How will the Bucs use RB Warrick Dunn in 2001?
In 2000, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers produced 118 more points than they had in 1999. The team's offense improved from 28th in the league last year to 21st this year. The Bucs produced a team-record 43 touchdowns, and even if the seven return TDs are removed, that's still 36 scores, 33 percent more than the year before (27).
No, the Buccaneers are not satisfied.
There were, obviously, some games in which the Bucs' offense struggled to find a consistent means of moving the ball. One of those contests was the season-ender, in the Wild Card round in Philadelphia on Sunday.
As Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy emphasized on Monday, with the sting of the playoff loss still lingering, it is dangerous to put too much of an emphasis on one game, particularly one loss. This is, after all, the same offensive unit that won a shootout, 38-35, with the vaunted Rams two weeks earlier, and the same group that scored 41 points twice earlier in the season. The Bucs had scored over 40 points in a game just three times in their first 24 campaigns.
Still, the Bucs finished the season believing there is unfinished business on the offensive side of the ball. As unfortunate as it is, the abbreviated playoff run gives the team's coaching staff more time to evaluate where the team stands.
"That's one thing we'll do, and take quite a while doing it – to look at the whole season, to really look back at it," said Dungy. "Not just off the top of your head, but really study it and see where we had problems and where we did things well.
"One thing about being out (of the playoffs) is that you have a little bit more time. I was just going over the schedule for the coaches today. It was February 11th or February 12th before we actually started working again last year, so we'll have a little more time this year. That's one of the advantages you don't want, being knocked out early."
There was talk, as the season came to a close, that the Bucs had failed to truly establish an 'identity' on offense, a consistent mode of attack like the Broncos' downhill running game or the Rams' precision passing mode. Dungy, who has made no secret of his belief in the running game, agrees, at least in part.
"I think part of that is who you're playing and how you need to attack them," he said. "Hopefully, you're able to attack them in a lot of different ways. It is harder to develop an identity when you've made a change. You've got to get that going. Defensively, we've been the same for five years. Offensively, we're one way for four years and now we're changing systems. So I think that identity will come, but I think that is a valid point."
By change, Dungy is referring to the Bucs' import of Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel, who took over in 2000 for former coordinator Mike Shula. Steckel, who more than anything wants to see balance in his offense, was more than happy to fall in line with Dungy's run-first philosophy. Don't expect that to change, even if the coming weeks of study underscore certain strengths and weaknesses.
"We have to see what we do best, but hopefully we're always going to be a physical team," said Dungy. "Hopefully, we're going to be able to throw the ball, but I don't see us going away from being a running, physical football team. Now, how we run and how we do it and what plays we run, that's something that we've got to figure out. But as far as trying to develop an identity, that's what I would like to see."
As Dungy indicates, there is more to emphasizing the run than merely handing the ball off 40 times a game. Even though the Bucs had at least one game in which they scored 31 or more points in each month of the season, there was a clear break in how they went about their offensive business in November.
When FB Mike Alstott, a four-time Pro Bowler and the team's leading rusher in 1999, went down with a knee injury in Chicago on November 19, Tampa Bay turned the keys to the running game over to Warrick Dunn. Dunn responded miraculously, rushing for 635 yards and seven touchdowns in the Bucs' last six games.
That begs the question, how will the team balance Alstott and Dunn, the inside and outside running attack, the rush and the pass in 2001. Dungy was not ready to get specific so soon after the 2000 campaign.
"That's one of the things we have to address," said Dungy. "How we're going to attack, what formations we're going to use, what players we're going to use, who's going to be here – those are all things that we'll look at in the course of the next couple of months. That's not something that we'll make a decision on tomorrow, but it's something that we'll evaluate after we watch all of the tape and go back and look at the whole year."
Dungy did bring up the team's short-yardage and goal-line troubles, a point he specifically wishes to address in the coming weeks. Overall, however, he believes the Bucs merely need to continue to improve their grasp on Steckel's new offense.
As much as the Bucs began to kick-start their attack in 2000, there is still room for improvement.
For the second straight year, two Buccaneers have finished in the top five in the voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In results announced on Tuesday, Baltimore LB Ray Lewis was selected as the 2000 winner of that award, succeeding Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp, last year's winner.
Despite upping his totals from 54 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 1999 to 76 stops and 16.5 sacks this season, Sapp finished third in the voting behind Lewis and New Orleans DT La'Roi Glover.
And, for the second year in a row, Buccaneer LB Derrick Brooks received support for NFL Defensive Player of the year. In 1999, Brooks finished fourth; this season, he tied for fourth with New York Giants DT Keith Hamilton.
Both Sapp and Brooks will start in the Pro Bowl for the NFC, and both were voted to the AP All-Pro first team.