After several weeks of (mostly) good-natured abuse, the Answer Man's mailbag took a turn for the nice this week.
Kindly readers told me not to listen to the harsh words about my chin, my freakish chest-waistline ratio or my costume. You know – learn to love yourself, that sort of thing.
Anyway, that was nice and the kind words were appreciated, but the Answer Man wasn't really suffering from a lack of self-esteem. The e-mails that really got my head spinning – and, strangely, there were three separate e-mails from three different people on the same subject – were the ones like this:
Chip Meiers of Ft. Myers, Florida:
Oh Great Answer Man - When might we see you staring in a Bucs weekly flash movie? Have you auditioned?
Wow! I had never thought of that. The Answer Man in Hollywood! No more shining cleats or copying playbook pages. No more re-stocking the Gatorade cooler. Answer Man could be a star.
Then I saw this week's intro, and I knew I wouldn't have what it takes. 'Pittman and the Rookie Wonder' – those are real superheroes. Those guys have alter-egos, a mansion, a secret underground headquarters, a butler, a police commissioner with a beacon. And grappling hooks. I don't even have grappling hooks (not in the budget, says my supervisor). I do have a mop.
The Answer Man knows what happens to aspiring actors who head to California without the real talent needed to make it. I didn't want to be serving bottled water in a sidewalk café, and I didn't want to get into another part of the industry where they would probably make a clever pun about my name. The Answer Wife wouldn't be big on that.
So, thanks for the idea, but it's back to polishing cleats for me. Oh, and answering some of your questions, of course. Read on!
Steven Small of Ontario, California asks:
Everyone talks about the West Coast offense. What is the West Coast offense? I bet you wonder why I am a Buc fan in Ontario, California. I spent three years at MacDill AFB (1971-74) and I will never forget the kindness of the people of Tampa.
Answer Man: Actually, I was wondering where Ontario, California is. I now know that it is a municipality occupying about 50 square miles 35 miles east of Los Angeles, 925 feet above sea level with approximately 165,000 citizens, and growing fast. And I feel much better knowing that.
As to being a Buc fan, that goes without saying. All of us have a little Buc fan in us, waiting to get out. Yours, apparently, was drawn out by your stay at our fine Air Force Base…even though you left just as the area was getting its football team. You must have really liked us.
Anyway, the term 'West Coast offense' is probably thrown about a bit too often, used as kind of a blanket assessment for various teams whose offenses may not really be that similar. Basically, if the designer of your team's offense is in the ever-expanding coaching tree that springs from Bill Walsh, then it's probably going to be labeled a 'West Coast team.' That includes the Buccaneers, whose head coach, Jon Gruden, first broke into the league with George Siefert's 49ers.
Gruden was only with the 49ers for one year, as a low-level assistant, but he spent three years under Mike Holmgren, another Walsh disciple, in Green Bay and three years under Ray Rhodes, also a direct coaching descendent from Walsh, in Philadelphia.
Tellingly, Gruden doesn't refer to his scheme as a 'West Coast offense.' Of course, several of the basic principles are there, as they are in many offenses. The best way to describe the offense is to use Walsh's own words. He said 'West Coast offense' is "an umbrella term for precision-timed passing, variable formations, and the exploitation of each player's skills."
If there is any aspect of the system that is most commonly associated with the term 'West Coast offense,' it's the precision, high-percentage passing, much of it in the short to immediate range. It is often put up as the opposite of the vertical passing game. It commonly utilizes the tight end more than some other offenses (think Brent Jones), and some descendents of it like to throw to the running backs quite often. The 'West Coast offense' often seeks to get a lot of its big plays out of short, crisp passing that allows the player making the reception to pick up a lot of yards after the catch.
As for the variable formations and the seeking of good matchups, those are definitely key aspects of Gruden's offense. In fact, the Buccaneers do a lot more pre-snap shifting than Walsh's offense ever did, or anybody else running a 'West Coast' attack now is doing. There isn't anybody really running the same offense Walsh run in San Francisco in the '80s; Steve Mariucci's offense in Detroit is different than Mike Holmgren's in Seattle and Jim Mora's in Atlanta. But some of the basics are there.
George C. of Venice, Florida:
I am a season ticket holder and want to know if ticket bearing fans will still be receiving the complimentary Buccaneer visor this Sunday against the 49ers.
Answer Man: Yes. I've got one right here on my desk, and it's nice. Red with a Buc logo on the front and black trim along the front edge of the bill. Enjoy.
Austin of Waterloo, …Iowa, Illinois, Ontario? … asks:
Since Chidi Ahanotu is back again with the Bucs after a few years away I was wondering if you can tell me if there have been any other Buccaneers that left only to return again?
Answer Man: First off, what's up with the oh-so-common practice of you fine questioners not including the state with your hometown? I can understand if it's a smaller town around Tampa, say Ft. Myers or Bradenton (maybe there's a Waterloo, Florida, but I couldn't find it), or if it's an obviously recognizable city like Boston or San Diego. But otherwise it's a guessing game for me. Please, folks, include the state with your questions.
