Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cover Men

Buccaneer fans who pick up this week’s copy of The Sporting News will see some familiar faces on the cover

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QB Shaun King has more time for some quality reading now that the Bucs' summer workouts have concluded

Considering the accepted storyline of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of recent vintage – superb defense, offense struggling to keep pace yet team becoming Super Bowl contenders – this is a remarkable development.

Twice in the last two months, Buccaneer players have appeared on the cover of a major national sports magazine. Offensive Buccaneer players.

When The Sporting News hit newsstands east of the Mississippi River on Thursday, it displayed Tampa Bay QB Shaun King and WR Keyshawn Johnson on the cover, with the title, 'Putting the O in Offseason'. The spotlight leads to a lengthy feature in the magazine's NFL section concerning the new personnel and maybe-not-so-new philosophy of the Buccaneers' attack under new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel.

Late in April, the Buccaneers' pre-draft trade for Johnson, the former New York Jets Pro Bowler, landed the team the cover of Sports Illustrated. Johnson appeared on the cover of that equally prominent magazine along with the title, 'The Almighty Buc'.

Dungy, one of the many Buc players or reps interviewed by veteran TSN writer Paul Attner during his trip to Tampa in the first week of June, appreciated the attention in his usual understated manner.

"That's nice to see," said Dungy. "It's nice to feel like a lot of people have confidence in us. We think we're going to have a good offense. We're excited about what's going to happen on offense this year, and hopefully this is the first of many."

Johnson was not in attendance for the final summer workout on Thursday as he attended to previously-scheduled commitments. King, however, helped the offense put up another productive day, its third in a row. Afterward, a quick display of the cover to the cover man prompted another discussion of the offense with the assembled media.

"It's like everything else," said King, who goes into his second NFL season as the projected starter under center. "You put the time in, you start to grasp it and get better command over it and it becomes easier over time.

"I think most of it stuck. I'll be putting in the time to make it work. I feel like I know it now, and I think that shows in the way I've been performing lately. I know what I'm doing, I'm real quick on my decisions. I like the offense. Now that I really understand it, I really like it."

Tampa Bay finished first in the conference in defense in 1999 and came within a few minutes of defeating St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game and advancing to the Super Bowl. It's offense, however, ranked 13th out of 14 NFC teams and scored an average of just under 17 points a game. The Bucs did win a team-record 11 regular-season games last season, and are considered prime Super Bowl candidates in 2000. That's due not only to the presence of Steckel and Johnson and the development of King, but also to the prospect of backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn running behind an offensive line that has added C Jeff Christy and G Randall McDaniel and their combined 13 Pro Bowls. It is thought that even a moderate improvement in the Bucs' offense will lead to more victories in 2000.

"Whatever it takes to win, week in and week out," said King. "Hopefully, we'll get an opportunity to convert more (scores). With our defense, you put the other team in the situation where they have to throw the ball, and that makes everything better."

That is every Buc fans' hope, and the very real possibility of it occurring explains why King and Johnson were national cover men in June, during the middle of baseball season. While we will not spoil the anticipation in reading Attner's expert analysis, we'll share this much with those Buc fans eager to get a look: the last paragraph contains the words 'Bucs' and 'Super Bowl' in the same sentence.

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