Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Golden Opportunity

Aaron Stecker’s first extended action at running back could come in front of his parents and against his boyhood team

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RB Aaron Stecker grew up a mile and a half from Lambeau Field

What on this wide, green earth could make an otherwise normal couple, a couple that has spent much of their lives in the shadow of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, come down to Tampa for a Buccaneers-Packers team, don red togs and cheer for the home team?

I mean, consider that this couple's own son says, "If you live in Wisconsin, especially in Green Bay, you have to (follow) the Packers.

"That's all that's up there. When it gets cold, all you have is the Packers. When it gets warm, everyone's hoping for the Packers to come back and start camp. Everybody up there, their blood is green and gold."

So why is this couple exhibiting such strange behavior? Truth be told, it's the son's fault.

The son is Aaron Stecker, who just happens to be a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, Stecker, who grew up deep, deep Packer country, could very well be the Bucs' starting back this weekend. His parents will be in the Raymond James Stadium stands on Sunday to watch him in action.

That happy coincidence is a perfect example of how one player's misfortune can be a jackpot for a teammate, as terrible as both players may feel about it.

On Sunday in Minnesota, Buccaneers starting running back Warrick Dunn, a two-time Pro Bowler, suffered a midfoot sprain in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay's 20-16 loss at Minnesota. The news that Dunn would most likely be out three to four weeks hit the team Monday morning and sent it looking for answers to replace him. One of those answers, perhaps the new tailback starter in Dunn's place, could be Stecker.

"I feel good and bad," he said Monday evening. "Warrick and I have become tremendous friends. Sometimes, when you're backing up a guy, you're in a position where you're friends with them, but in the back of your head thinking, 'If he gets hurt, I'll get an opportunity.'

"It's unfortunate that it comes like this, but I'm a guy who prepares himself for an opportunity. Now, if I do have an opportunity to go out there and carry the ball some more or have some more plays, I just have to make the most of it."

Stecker felt pretty much the same way a year ago, when his first goal of making it in the NFL was met. A former practice squad long shot, Stecker used an MVP spring season in the NFL Europe League to catapult him into the NFL, making the Bucs' roster out of camp last year and taking over the primary kickoff return role. A year later, his sights are set higher.

"As a child growing up, you want to play in the NFL, but just being here is not good enough. It's getting that opportunity and taking advantage of it. If this Sunday comes up and I get an opportunity, that will be tremendous."

Stecker's NFL dreams growing up were much more specific than that, of course. He was a Packers fan along with his parents and was enamored of blue-collar Green Bay backs like Brent Fullwood and Vince Workman (who also played in Tampa Bay). He's a Buccaneer now, and happy for it, but the fact that his first NFL start could come on the same field with the Packers has not escaped his thoughts.

"I was talking to my wife about that today," said Stecker. "Last year I was disappointed that, both times we played the Packers, I didn't get a chance to play against them. Now I have an opportunity to maybe start, and the first team I start against is the Green Bay Packers. That was my team growing up. It's a storybook thing."

It's not a certainty that Stecker will step into the starting lineup, but it is almost sure that he'll be given some of the carries that would have gone to Dunn. The team is also likely to increase Mike Alstott's workload as a tailback and may look to fullback/tailback Rabih Abdullah for some carries. As of Monday, Stecker wasn't sure what to expect, but he was excited by the possibilities.

"They haven't said anything," Stecker relayed. "Today, we were just looking at film and working on our mistakes. They'll have tonight and tomorrow to work on a game plan and see what my strengths and weaknesses are and if I'm the way to go or not. Wednesday, when we come to work, we'll find out what the game plan is and I'll have a better understanding of how they want to use me.

"If Brad (Johnson) has to throw the ball to me, I don't want him to think, 'I'm not sure what this guy can do for us.' I want to be a guy who he's thrown the ball to a few times and knows, 'If I throw the ball to this guy, he's going to catch it for me, get up the field and make positive yards.'"

Johnson may already feel that way after throwing a pass in Stecker's direction at the end of Sunday's game and watching him pick up 22 crucial yards. With Dunn sidelined by his late foot injury, the team had inserted Stecker as the 'third-down' back in the hurry-up offense. His 22-yard catch-and-run started a final-minute drive that eventually reached the Vikings' 18-yard line.

"At the end of the game, it was a big situation," said Stecker. "Fifty-something seconds left and I'm the backup guy and I had to go in there and step up. We almost came through at the end and won the game."

Stecker, who compares himself in size and running style to Dunn, gave the team the viable backfield pass option it needed in that situation. If he can continue to do that for Tampa Bay, he'll give much of the credit to Dunn and the opportunity to work with him throughout this offseason rather than toil in the NFLEL.

"I think I'm better prepared (this year)," said Stecker. "I was kind of beat up, but now I get a chance to sit back and Warrick can work with me a lot. We watch film and he critiques me and tells me things I need to work on. He's been a big help in my short career right now.

"I know on the sideline, he'll be my biggest fan out there, and he'll be the first one to come up and tell me if he sees something I need to do."

Dunn may not be the biggest Stecker fan in the entire stadium, though. That distinction will probably go to his parents, the camouflaged Packer fans in the stands. Blood is thicker than water, after all, even if it is green and gold.

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