As to your question, Austin of Waterloo, Earth, how about Dexter Jackson?
Okay, that's not fair, because Austin's question was sent after the Ahanotu signing but before Dirt Road's return. But neither move is particularly uncommon. There are a number of players who served two separate stints as Buccaneers, and we're not going to try to research all of them. We'll give you a few of the more prominent ones, though.
Steve DeBerg first played for the Buccaneers from 1984-87 after being acquired from Denver in a trade that cost Tampa Bay second and fourth-round picks. DeBerg was the starter for a good portion of those four years, opening 37 games in all. The last three of those 37 starts came during his second run as a Buc, however. In 1992, Tampa Bay re-signed DeBerg after another run in the AFC West, this time with Kansas City. DeBerg played two more seasons in Tampa, first as a backup to Vinny Testaverde, then as the opening-day starter in 1993 before Craig Erickson quickly took over the job.
Mark Royals is another good example. Royals kicked around the league for several years after first signing as a free agent with Dallas in 1986. In 1990, he came to camp with Tampa Bay and beat out incumbent Chris Mohr (who is also still in the league…the Bucs just saw him in Atlanta, as a matter of fact). That kicked off a long and successful career for Royals, who has held a steady job ever since, for two years in Tampa, then three in Pittsburgh, two in Detroit and two in New Orleans. That brings us to 1999, when Royals came back to the Buccaneers and put three more very good years on his franchise record. In fact, Royals is the Bucs' all-time leader in punts and punting yards.
Even before the return of Ahanotu and Jackson, the Bucs had a player in this category on their current roster: tight end Dave Moore. Moore played 10 seasons in Tampa (1992-2001) before being released and signing with the Buffalo Bills. After two seasons in Buffalo, Moore returned to Tampa (where the avid fisherman had retained his home on the water) and is now the team's long-snapper and a reserve tight end.
One more? How about George Yarno, who owns several curious moments in team history. (One is the left-footed extra point he kicked at Detroit on Dec. 18, 1983…that's unusual because Yarno was an offensive lineman by trade.) Yarno played with the Bucs from 1979-83, then left to ply his trade in the USFL, the alternate league that lasted three years in the mid-80s. In 1985, Yarno returned to Tampa and finished out his career with three more Buc seasons.
One sidebar to this issue that the Answer Man finds interesting (humor me). When you see Jackson in action this weekend against the 49ers, you'll surely notice that he is wearing jersey number 28, not his old number 34. That number now belongs to fullback Greg Comella. Now, many of you have probably heard of prominent players joining new teams and bargaining to get the jersey number they want from another player who already has it. For instance, when Moore returned, he took number 81, since Joe Jurevicius had his old number of 83. Then, the Bucs signed Hall of Fame-bound Tim Brown, and Moore relinquished 81 to him and went to 86.
So why hasn't Comella given up 34 to Jackson, who won a Super Bowl MVP trophy with the Buccaneers in that jersey? Is he holding out for a better deal?
No, the issue is actually out of Comella's hands. It's against NFL rules for a player to switch jersey numbers during the season (unless he switches teams, of course). The switch could happen after the season, however.
The Answer Man didn't know that until a few days ago. Pretty interesting, huh? Or is it just me?
Trish of Palm Harbor, Florida asks:
Almighty Answer Man, could you please tell me why special teams phenom Torrie Cox is not listed on the Pro Bowl ballot?
And also asks:
Oh wise one, ANSWER MAN, I know that you are the only one that can properly answer my question. What ever happened to Eric Rhett? Wasn't he a first round pick by the Bucs in the late 80s/early 90s that never panned out?
Answer Man: Now, we normally wouldn't answer two questions from the same person…ah, who am I kidding? I think I explain why I'm breaking some rule or another every week. There are no rules. Besides, Trish is laying on the flattery pretty thick.
So we'll take these one at a time.
For years, the Pro Bowl ballot was put together before the season, with each team submitting its nominated players at each position. This struck some as unfair, as every season there were surprise players who emerged, others who declined and lost their jobs and still others who got hurt. These days, changes are allowed to the online ballot and the one that's passed out at stadiums during the season, but it still doesn't always produce the perfect ballot.
Take a look at the current ballot at NFL.com (and vote for some Bucs while you're there, dangit!). You'll see under the center position that the Bucs' entry has been switched from John Wade, who is out for the year, to Sean Mahan, the new starter. Notice also that there is only one category for return men, not separate listings for punt and kickoff returner. The Bucs used that spot for Joey Galloway, the best preseason bet to be a force for Tampa Bay in the return game. Cox's name could still be switched in.
