Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Here and There

Preparations for free agency go on even as the team’s coaching and personnel staffs are separated by thousands of miles

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FB Mike Alstott, a recent Buccaneer draft success, will be with Head Coach Tony Dungy in Hawaii this week

Here's a word they ought to strike from the NFL dictionary, right after 'wishbone' and 'dynasty': 'offseason.' It's been a little over a week since the Tampa Bay's 1999 season came to a close, and the start of the 2000 campaign is still over seven months away, but the Buccaneers' coaching staff and personnel department don't seem to be getting any rest.

Monday was the last day of January but the first day of another busy week at One Buccaneer Place. General Manager Rich McKay was on hand after a late change in plans, canceling his flight to join the team's coaching staff and six of its players in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Instead, McKay will oversee the preparations that are well underway by the college and pro scouting staffs, the crew that will help determine the team's spring and summer player movements.

McKay's trip to Honolulu was shot down by the Bucs' accelerated schedule. By advancing to the NFC Championship Game, which was played on January 23, the Buccaneers extended their season but shortened the amount of time they had to prepare for the February 11 kickoff of free agency. "Not enough time," said McKay of the possibility of gathering with the team's coaches in Hawaii. "We've got too much to do in the next two weeks, too many contracts to talk about, salary-cap planning and the like, so there just wasn't enough time."

Meanwhile, Dungy did head to the 50th state with the team's entire coaching and football staff. He will begin his week of preparation to lead the NFC squad into the 2000 Pro Bowl with a staff meeting on Monday evening (6:00 p.m. HT) followed by a players meeting an hour later. Both conference's will begin practices on Tuesday morning, working out for approximately 90 minutes a day through Saturday. The coaching staff has additional meetings before each practice as they determine how to fit together players unfamiliar with each other and the offensive and defensive schemes being used.

Though the coaching/personnel split at this crucial juncture is not the ideal situation, McKay feels the Buccaneers have prepared well. "It doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt that much either," he said. "We've had enough discussions that I think I know where they stand in terms of our players. It's not the way you'd like to do it. We're accustomed to having them here three weeks ago and available throughout the month. It's a nice problem to have – making it to the conference championship game and having to go to Hawaii - but it certainly shortens your window to prepare for free agency."

The Buccaneers began those preparations immediately after there season ended, as McKay and Dungy met with each position coach to evaluate every player in depth. Again, though the schedule was tightened, this was normal procedure. "I've met with coaches, got their evaluations in," said McKay. "I've been through all of those; now it's just time to do a little planning as to what we're going to do."

As McKay indicated last week, the Buccaneers are doing preliminary work this week and last so that they may address the issue of the team's own impending free agents. The timetable for the beginning of those discussions remains the end of this week and the beginning of the next. However, the team's entire scouting staff is gathering at Buccaneer headquarters for a different issue: the 2000 draft. There is no time to waste in those preparations, either, as the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis begins on February 24.

Last year, the Buccaneers were identified by a Fort Worth Star-Telegram study as the NFL's most successful drafting team since 1995, when McKay took over as the team's general manager. The Buccaneers consider the draft to be the main source by which they build their team, and recent April efforts have produced such blue-chippers as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Donnie Abraham, Shaun King, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, etc., etc., etc. While several of those players have joined Dungy in Hawaii this week as Pro Bowl participants, Tampa Bay's personnel staff begins the same procedures it uses each season to ready itself for the, beginning with pre-combine scout meetings. "The scouts are here this week to prepare highlight tapes and the like to get ready for our scout meetings, which start in two weeks," said McKay.

With those meetings following the free agency flurry and preceding the combine, there's really no hole in February's schedule. There's just no 'off' in 'offseason' anymore.

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