Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Star Power

The first Pro Bowl practice was an eye-opening experience for Buccaneer coach Tony Dungy

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With players like Stephen Davis (48) and Warren Sapp, Tony Dungy has talent on both sides of the ball at his disposal

As the head coach for the NFC squad in the upcoming AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Tony Dungy got a first look at his team on Tuesday and was overwhelmed by the NFC's firepower. Of course, you know who we mean by that: Tre' Johnson, Mitch Berger, David Sloan, et cetera, et cetera.

Okay, perhaps those weren't the names you were expecting up front, but they are some of the best in the business at their positions - offensive guard, punter and tight end, respectively. While the Pro Bowl may be headlined by such attention-getting stars as Marshall Faulk, Cris Carter and Warren Sapp, it is the across-the-board talent that most impressed Dungy on Tuesday.

"The skill level everywhere is amazing," said Dungy. "Offensive linemen, kickers, defensive backs, everywhere you look. It's really quite impressive."

Dungy and the Buccaneers' coaching staff, delegated to the Pro Bowl after Tampa Bay was nipped, 11-6, by St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game, conducted the week's first NFC practice today from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Hawaiian time. After meeting with his coaches on Monday evening, Dungy used today's initial workout to familiarize the players with the plays. The conference's best players took to the instruction well.

"It was quite a thrill being around all of those great players," said Dungy, shortly after the conclusion of the workout. "Practice went well. We had a few things we worked on last night that we needed to install today, and we got off to a good start with that. It's just something to be around so many incredible athletes."

Contrary to current thought, the 'system' that Dungy and the players worked on Tuesday bore no relation to what the Buccaneers practice during the season. Mostly in the interest of player safety, the Pro Bowl has very specific rules on what can be performed on both sides of the ball. Players in the 2000 Pro Bowl will be operating under the same general direction as all previous Pro Bowls.

"There's only so many things you can do on offense or defense," said Dungy. "Everything is pretty much scripted out and there are a lot of restrictions on what you can and can't do. It's not really a system at all. It's a lot like the Senior Bowl, but even more restrictive."

That hasn't stopped previous Pro Bowls from being an impressive display of skill, and that was evident even on the practice field on Tuesday. It's fortunate for Buccaneer fans that six members of that great collection of talent are wearing Tampa Bay helmets and should be featured prominently on Sunday. On Tuesday, it was just business as usual for those six, all of whom are making at least their second Pro Bowl appearance. In fact, Tampa Bay's super six of FB Mike Alstott, LB Derrick Brooks, S John Lynch, C Tony Mayberry, LB Hardy Nickerson and DT Warren Sapp have combined for a total of 19 Pro Bowl nods, including this year.

"So many of our guys have been here before that they were on a pretty even keel," said Dungy. "You can see some of the excitement in the newer guys, the guys that are here for the first time, but everybody got down to business at practice."

Pro Bowl practices, while instructive, are famously casual, and the players finished up before noon on Tuesday. The Buccaneers' coaching and football staff should find some free time on the island this week as well, but there is work to be done with the opening of free agency just 10 days away. Dungy expects to continue discussions on the topic with his coaching staff during the Pro Bowl week, while the team's personnel department remains in full gear back in Tampa.

"We hope to hit on it a little this week and going into next week," said Dungy.

The remainder of the Pro Bowl week will include a 90-minute practice each day before the game is played on Sunday at 5:30 PM EST. Then it's back to the ever-growing offseason grind in Tampa. For now, Dungy will enjoy the fair Hawaiian weather, not to mention a fair amount of football talent.

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