RB Warrick Dunn hopes to run wild in his home state
Even against the hometown Saints, Tampa Bay RB Warrick Dunn will have some enthusiastic backers in Louisiana tomorrow afternoon. Besides friends and family from Dunn's hometown of Baton Rouge, at least five grateful homeowners will be rooting Dunn on when the Buccaneers take on the Saints in the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday.
Dunn's 'Homes for the Holidays' charitable program, a huge hit in the Tampa Bay area in 1997, expanded to include Baton Rouge in 1998, and will again this holiday season. Through the program, Dunn helps lower-income, single-parent families become homeowners for the first time by providing funds for down payments, furniture and other housing necessities.
"I grew up in a single-parent home," said Dunn on Saturday evening. "We always rented homes until I could buy one. I wanted other people to be able to get into homes even though they couldn't afford a down payment or furniture. I want to put people in a position to succeed, then let them live their lives."
Dunn, who has received recognition from President Bill Clinton for his program, pours a lot of time and effort into Homes for the Holidays. This weekend, however, he is focusing on the New Orleans Saints and his own shifting role in the Buccaneers' offense.
With FB Mike Alstott and a 'jumbo' backfield producing good results for the Buccaneers, Dunn has found most of his recent chances through the passing games. He is, in fact, the team's leading receiver with 38 catches, a mark that ties him for first in the NFC among running backs with St. Louis' Marshall Faulk. For the third-year scatback, that number is a double-edged sword; it shows his outstanding versatility but also speaks to his diminishing role in the running game, at least recently.
"As a running back, your mentality is to tote," said Dunn. "I want to carry the rock, but we've gone to another facet where they're trying to get me out in space. It's been harder for me to get on track. I haven't had as many carries, haven't been able to get into the flow. And when teams don't respect our passing game, it makes it even harder."
Head Coach Tony Dungy knows that Dunn remains his homerun hitter in the running game, but also appreciates the dimension that the speedy runner has added to the passing attack. "We did some things early in the year with spread formations," said Dungy. "We made an effort to get him the ball in the passing game, and it has worked well. We haven't been able to get him going yet in the I formation.
"Every carry, he's looking for the big one instead of just playing," Dungy continued. "Our whole offense is like that now – everyone's pressing and looking to score on every play."
Despite Dunn's substandard 3.0 yards per carry so far in 1999, it would be a mistake to think of him as an ineffective part of the Bucs' offense. In fact, Dunn has posted between 72 and 101 total yards in six of the Bucs' seven games. Though he hopes for more carries, Dunn has not let his changing role affect his performance, particularly entering tomorrow's crucial contest in his home state.
"I'm coming out hungry and ready to play," he said. "Every position coach was emphasizing intensity this week."