RB Warrick Dunn and QB Shaun King haven't played together much yet
After judging the physical state of his running backs and receivers and the mental state of his rookie quarterback on Saturday, Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy is prepared to put all of the Bucs weapons at Shaun King's disposal.
King, the team's second-round draft choice last April, will be making his second NFL start on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Last week, King completed 11 of 19 passes for 93 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 24-17 Monday night win over Minnesota that was dominated by the Buccaneer defense. Though Tampa Bay will continue to rely on its running game first on Sunday, Dungy believes that King can and will need to have success in the Bucs' four-receiver spread set.
"We haven't changed our offense very much (for King)," said Dungy. "The last two weeks, against Minnesota and now Detroit, what we've done is look at our opponents and see what we can do against them. Shaun can run our offense as it is."
And on Sunday, that will likely include a spread set featuring all four of the Bucs' top receivers – Jacquez Green, Bert Emanuel, Reidel Anthony and Karl Williams – as well as speedy running back Warrick Dunn. Dungy had the topic on the front of his mind today after a week in which both Green and Dunn have been struggling with injuries.
Dunn, in fact, missed King's starting debut and would be a very helpful presence for the rookie hurler if he can return to the lineup. Dungy believes he can. "With Warrick, it will depend on tomorrow afternoon," said Dungy, referring to a pre-game running test to see if the third-year back can cut and run sufficiently on his sprained left ankle. "He feels like he's going to be able to do everything; even if he can only play on third downs, that will still help us a lot."
Green did play in King's first start, catching a 29-yard TD pass from the former Tulane star for his fifth score of the season. On Wednesday, however, Green felt renewed pain in a sprained right foot that has been bothering him periodically for the past five or six weeks. He sat out practice on both Thursday and Friday but is expected to play on Sunday. That is also a key development, in Dungy's mind.
"Jacquez has had the biggest impact on our winning streak," said Dungy of the Bucs' five consecutive victories. "The big play is what was missing in our offense early in the season, and he has given us that. When we get people defending our running game, he's the guy who has been beating the single coverage and catching the ball.
"He's the fastest guy we've got by far," Dungy elaborated. "And it's deceptive. Everybody we play knows that he's fast, but he still manages to run by them. He's explosive off the line of scrimmage and he gets into it as quickly as anyone I've been around."
Dungy also believes that veteran WR Bert Emanuel will catch King's eye on Sunday. Emanuel has slowly rounded into shape after a hamstring injury robbed him of four midseason games, and Dungy thinks his ready to make a larger impact. "I think he's going to have a much better week," said Dungy. "Last week was the first full week of practice that he's had in about two months. He's as close to 100 percent as he has been in awhile, and he's eager to get more involved."
All of which means Dungy will not hesitate to open the offense up for King, who thrived in a spread offense at Tulane in his junior and senior seasons. "When all four of our (receivers) are in, and Warrick is in," said Dungy, "we feel like we can get somebody open. When Warrick is in there, we got a lot of linebacker coverage on him, then Shaun will be looking to pick out who gets single coverage. If they play more zone, Warrick has made a lot of third-down catches underneath. If they blitz us a lot, which I think they will, Shaun will have to find the open man."
King has no reservations about playing a wide-open game. "I think it simplifies things when you spread everybody out," he said.
Another week of practice as the starter has also helped King familiarize himself with the Bucs variety of offensive weapons. "We've been getting our timing down with each other," said King. "I'm finding out where the ball needs to be, getting a real feel for where they like the ball, who gets off the press quickly, how they run routes."
Dunn was a big part of the Buccaneers' passing attack the last time Detroit and Tampa Bay faced off (10/31). Dunn caught a career-high 11 passes for 77 yards from new starting QB Eric Zeier, but little else in the Buccaneer offense clicked and Tampa Bay fell 20-3. Zeier suffered a ribs injury in that contest, opening the door for Trent Dilfer to re-emerge as the starter and, eventually, for King to take over when Dilfer suffered a broken right clavicle in Seattle (11/28).
Dunn has caught a total of just eight pases since that game, though increased production in the running game has kept him in the thick of the Bucs' offensive plans. Green, meanwhile, has been both the most explosive and most consistent passcatching threat in the Bucs' attack, recording 22 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns during the team's winning streak.
King knows just what to do with those exciting weapons if both Dunn and Green are in the lineup on Sunday. "I've just got to get them the ball where they can catch it and run," said King. "Then we can make some big plays."