Rookie Shaun King helped Tony Dungy get a win over his former mentor
Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy addressed the local media at his weekly day-after-the-game press conference on Tuesday in a conversation that lasted about 20 minutes. Dungy was prepared to answer questions about all aspects of the Bucs' Monday Night Football win over Minnesota and their prospects for the next four weeks.
However, the discussion kept turning back to one topic: rookie QB Shaun King. King made his first-ever NFL start on Monday in a situation tense enough to crumble some players and coolly threw two touchdown passes in the Bucs' 24-17 win. With a short evening behind him to assess the game film, Dungy came out praising the Bucs' newest starter.
"Shaun did a good job and he controlled the game," said Dungy, "which is what you have to do when you're playing that position. That's not easy to do as a rookie, but he ran what we gave him and did it well. He made a few mistakes as we look back on it, and there's some things he could do a little bit better and I'm sure he will do better next week. But he played well and gave his team confidence and that's a big thing."
Minnesota's defense does not rank among the league's leaders, but it boasts plenty of veteran leadership in defensive linemen John Randle and Jerry Ball and safeties Orlando Thomas and Robert Griffith. The Vikings, not surprisingly, used frequent opportunities to try to rush the rookie.
"He understood what was going on and recognized everything," said Dungy. "We've played Minnesota a lot and we understand their defense. A lot of what we do against them is based on where Robert Griffith is, so Shaun had a good concept of that and he did a good job of getting us into the right place."
All of which comes back to the buzzword that is becomingly increasingly applied to King: poise. Dungy first began to hear of King's pocket presence during his senior season at Tulane last year, and has steadily begun to realize that King's calmness is a natural state.
"We had him for a week at the Senior Bowl (in Mobile, Alabama)," said Dungy, "and he was a very impressive guy. It was just the way that he carried himself. I wasn't all that familiar with him; I knew that he was from (St. Petersburg) and that he had gotten a certain amount of press in the paper here during Tulane's winning streak. But that week down there really impressed all of us and he came in and kind of carried himself the same way here in the preseason. He was basically just playing in the fourth quarters, but he was getting the job done. He was moving the team, making the right decisions and making things happen, and we just felt like he was going to be a very good player for us. I don't think he's scratched the surface yet of what he's going to do; he's got a lot of potential."
King's numbers in his debut were modest – nine of 11 passing for 93 yards, two touchdowns and one interception – but his ability to lead the offense will apparently keep the Bucs from putting the clamps on the playbook. Dungy doesn't expect to rework the offense to fit his rookie under center, nor does he think the big-play passing game that was developing under Trent Dilfer in the second half of the season will have to be shelved.
"Well, it probably depends on the defense that we play against," said Dungy. "We wanted to take a couple of shots at (Minnesota) and we hit a couple and missed a couple. But Shaun can throw the ball up the field and we've got some guys that can go get it, especially with the way Jacquez has been playing. He has been able to get open deep consistently, so hopefully that becomes a bigger part of our offense."
King found, as Dilfer had before him, that Green is a formidable big-play threat. Green's dazzling 29-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter on Monday was the single biggest offensive play in the Bucs' win and it was his fifth touchdown catch of the season.
With the circumstances that led to King's elevation to his current status, the Buccaneers' exact plans for the rest of the season and a potential playoff run are not set in stone. King became the starter when Dilfer suffered a broken clavicle at Seattle (11/28), leapfrogging second-stringer Eric Zeier because Zeier had not yet recovered from the ribcage injury he sustained in Detroit on October 31. Zeier has just begun throwing in practice again and was listed as the second string against the Vikings. Dungy indicated that King is likely to start next Sunday against Detroit but has avoided making a permanent declaration.
"I don't know (how King will do); it's really hard to say," said Dungy. We've got to continue to play well around him and I think if we do he'll be fine. I don't think he's going to have any type of letdowns now that he's passed the first game. I think he'll do well if we can continue to keep our level of play up around him."