If the offense executes as it did against Minnesota, says Mike Alstott, both he and Warrick Dunn can get plenty of carries
At practice on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense looked much like it did last Sunday.
It's hard to tell at practice, of course, if the Bucs' attack was as efficient as it had been during its 446-yard outburst against Minnesota, but in formation and personnel, at least, it was very familiar.
That is, it once again featured a heavy dose of Mike Alstott in the backfield during running plays, with rookie fullback Jameel Cook in front of him. That was by necessity, however, as Warrick Dunn, the team's usual starter at tailback, did not participate in the full-team portion of the workout.
Afterwards, Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated that he hoped to get Dunn more involved in practice on Thursday, and the Bucs are expected to go back to a backfield of both Alstott and Dunn in Green Bay this weekend.
The return of a starter to his normal position after a one-game injury would normally be a non-issue. However, during Dunn's absence, Alstott had a big day as the fill-in at tailback. So big, in fact, that before Wednesday's practice, a press conference was convened to crown Alstott the Miller Lite Player of the Week for the entire NFL.
Alstott's 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Bucs' 41-14 victory has sparked a spirited debate outside the Bucs' locker room regarding who should get the rock, how often and out of what formations. Inside, it's business as usual, in terms of both the starting lineup and the players' team-first attitudes.
Alstott, in particular, is proving once again that he is the consummate team player, if anyone ever doubted. While admitting that he'd like to have more touches than Jerome Bettis and Terrell Owens combined, the sixth-year veteran believes in the concept of sharing the offensive load.
"The thing is, you have to spread the ball out to be successful," he said after accepting his award on Wednesday. "We did that last week and that's why we were successful. We had wide receivers coming into the game who hadn't played a lot, and they caught balls and made first downs. Dave Moore caught a whole lot of passes and had a touchdown. Aaron Stecker hadn't carried the ball much – he caught a big screen and scored a touchdown. If we spread the ball around, we'll be fine. We'll be able to do the things we did against Minnesota."
Dunn is still on the team's injury report, but he's listed as 'probable' and the team believes his gimpy hamstring will be better in time for Sunday's game in Green Bay. The Bucs want to go into Lambeau loaded with as many weapons as possible, and thus Alstott believes his 'Thunder & Lightning' partner will once again be an integral part of the attack. If so, he'll look for his opportunities however they might come.
"Warrick will be back and he'll be at tailback and I'll be at fullback," said Alstott, matter-of-factly. "I might be able to catch some balls – five, six, seven, maybe eight balls out of the backfield – and be able to run, too. But situations in the game pretty much dictate how much I carry the ball and what we can do as an offense."
Actually, situations and execution will play into how close Alstott gets to last week's total of 29 touches (28 carries and one reception). The Bucs had 72 offensive plays to Minnesota's 48 last Sunday, which made it possible, as Alstott noted, for almost everybody in uniform to get in on the action. If Tampa Bay's offense can continue to convert on third downs and keep possession of the ball, both Dunn and Alstott could put up big numbers.
"All I can say is, I hope so," said Alstott to the direct question of whether he would get more carries in Green Bay than he had in the other three games in which he started at fullback. "Situations in the game dictate how many times we carry the ball. If Warrick had been back last week, and the running backs are able to touch the ball 40 times like we did against the Minnesota Vikings, I would have had a number of carries and would have had the opportunity to perform."
And, lest you get the wrong idea, he very much wants that opportunity. Team comes first in the term 'team player,' but it doesn't overwhelm the player.
"I'm a competitive athlete," he said. "You want the ball. If there are 70 snaps, you want the ball 70 snaps. You want the ball in your hands, you want your number called every play. If you don't, you're lying. You'll be lying to yourself and lying to your teammates. Everybody should have some kind of selfishness in them to say, 'I can make this play, give me the ball. Pressure situations, put the pressure on my shoulders. Give me the ball, I want to make something happen.'"
"Throughout our offense, everybody feels the same way," he acknowledged.