Head Coach Tony Dungy (foreground) says he has 'tremendously' enjoyed working with General Manager Rich McKay and the Bucs' front office
Some things we'll know at the end of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2001 training camp, some things we won't.
Will rookie Kenyatta Walker win the starting left tackle spot, as is generally expected? That question will be answered some time in August.
Will Walker play well enough to make that crucial position a strength for the Buccaneers when the real games begin? Check back in November.
But Head Coach Tony Dungy, who will take his sixth Buccaneer squad into camp on Sunday, July 29, believes that a lot of answers will be revealed during the five weeks of camp and the preseason. It's not hard to see why. The intense heat, the grueling two-a-day practice schedule, the mental strain of competing for coveted jobs…it all forms a crucible inside which the best possible Bucs team is quickly melted together.
Dungy will oversee that operation and in the process get answers to some of his own lingering questions. In the meantime, Buccaneer fans have their own set of issues regarding the 2001 season, and we felt Dungy was the perfect choice to shed some light on those concerns.
That's why we asked Dungy to sit with us for a session of 20 questions on the eve of training camp. His thoughts concerning 10 of those issues follows. The rest of this preseason primer with Coach Dungy will appear later in the week.
Are you concerned at all about the ability of the O-line to gel with two young players as new starters?
Tony Dungy: "You always do. Offensive line continuity is so important and we'll probably have two new guys in there. But that's what we've got to get accomplished in training camp and the preseason. We've got to get those guys feeling pretty good. That's going to be paramount for us, but we think it will come."
Are you facing any particularly tough personnel decisions in training camp this year?
Tony Dungy: "You don't really know until it plays out. You can have an assumption who's going to be on the team, who you really think is going to make a push, who's ready to play well, but many times you get fooled in training camp. Guys come on and really have good camps. They put themselves in the mix because they're ready to go. Occasionally, a guy will take himself out of the mix because he's not ready to go. A lot of that is determined by what happens in the next five weeks."
Should fans be nervous at all about the apparently unsettled long-snapper situation?
Tony Dungy: "Not really. We haven't gotten ourselves to the point where we've said we couldn't have a veteran guy. There are some veterans out there…Morris Unutoa's still available and if we felt like we really had to we could do that. But we've got Sean (McDermott) right now and he's done really well. We want to see him in the games, but we think he's going to do just fine."
Do you put any stock in the notion that Brad Johnson is 'injury prone?'
Tony Dungy: "Not really. I've heard that about several guys. They said that about Robert Smith early on in his career at Minnesota, but over the last three or four years he was as durable as any back going. Brad has had some injuries, but we think we're going to protect him really well, number one. That helps. Plus, with his work ethic and the way he goes about things, I don't think that's going to be a problem."
What would you like to see in Warrick Dunn's stat line at the end of the year?
Tony Dungy: "We probably would like to see him with about 220 carries and probably somewhere between 30 and 50 catches. If we can get it to him on a consistent basis where it's not 30 carries in one game and 11 carries in another game, but in the 15 to 18 range every week, I think he can do a great job for us.
"I think he will catch a lot of passes. I think we'll have him and Mike (Alstott) in the game a lot more. One of the things Brad (Johnson) does is get the ball to his outlet receivers real well. He likes to throw it to the backs. I just see both of those guys coming out of this year with between 30 and 50 catches."
Now that you've had the entire offseason to think about it, do you have a theory as to why the Bucs' run defense slipped a bit last year?
Tony Dungy: "As we watched the tapes, we saw that we just weren't as sharp and crisp as we normally are. We've got to tackle a little bit better and we've got to pay a little better attention to detail. For the most part, it was nothing in how people attacked us. Now, some of the teams that play us a lot have done a good job of coming up with some run plays to attack us, like Detroit and Green Bay. But, for the most part, it's just a matter of us doing our job better."
What will Dexter Jackson bring to the defense now that he's going to be filling a larger role?
Tony Dungy: "Dexter's got to play consistent ball and be able to make those plays week in and week out that we know he's capable of. He's made plays on a game-by-game basis on special teams and in the defense, but he's just got to do it week in and week out. He's a guy who can be a big interceptor, he's a guy that's very energetic and we think he's going to make big plays for us."
Can you give us the gist of what you're planning on telling the entire team during the first training camp meeting?
Tony Dungy: "We're going to talk about what we want to do for the year, about doing the things the way we do and about how the Buccaneers win. We'll talk about how it's going to be important for us to get 16 weeks of good football played if we want to get where we want to go. The way to do that is to build those habits of camp. We want to be disciplined and do things right, start out from day one on the right foot."
Last year in camp, you put a particular emphasis on finding a single player for each return job, punts and kickoffs. Are you taking the same approach this year?
Tony Dungy: "We would like to. We don't know who that's going to be yet, but we've got some talented returners. We want to get our return game going earlier this year. That's something we've said the last couple of years, and it's usually been towards the end of the year that we've really kicked it into gear. We're going to emphasize it a lot early in camp and hopefully get that one guy we can build around when the regular season starts.
"Karl Williams has done an outstanding job for us any time we've put him back there, and we can't be afraid to do that. We've got some other guys that have big-play ability as well, and we've got some young guys we want to look. But I think will find a very good return man from who's on our roster right now."
You're five years in now with the Buccaneers. How do you feel about your performance as a head coach? Have you learned any lessons, and have you enjoyed it to the fullest?
Tony Dungy: "I've learned a lot of lessons and I feel like I'm a better head coach now than I was in '96, without a doubt. I think we've established a way of doing things here, which is something we wanted to do. We wanted to get to the point where we're a playoff contender annually, and we've been able to do that. It's been good…maybe we could have wished for a couple more playoff wins, but overall I think it's about what we've expected.
"I have enjoyed it tremendously. I've been around a great staff and we've had a good group of people around us. Working with Rich McKay and John Idzik, and Tim (Ruskell) and Jerry (Angelo), has been a real pleasure. I think the relationship we have front office-to-head coach has been outstanding. Pretty much every major thing that we've needed, the Glazers have said yes to. I haven't had very many things that I've asked for that I thought were very important but we haven't gotten. It's been real positive."
(Note: Among the topics Dungy will address in part two of this preseason primer are whether a team needs balance to win the Super Bowl, his first impressions of Clyde Christensen in the offensive coordinator role and Keyshawn Johnson's role in the offense.)