DE Steve White was a big play maker in Chicago
Quick: name the Buccaneer who finished second on the team in sacks to Warren Sapp's 12.5. Did Chidi Ahanotu pop to the mind first, or maybe Sapp's interior linemate, Brad Culpepper? Those two players, after all, rank fourth and fifth on Tampa Bay's all-time sack list.
Well, those two were close, but the Bucs' second-leading sackmaster in 1999 was DE Marcus Jones, who started just four games and generally played about 20-25 snaps per game. Jones passed both Ahanotu (6.5 sacks) and Culpepper (6.0) on the final day of the regular season by way of his seventh sack in Chicago.
Jones sack of Bears QB Cade McNown in the second quarter dislodged the ball and led to a fumble recovery by DE Steve White, the Bucs' other defensive line star of the division-clinching win in Chicago. White had the Bucs' other sack on the day, set up the team's first touchdown with that fumble recovery and made several key tackles of Bear running backs.
Neither Jones nor White is one of the four Buccaneer defenders headed to the Pro Bowl as starters in February, but they have each taken their turn in Tampa Bay's seemingly endless carousel of star performers.
"That's what has been so neat about our team," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "Week in and week out, it just seems to be a different guy who comes up with the big performance. Marcus and Steve were outstanding (in Chicago). Warren and Anthony McFarland had to play most of the game after Brad (Culpepper) went out and they were getting some double teams in there. But Steve really did a good job of reading and reacting to the things that Chicago brought on offense."
Jones often spells White, and their combined effectiveness has helped the Bucs keep their outstanding defensive line fresh with liberal substitutions. Jones has also been extremely effective when called upon to start, most commonly this year when White has been bothered by injuries. A former first-round draft choice who had struggled with injuries of his own and had produced just one sack in his first three NFL seasons, Jones has burst onto the scene in 1999 thanks to a position switch from tackle to end.
"Marcus had another good day (in Chicago), and you really feel happy for a guy like him who just kept working and kept working," said Dungy. "He didn't have the success early on in his career that he wanted, but he came on and really had a big year for us this season."
The contributions of Jones and White helped the Buccaneers rack up 43 sacks in 1999, just one shy of the team record, set in 1997. Despite an aggressive defense that felt comfortable bringing blitzers from any position, 37 of those 43 sacks were produced by the Bucs' defensive line. Entering the 1999 season, that unit was considered one of the very best in the league, mostly due to the presence of Sapp, Culpepper and Ahanotu. They conclude the year with the same respect, but found that it was partly due to an improved depth. In addition to Jones' work at defensive end, McFarland has been a key substitute for Sapp and Culpepper on the inside.
Such a deep group of players leads to the possibility of a new hero every week, as Dungy indicated. "Last week, it was Damien Robinson with three takeaways," he added. "And, on offense, Jacquez (Green) with 10 catches this week. And it's been other guys in the past. That's kind of the neat thing. It just seems to be someone different stepping up week in and week out and I think that's what makes a good team."