Simeon Rice engaged the crowd with his press conference humor but was serious about improving his game under Rod Marinelli and Tony Dungy
Much as he did to the great Dan Marino in just his second NFL game, Simeon Rice introduced himself to Tampa with a bang on Friday.
Alternately humorous, energetic and passionate, Rice answered questions at the press conference called to introduce the Bucs' newest threat to quarterbacks and quickly had the audience engaged with an open look into his thoughts.
It's no wonder, then, that this high-motor player chose Tampa over other possible free agent destinations in large part due to another energetic fellow already on the scene.
"I met with Coach Rod (Marinelli) and it was like an adrenaline rush," said Rice. "I've never met an individual as energetic about getting down on the field like a player. I said, 'Wow, this is what I've been needing.'
"No disrespect to the coaches that I had (in Arizona), but I always said the next level of my game is when I have a coach that really is going to be able to pull the rare things out of me that I need. Maybe not so much try to redefine me, because I'm pretty much already a good player, but just to define areas and fine-tune everything, make it a little more crisp. Me being the humble student of the game, I was willing to do it, especially with the energy he brings."
Indeed, Marinelli has long been considered one of the league's most effective D-line coaches, and already established Buccaneer stars like Warren Sapp and Marcus Jones swear by his teachings. Marinelli actually keeps things on a very basic level with his charges – 'Tedious Repetitions of the Simplest Movements' is the most prominent sign hanging on his office wall – but it is the fervor with which he teaches the game that motivates his players.
And Marinelli is passionate about his new player's abilities.
"He's a special talent," said Marinelli. "He brings some things that are unique in terms of pass-rush motions. Even without pads, you could tell really quick that he has great instincts, a great feel for the game. In terms of athletic ability, he's special."
So where can Marinelli smooth out the edges on this premier edge rusher? Well, the strongest criticism leveled at Rice, whose pass-rushing credentials are impeccable (51.5 in five years), is that he isn't as strong against the run. As a speed-based right end, it might be tempting to think that the Bucs won't need him to engage in that activity much, but Head Coach Tony Dungy feels otherwise and believes Rice is more than up to the task.
"Everybody has to play the run," said Dungy. "We feel like Simeon can be an outstanding run player. We pride ourselves on getting after the passer, but we also play the run. You have to play the run to win and I don't think he's going to have a problem with that.
"What we do plays into his strengths, because he won't be playing right in front of people, he won't be over offensive tackles, two-gapping. He'll be in the gaps and getting upfield, things that he does really well and I think he's going to help us in terms of our run defense."
Rice, who felt as if opponents were constantly scheming against him in Arizona, believes playing on the Bucs' stellar defense will spread things out and put him in a better position to stop the run. He doesn't expect to be facing the same criticism a year from now.
"Those questions will be answered in time," he said. "You can write me on that if you want. I'm ready to see what I've got and deliver.
Instead, what Marinelli will bring to his new pupil is a return to the basics, which will in turn improve the finer points of Rice's game.
"Sometimes it's just base fundamentals," said Marinelli. "He fits our system, which is really good. Our system is based on fundamentals and techniques. It's just getting down and seeing the right keys, getting the right reads and just getting the same looks over and over, getting into the system. Everybody flourishes with a lot of repetitions, developing the right habits and being consistent. That's what I try to bring to the whole group."
Marinelli is already convinced that Rice will be able to handle the up tempo he creates and believes he will fit in well with the defensive line's tight chemistry. He also thinks Rice's presence will have an uplifting effect on the other linemen on Sundays. Rice should be able to stretch the edge of the offensive wall more than the Bucs are used to, thereby creating more room and fewer 'chips' on the team's strong pass-rushing tackles, Sapp and Anthony McFarland.
"We haven't had that pure speed edge guy where he really creates a nice one-on-one situation," said Marinelli. "You can't hang on Warren and then drop to the end to help. You're really creating protection problems for the offense – now we just have to play at that level."
Marinelli may have helped seal the deal when the two met in recent weeks, but Dungy's presence probably had more to do with Rice initially putting the Bucs on his target list. Since playing for Dungy and hanging out with Sapp at the 2000 Pro Bowl, the idea of playing in Tampa has slowly germinated in Rice's mind.
"At the Pro Bowl, Warren said, 'If you ever have the chance to play for him' – you never know if the situation will present itself – he said, 'Simeon, you've got to take advantage of that,'" said Rice. Well, the opportunity arose when Rice became an unrestricted free agent on March 2, and despite visits to the NFC Champion New York Giants and his hometown team, the Chicago Bears, Rice did indeed find a way to take advantage of it.
Here's how it went down for Rice, who shared his internal conversation thusly:
"I said to myself, 'Sim, you're kinda hot right now. Where are you going with this? You could run to the bright lights of New York, because New York is saucy and I like New York, being a Chicago guy.' I said, 'Okay, they went to the show last year.' Then I looked at this (Buccaneer) defense and I said, 'Man, this defense is dominating.' I was with Tony at the Pro Bowl and I said, 'This is a coach that guys love to play for.'
"With Tony, everything goes without saying. You've just got to look at the record. When he says what he says, he means it. I'm still going to learn about these guys and they're still going to learn about me, but in the long run, I'm here to participate for a long while."
That should be bad news for the quarterbacks on opposing teams. To a squad that broke a team record with 55 sacks last season and already has one rusher, Sapp, with a 16.5-sack season under his belt, add Rice, who led the Cardinals in sacks four out of five seasons. Rice has been in double digits in the sack category three times already, including a 1996 mark of 12.5 that held up as the NFL rookie record until Jevon Kearse came along.
And, oh yes, that first NFL sack for Rice, on September 8, 1996, came at the expense of Mr. Marino, sure Hall of Famer. You could say that Rice has thought big from that moment on. To whit:
"There's excitement on my behalf, (Sapp's) behalf and (the team's) behalf," he said. "With all these 'behalves' in mind, we can make one great, magnanimous situation."