Clyde Christensen expects a significant step forward from Shaun King this offseason
In January, the Buccaneers handed the keys to the Buccaneers' offense to Clyde Christensen. Then they tricked up his ride.
In came a Pro Bowler to play quarterback in Brad Johnson. Ryan Leaf was claimed off waivers for further depth under center. Right tackle Jerry Wunsch, who seemed on the verge of moving on, was re-signed. Stud rookie Kenyatta Walker was drafted to plug in at left tackle.
There's a lot of newness around Christensen's offense, and it doesn't stop at Johnson, Leaf and Walker. Pro Bowl WR Keyshawn Johnson is still getting his feet wet in the Buccaneers' offense. Pro Bowl RB Warrick Dunn was just taking his game to a new level when the 2000 season ended. FB Mike Alstott is destined to become a bigger part of the passing game.
Oh, and there's 22 offensive players on the roster that have never played for the Buccaneers.
So this weekend's mini-camp isn't exactly an exploration of the deepest recesses of the playbook. For now, Christensen simply wants to get his new unit schooled on the fundamentals of the attack, in order to allow for the construction of the offense over the summer.
"We're going to go very slow," he said on Friday afternoon, after the second of two workouts. "We're going to do it right and do it hard. Right now, we want them to just line up and play football without worrying too much about the entire playbook. We'll come back in May and June and put some more wrinkles in. But we want to see them play football. It doesn't do anybody any good if we get too fancy right now."
As such, the bulk of each two-hour session were quarterback-receiver or quarterback-running back drills, where the four passers and various passcatchers took turns running the same routes. One might have used the session to judge between the efforts of Johnson, Leaf, incumbent starter Shaun King and Joe Hamilton, but Christensen wasn't interested in those types of assessments yet.
"This camp is for teaching (the quarterbacks)," said Christensen. "We're not really evaluating performance right now, we're evaluating techniques, fundamentals and leadership."
Christensen added that the knowledge that King and Hamilton possess of the Bucs' 2000 offense has helped them maintain leadership roles and he's certain Johnson and Leaf will follow suit. Physically, Johnson may be a new piece to the offensive puzzle, but Christensen considers him a known commodity.
"What we really like about Brad is that what you see is what you get," said Christensen. "What we saw on film, we know we're going to get for 16 weeks. That's what was attractive to us, that he's not going to have big fluctuations. Of course, you see his strengths – his size, his vision – but mostly we liked that he was so steady."
The more interesting development might be that of King. He's coming off his first full year as a starter and entering the period in his career that both Tony Dungy and Christensen have always considered critical, in a positive way.
"I have said all along that the biggest jump as a professional quarterback for Shaun King would come this offseason, and we're seeing that already in practice," said Christensen. "He's playing well, throwing well, in better shape. That comes from the competition, but it also comes from the experience he got last year."
If Christensen's theory proves right, the Bucs could head into the 2001 season with more combined talent at the quarterback position than at any other time in team history.
"It's impossible to get depth at quarterback because of salary cap considerations, but now we have four guys that we really like and three guys that have started substantially in the league," he said. "That is hard, hard, hard to obtain nowadays. I hope we don't have to, but now we can survive an injury for a couple of games if that occurs."
The return of practices does hold one negative: the return of injuries.
Actually, considering the packed field of 83 players and the back-to-back workouts, the Buccaneers came out of the first day fairly unscathed. Only two players reported injuries after the first day.
RB Vannez Gooch, who is one of four players on hand for a weekend tryout, suffered a left shoulder sprain. CB Anthony Midget, who spent most of last year on the Bucs' practice squad, incurred a separation of his right shoulder.
In addition, recently-signed RB Jeff Chaney of Florida State did not practice with the team as he is recovering from a right knee injury.