The Bucs may need to get pressure on QB Drew Bledsoe, who Tony Dungy believes will be the focal point of New England's attack
This may very well be the most popular day of the week, next to Sundays, for NFL players. Tuesday is generally the players' day off and the last respite before a long week of practice banging and head cramming.
Not so for the coaching staff, however. The quiet of a player-free complex is conducive to film study, which is exactly what Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy and his staff use the players' day off to accomplish. That way, when the team returns on Wednesday, the scouting report is ready and the intense work can begin.
That also means that Tuesday is the perfect day to get Coach Dungy's thoughts on the upcoming opponent. We did just that, actually giving the coach a short break from his continuing film study to discuss the New England Patriots. He painted the picture of an opponent with a lot of weapons and a host of quickly-developing young players.
Still, the main man for the Patriots' offense remains QB Drew Bledsoe. After watching film and seeing New England in person just 10 days ago, Dungy believes the Patriots, who uncharacteristically slipped to 18th in offense last year, will try to get even more out of their Pro Bowl signal-caller in 2000.
"That's what we think we're going to see," said Dungy. "They've got some outstanding skill position guys, and Drew Bledsoe's the best one of that group. That's the way they've kind of leaned in the preseason when he's been in there, throwing the ball. He's done a good job getting it to Terry Glenn and some of their other receivers. So that's what we're preparing for."
Some of the study on the Patriots' air attack involved some unfamiliar faces, as New England has reworked its receiving corps around veteran Terry Glenn. With Shawn Jefferson gone, increased roles seem likely for Tony Simmons and Troy Brown, and two youngsters, Shockmain Davis and Dane Looker, made the team with outstanding preseasons.
"They've been getting those young guys in, like Troy Brown," said Dungy. "They've got some weapons… they got (Eric) Bjornson, the tight end from Dallas. So they've got some guys to throw the ball to and (Bledsoe)'s done a good job of it in the preseason."
New England was no slouch in the passing game in 1999, of course, ranking fifth in the NFL. But the team's running game rarely got untracked and finished 27th. After a fine preseason, second-year player Kevin Faulk could be the man to balance out the Patriots' attack. Though he reminds some scouts of a third-down type back, Dungy expects them to use him as their feature back, and thinks he can fill that role.
"He had a good day against us when we played them in the preseason, and he's been the guy that's been getting the most carries," said Dungy. " So that's what we're anticipating. (J.R.) Redmond, I'm sure will alternate and give Faulk a break. Reading what they're saying, they don't want (Faulk) to be a guy that gets 30 carries a game. Redmond just started playing the week we saw them in the preseason and got quite a few carries. We anticipate seeing him some, too, especially on third downs."
If Dungy is right about how the Patriots plan to use Faulk, it could be a familiar sight for Buc fans.
"He's a versatile guy, like Warrick Dunn," said Dungy. "He can run inside. He has the speed to run outside and he's a very good receiver, catching the ball. They run a lot of screens and different things to him, pretty much like we do with Warrick. They try to get him the ball a lot of ways, even though he does run inside quite a bit."
Faulk and Redmond will look for holes behind an offensive line that has been overhauled in recent seasons, with the exception of stalwart left tackle Bruce Armstrong. That might be an area of concern for the Patriots, considering a rookie will start at left tackle, but Dungy thinks they are pulling together nicely.
"They're finding themselves, with new guys playing and being plugged in," he said. At right tackle, a rookie from Michigan State (Greg Robinson-Randall) was starting when we played them last. Bruce Armstrong is back, and that's going to help them. They're trying to mold that group and I think having Armstrong back will help a lot.
We liked (Robinson-Randall) in the draft. I don't think you ever plan on a rookie starting, especially at tackle, but he's a pretty good player."
The Bucs have a revamped offensive line of their own, but the makeover leads to the veteran side with the newly imported interior of center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel. That group, and the Bucs' subs, held the Patriots without a sack on August 20, even though New England had 19 sacks in its four other preseason games. Dungy would be extremely pleased with a repeat effort, because he sees a formidable and creative pass rush.
"They do a lot of different things," said Dungy. "They do a lot of things to create openings for Slade and McGinest. They move them around and bring them off the edge and try to get them on backs. But they're their two best rushers and they do a lot to free them up. They have a lot of creative blitzes and they'll get you if you're not ready for them."
Controlling the pass rush becomes doubly important with the stellar defensive backfield the Patriots have put together.
"They've got some outstanding guys back there," said Dungy. "Milloy and Ty Law were in the Pro Bowl. Tebucky Jones, they moved from corner to safety and he's a number-one draft choice. They picked up Antonio Langham. So they've got guys who can play in the secondary and that should give them a lot more flexibility in terms of playing man-to-man coverage."
While the Patriots have not shown a lot of man-to-man coverage in recent years, according to Dungy, he expects to see more of it on Sunday. Top-notch corners like Law afford you the opportunity to mix up your coverages a little more. "He's a very confident guy," said Dungy of Law. "He likes to play man-to-man and just lock on his guy."
With the team making the issue one of its primary preseason areas of concern, the Bucs' punt and kickoff return games showed marked signs of improvement. Dungy thinks there might be an opportunity or two to show that off in Foxboro.
"They've got a left-footed punter that hits the ball a long way, so punt return is where we think we have the biggest chance," he said. "But Aaron Stecker did some good things on kickoff returns against them in the last game. They've got a couple good cover guys – Larry Whigham's a Pro Bowl special teams player, Troy Brown's been very good. So we'll have our hands full."
There are, of course, more areas in which Dungy could share his knowledge on the Patriots, but there was film study to return to and a long night ahead. Some day off.