LB Shelton Quarles assumed a much larger role in 1999
Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton played the same position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999, alternating at the strongside linebacker slot for the NFC's number-one ranked defense. On Tuesday, they shared a press release when each was re-signed by the Buccaneers to a three-year contract. Both Quarles and Singleton would have been eligible to become restricted free agents on February 11, but their new deals could keep them under contract with Tampa Bay through the 2002 season.
"They played well (in 1999)," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "They kind of alternated with each other, they both played on special teams and they're a big part of what we're trying to do. It was good to get them both back."
Quarles started all 16 games plus both playoff contests at the strongside linebacker slot for the Bucs, totaling 57 regular-season tackles in his first year in that role. He has proven to be one of the team's most astute free agent signings of recent seasons. An unheralded Canadian Football League player with the British Columbia Lions in 1995 and '96, Quarles had had only a brief NFL stop in the Miami Dolphins' training camp in 1994. However, in three seasons he has emerged as the team's top special teams player, leading the team in kick-coverage stops in each of those campaigns, and was a valuable find in his new starting role in 1999.
Quarles' team-leading special teams tackle totals have gone up each year, from 16 in 1997 to 20 last year to an amazing 31 in 1999. This season, he won the SLB starting role in training camp and helped the team hold opponents to a team-record-low 235 points.
Singleton, a fourth-round draft pick in 1997, spelled Quarles at the strongside slot in every game until a broken ankle suffered in the playoffs against Washington kept him out of last Sunday's NFC Championship Game. He pitched in with a career-best 26 tackles plus one interception and half a sack. His top performance of 1999 occurred in Seattle, where he helped the Bucs to a 16-3 victory with three tackles, an interception and a pass defensed. Like Quarles, Singleton is also a key member of the Bucs' special teams units and he turned in a career-high 15 kick-coverage stops in 1999.
In 1997, Singleton punctuated his rookie campaign with the Buccaneers' only two blocked punts of the season, including one against Arizona on September 28 that he recovered and returned 28 yards for a touchdown. That play marked the first time in eight years that a Tampa Bay player had scored on a return of a blocked punt. He then began to see action on defense in a platoon role with SLB Jeff Gooch in 1998 and was able to contributed 18 tackles and a pass defensed.
Of course, the Buccaneers would have preferred to be issuing press releases about their upcoming Super Bowl participation on Tuesday, but an 11-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday brought on the off-season rather suddenly. The Bucs responded by getting right down to business, with the goal of keeping the team among the NFL's elite.
"You have to put the season behind you and look forward to next year, and we're off to a good start," said Dungy. "We want to try to keep as many of our players as we can, and I think it's great when guys do want to re-sign. It just makes you feel you're going in the right direction."