Clyde Christensen (left) has high hopes for QB Shaun King, with whom he has developed a strong relationship
When he was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen didn't even switch offices inside One Buc Place. Yet, as he surveys the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense to which he has just been handed the keys, Christensen feels like a new homeowner stepping into a fixer-upper with a lot of promise.
"If I could use an analogy, I would say that we have the foundation and structure of a house built," said Christensen of the Bucs' attack, which ranked 21st in the NFL in 2000, 26th in passing. "Now, we can give that thing a face lift and a paint job, change the color, change the look of the front of it, put a new roof on it, maybe move a couple walls here and there. We don't have to change the foundation and the structure, yet we can have something that will possibly look different but still be the same philosophy.
"That's the analogy that I would draw to what I see this being, but I don't know. These are my first few days on the job, so we will dig into this thing and see what comes out. But I see it as a remodel of an existing house. It's a remodeling process that could be massive, could be minimal."
Buccaneers.com caught up with Christensen on Wednesday, one day before he would be officially introduced to Tampa Bay fans as the man who will call the plays in 2001 and beyond. On January 26, Head Coach Tony Dungy revealed his plans to promote Christensen; since then, the team has worked on the remainder of its coaching vacancies and Christensen has kept his plans under wraps.
He shared his thoughts on Wednesday, however. Let's take a first look at Christensen's feelings on some of the key issues that lie ahead of him in this new challenge.
After working with the Buccaneer players in several different capacities over the past five seasons, are you excited about the chance to take up the full reins of the offense?
"I really am. I think it's just a great opportunity. I think it's the best opportunity in the league. You've got an offense that has players and I've got the advantage of knowing what they can do, having seen them and been around them. And I have the advantage of having a relationship with them. It will change a little bit, but the relationship is already there so you're not starting from scratch and building a respect and trust level. For me, it's a great, great opportunity in a contending organization with some built-in advantages.
The Bucs have struggled on offense at times in recent year. Does a sufficient amount of talent exist on the roster as it is?
"I think there is a lot of talent. We've still got some holes, but we've got some playmakers. We have some good young guys and some guys that have been together for a while now, too. So, yes, we have to fill a couple of holes and cinch up a couple of things up front, but we certainly don't have to start from scratch and rebuild something."
Coach Dungy said he asked each candidate he interviewed for your job how they would upgrade the Bucs' passing attack. How did you answer?
"I think it was to build our passing game on what our players do best. Find ways to get the ball to Keyshawn (Johnson), find out what Jacquez (Green) does best, get back to throwing the ball to Mike Alstott. We have to get him back up to 50-plus catches and get him back involved in the passing game as a way to get the football to him. And then use Warrick (Dunn) and really highlight him, both in regular situations and especially on third down, and get his catches back up to where they should be. Then, certainly, we need to evaluate what Shaun King does best.
"So those are the ways we improve it. I think simplifying it … I see us getting a little bit simpler and doing fewer things over and over again, getting very good at them. Plus, different people call games different ways, and I think that can affect how a passing game works. We'll look hard at when and how we're calling those passes."
Warrick Dunn was one of the NFL's most productive players over the last six weeks of the 2000 season. Do you believe he can be that productive over the course of an entire season?
"I really do. The thing with him, over five years, he stays healthy. You worry about things that haven't happened, you worry about working him too much, but the guy has been a workhorse. He's stayed healthy and has been durable for the most part. So, yes, I think he can do what he did when he got hot in that streak. I expect him to.
"I see him being a guy that consistently produces 2,000 yards of total offense. Some years it will be a little less or a little more, but I think he's capable of being a 1,200,1400-yard back. He went over 1,000 this year and split the role for much of the season. Warrick's a guy I don't put limitations on because he just proves you wrong. He's one you don't bet against in anything that he does. I want to be smart with him but I sure don't want to limit him."
You have been characterized as a coach solidly in Shaun King's corner, and you have had a chance to develop a relationship with him. Do you indeed have high hopes for King?
"I do, yes. I think people have been a little too quick in their judgements of him. I consider him a first-year player going on his second year. I've said it all along. In college ball, that year between your freshman year and sophomore year is when you make your biggest jump, your biggest improvement. I believe the same thing in this league. Your biggest jump comes between years one and two, and that's this offseason. This will be the biggest percentage jump that he makes in his career, I believe, unless there are extenuating circumstances. But, as a rule of thumb, this is the year. He knows what it takes, he knows how you have to train, he knows that you have to pace yourself. He knows what needs to be done and that gives us a better chance of getting it done."
With all of the weapons you've mentioned above, how do you see the role of the tight end shaping up?
"I think it will stay very similar. The tight end is going to be a role player. Certainly, with Keyshawn and the two backs, to think that the tight end is going to be featured would be a stretch at this point. But he's going to have a tremendous role because of how we run the ball and because of how much play-action we use. I see him being in a similar role to what it's been."
The Bucs have several potential free agents on the offensive line. Is that a cause for concern?
"Yes, we have concern. We certainly would like to keep Jerry Wunsch and Frank Middleton as Buccaneers. We've got to get some depth and if we were to lose either one in free agency, that would be another void that we'd have to fill. We think we've improved ourselves and we're better than we've ever been inside. Jerry's a priority in free agency.
The conventional wisdom is that the Bucs don't throw the ball downfield very often. Do you feel that's an accurate assessment and, if so, can that area be improved?
"I think in spurts this year we improved that. Early in the season, and then in a couple of other spurts, we threw the ball downfield better than at any point since we've been here. The thing we have to do is do it more on a consistent basis.
"We're going to take our shots off the play-action … that's what we see ourselves being, a good run team, throwing the ball upfield off of play-action and a good, sound third-down team. We've got to stay with that philosophy, even in close games, even in games where things aren't going as well. I think we've had a tendency, when things aren't going well or when they start going good, we tend to gather in and get a little tighter, a little more conservative. But I think we took a step in that direction last year.
"Certainly, Keyshawn gave us more 20-yard plays than we've had around here in a long time. I think we'll build on that and improve it and take it another step forward. I believe we made more 20-yard completions than we had in a long time here."
(Editor's note: The Bucs completed 38 passes of 20 or more yards in 2000, their highest total in the last five seasons.)
You've mentioned that the Bucs' offense will be built on the same foundation as last year's. Will the fact that you are calling the plays this season make a noticeable difference?
"I think everyone has a little bit different personality. I think personality enters into it a little bit, but if you've done a good job planning, then you come out of Friday knowing how you're going to call the game. Then everyone inputs it – Coach Dungy inputs it, the offensive staff inputs it – and then personality puts a little flavor on it. Certainly, each time you change who calls the plays it gets a little different flavor on it. But the base part of it is determined during the week in most of the franchises.
You've been in meetings with the other offensive coaches all morning. What is there to meet about at this time of the year?
"We started on personnel today on our first day. We'll make sure we have a plan for this offseason on how to improve players. That's the number-one priority: try to make gains. Try to make sure players are improving and set our goals and strategies for the offseason towards that end. Then we'll look at this remodeling job and see what we want to change, what we want to do, what we want to emphasize. That will be done through the funnel of what our players do best."