Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jumping Ahead

Les Steckel believes that some of the offense’s problems in October were a result of an over-accelerated schedule

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Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel had a much more gradual building process with the Titans

In Tennessee, when Les Steckel was made offensive coordinator of the Titans in 1997, it was QB Steve McNair's first full year as the starter after a promising but brief debut the season before. Three years later, Steckel and McNair were in Super Bowl XXXIV together, nearly pulling off a last-second comeback against the champion St. Louis Rams.

Steckel moved from the Titans to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a few weeks after that thrilling Super Bowl and inherited, sure enough, a quarterback just entering his first full season as a starter after a promising but brief debut the year before. Among the many things Steckel was expected to do, one was to put King on a McNair-like path.

There was one difference.

Super Bowl XXXV is in Tampa, and the Buccaneers appear to be better suited for a run at the big game than at any other time in team history. "I got here and got ready to put the offense in and, 'Oh by the way, the game's in Tampa this year and you're expected to go to it and win.' Expectations are good and that is our goal as a team this year, but it may have caused me to move ahead faster than I should have."

In other words, there wasn't time for a three-year offensive building plan in Tampa if the Bucs were to become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

"With Steve, we started with a foundation and started building around it, block by block," said Steckel. "I led Steve by the reins for two years, than I told him that I was going to take the reins off (in 1999). I was quoted as saying that in the paper, and that's what we did."

That period gave Steckel time to determine what McNair, and the other offensive contributors, could and couldn't do well or consistently. With King, the Bucs have been learning those lessons under fire, which explains why an explosive first three games gave way to a month of struggles.

"You can't expect 41 or 31 points every week," said Steckel, referring to the Bucs' point totals from games two and three. "That just doesn't happen. That's why, when we hit the skid, it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

"We just had to go back to the basics. 'Keep it simple, stupid' is how I like to put it."

None of this is to suggest that Steckel has lost his optimism or changed the team's 2000 expectations. Steckel merely recognizes that, in retrospect, the team's struggles were inevitable. He also thinks they are mostly behind them. "In the last few weeks, in practice and to some extent in the games, we're executing properly now," he said.

And that has led to the same process in Tampa that occurred in Tennessee in 1999: Steckel is letting go of the reins, at least a little.

"What we've done is loose up the reins a little bit," said Steckel, a contention borne out by King's seven touchdown passes in the last two contests. "We've seen what Shaun can do. When teams have allowed us to pass, as Minnesota did both times, he's been able to take advantage of it.

"What both Steve and Shaun have learned – what all the quarterbacks both here and in Tennessee bought into – is that if you don't throw the pick, we'll win. Shaun is real conscious of protecting the football."

Despite Steckel's cautions, the Bucs have begun putting up big numbers again the past two weeks, scoring a total of 68 points in wins over Minnesota and Atlanta. The team may not averaged 34 points per contest the rest of the way, but Steckel believes they have made it through the bad times and will only continue to improve.

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