LB Derrick Brooks hasn't faced the option since college but has the speed and quickness to be ideal against the play
Did Warren Sapp really say on Wednesday that running the option against his Tampa Bay Buccaneers could lead to a quarterback's funeral?
Well, okay, yes he did.
There is, however, no truth to the rumor that the Bucs will dress in black when they take the field Sunday in Dallas.
It appears likely that Dave Campo's Cowboys will at least include the option in their game plan for athletic rookie quarterback Quincy Carter this weekend, but the Bucs' speedy and aggressive defense isn't becoming overconfident at the thought. There are several reasons for that, despite Sapp's captivating sound bite.
First, the Bucs are not underestimating the talents of the Cowboys' young signal-caller, who looked increasingly potent as his first NFL preseason progressed.
Second, Tampa Bay is certain the real weapon on Sunday is going to be the man lining up behind Carter in the backfield.
Still, the Cowboys' threat to use the option appears real, and the Bucs mixed preparations for it into their practice on Wednesday.
"We're certainly going to have that as part of our package in every ballgame," said Campo, the Cowboys' second-year head coach. "I think we're going to try to maximize the strengths of Quincy Carter, and that's an area he feels real comfortable with. Obviously, it might be run one time a game, it might be run none. It just depends on the situation, but it's certainly there at our disposal."
Most of the Bucs have not prepared to face the option in years. Derrick Brooks hasn't studied the play up close since his Florida State team played Nebraska in his sophomore year. Simeon Rice vaguely remembers trying to stop it during high school practice when the man running it, his teammate at the time in Chicago, was none other than Donovan McNabb. That's why Bucs' Head Coach Tony Dungy calls it a 'crash course.'
"We're trying to get our rules down in a little bit of a crash course," he said. "It's something that makes you think and you've got to go over every defense and what you would do. From that standpoint, it's probably good to have it in."
Apparently, the Bucs won't have to set aside an inordinate amount of practice time on the issue. Sapp said the team's defenders already know whose job is whose.
"I'm going to tell you like this, that's not like building a rocket after practice, my friend," said Sapp. "Eight men on the line, your man goes down, you've got the quarterback. He pitches it, the corner's got it.
"Maybe that's just how we do it. I don't know what other people do, but I promise you will not see two of our players standing there looking at each other while the quarterback fakes the pitch and runs down the field. That's not going to happen."
But Dungy won't let his team take the rookie lightly.
"He's done a good job for them," said the Bucs coach. "He's moved the football team, especially the last two weeks. He makes plays, much like Donovan McNabb and guys like that, where the actual play breaks down and he's able to make a positive out of it. That's something that always worries you."
His players have seen the same videotape, which show Carter completing 31 of 67 preseason passes for 448 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Carter also ran 14 times for 31 yards and a score.
"He's a great athlete," said Dexter Jackson, who will be starting at free safety for the first time on Sunday. "He's the type of guy, you think you have him then the next thing you know he's out the back door.
"He may be running sideways or towards the line of scrimmage and still throw the ball. My job is to stay deep until I make sure he clears the line of scrimmage, then I come up to the ball."
Tampa Bay starter Brad Johnson was quite certain he wouldn't be running the option at any time, and doesn't believe an NFL quarterback can make a career out of it. Still, he appreciates the abilities the second-round pick out of Georgia brings to the field.
"He's an exceptional talent and can make a lot of plays," said Johnson. "Right now, it looks like they've given him the whole playbook. He's pretty much progressed from week to week and he's making some big-time plays. You get in a game like that, one big play like that option can change the game around."
That's Carter's idea, and the man that ran for 11 touchdowns at Georgia and had carries of 49 and 56 yards is willing to make that big play happen any way he can. He knows his first regular-season test will be a stiff one.
"Any holes we can see and any way we can try to win this football game, we're going to try to win it no matter what it takes," said Carter.
"They swarm to the football. One thing about it, if you're going to run the football a lot, they're going to bring 47 (John Lynch) into the box and try to stop the run. They get off the blocks well. The corners play pretty good and help out on the run a lot. They've got a fast defense and they swarm to the football, so you've got to make sure you're taking the right angles, taking the right cuts and making sure you're getting back in the pocket and delivering the football, because they're going to be on you pretty soon."
Said Rice, in apparent agreement: "He's going to have his day cut out for him. We're going to be bringing it, coming around the corner trying to get in his face, confusing him, doing the things we do well. He's going to try to stifle us and do the things they do well as a team, whether it's him scrambling or Emmitt (Smith) running the ball and trying to take the pressure off him."
And that's the thing. The Bucs don't really expect to be chasing Carter all day, even if they are prepared for that eventuality. For all his athletic abilities, Carter's greatest asset on the field might be number 22, the third-leading rusher in NFL history. In fact, Smith could pass former Lion Barry Sanders into second place on that list if he can rack up 104 yards against the Bucs' defense.
"Why would you run the option when you have Emmitt Smith behind you?" asks Sapp, rhetorically. "You have the greatest runner the game's going to ever know behind you – why would you turn and put your quarterback on the edge with a 260-pound defensive end that's going to kill him? There's nowhere for an option quarterback to go except to the ground.
"If that's what they think the key to beating the Bucs is, then run the option. I have no problem with that. I'm sure our ends will get up for that. That's not our biggest worry. It's going to be an in-the-trenches ballgame where it's going to be mano a mano, their O-line versus our D-line, who can move who and the same thing on the other side of the ball. Who can move who and who can control the tempo of the ballgame? That usually bodes well for us."