the same time, you can't lose. I feel that I can do some big things for this organization come training camp."