As for the Rhett question, I really doubt I'm the only one who could answer it, but it's nice of you to say so. Many die-hard Buc fans would probably notice a few small inaccuracies in your question, in fact. Let's get to those first. Number one, Rhett's first name was actually spelled Errict, although he pronounced it Eric. Number two, Rhett was a second-round pick of the Buccaneers in 1994, the 34th player taken overall, out of Florida. And number three, it's definitely too harsh of an assessment to say Rhett never panned out.
Rhett, in fact, is the sixth-leading rusher in franchise history, just 204 yards back of Ricky Bell.
Rhett's 1,207-yard campaign in 1995 ranks as the fourth-best rushing season in team annals, and his 11 rushing touchdowns that year are second best to the 13 James Wilder scored in 1984. Rhett also had 1,011 rushing yards in his rookie season, most of it in the last seven games of the year. That makes him one of just three players in team history to have two 1,000-yard seasons (also Wilder and Warrick Dunn).
Probably the defining moment of Rhett's career, however, was when he chose to hold out for the first seven games of 1996 in search of a reworked contract. He didn't get it, and when he returned to the Bucs, he never really regained a full foothold on the job. He did finish the 1996 season as the team's leading rusher, but Tampa Bay drafted Mike Alstott in 1996 and Warrick Dunn in 1997 and never looked back.
Rhett spent three more seasons in the league and eventually finished with 4,143 career rushing yards, 89 catches for 552 yards and 32 total touchdowns. His best post-Buc season came with Baltimore in 1999, when he rushed for 852 yards on 236 carries. (Backing up Rhett that season: Priest Holmes.) So, in all, Rhett played seven years and 86 games in the league. That may not sound like a long time, but the average career for an NFL running back is notoriously short. The Answer Man always found Rhett to be a nice guy, as well, which is perhaps why we're taking the time to defend him here.
Jon Brazil of Okeechobee, Florida asks:
I don't ever remember seeing this, but can the ball be snapped to a player in motion? I can't see why not, but you are just the person to answer it oh great AM.
Answer Man: Questions like these, I call the Flag Football Effect.
A few weeks ago, we talked about snapping the ball between the quarterback's legs to another player. Now this. I don't know if Jon here plays flag football, but the Answer Man has personally seen both of those gambits used in that weekend sport. You run a play like that on Saturday morning at the Y, it works, and you think to yourself, "Hey, couldn't the Bucs do something like that? The Panthers would never see it coming."
Now, the Answer Man loves flag football, but that's probably where plays like this should stay. Yes, Jon, it is perfectly legal to snap the ball to a player in motion. But, like the snap-between-the-legs strategy, the potential rewards are far outweighed by the risks. The timing of that snap would be difficult, and any coach thinking about it would probably have visions of loose footballs clanging around in the backfield.
A direct snap to a back, by contrast, is still hiked directly to a stationary player, even if he's off center a bit from the snapper. And even that strategy is used pretty rarely, simply because the bit of misdirection it provides rarely makes a big difference in the play.
Ron Batista of Roanoke, Virginia asks:
I know because I've seen it a couple times in games the last few years that you can't have 12 men in the huddle at the same time. That's a penalty. But it's not a penalty to have only 10 men in the huddle, right? I mean, you don't really have to huddle at all if you don't want to. So my question is, could a team send one player off, then send another player in but have him stop right by the sideline? If the other team didn't notice the new 11th player there on the sideline, he would be completely uncovered. Can you do this Answer Man? Huh? Can you? Can you?
Answer Man: Whoa, I think I should have started the column with this one. Just can't wait for the answer, huh Ron?
It's a clever idea, but it kind of feels like cheating, doesn't it? Well, it is cheating in the NFL, at least since 1989.
Every year, the Competition Committee meets several times during the offseason to discuss the league's rules and their necessary evolution. Before the next season, there are usually a few tweaks to the rulebook (and sometimes a big one, like the two-point conversion in 1994 and the return of replay in 1999) as well as some 'points of emphasis.' This season, for instance, the league decided to let receivers wear numbers in the 10-19 range even when there are 80 numbers available, and it added the third replay challenge if the first two are successful. Plus, the NFL has made the illegal contact rule against receivers a point of emphasis, which most experts believe is the main reason for better passing numbers across the league this year.
In 1989, the league specifically altered the substitution rules to make your suggested strategy illegal. The new rule required substitutes who remain in the game (sometimes you'll see a player run in and then run back out) to at least reach the inside of the numbers before moving to a wide position.
Since the numbers running down each side of the field basically split the field into thirds, that means any substitute entering the game is sure to get in the defense's field of vision before he takes his eventual spot. At that point, it's up to the defense to keep track of all 11 players, no matter how wide they split.
And this is yet another strategy we've seen put into action in flag football, for years now. In fact, Answer Man is aware of some leagues that specifically require a brief huddle when new players enter the game so as to make that play impossible.
Brian Brocklehurst of Reunoldsburg, Ohio asks:
Is it illegal for a QB to fake a pass, like making a pump fake, once he has already crossed the line of scrimmage?
Answer Man: Nope, not at all.
Once he has crossed the line of scrimmage, the quarterback is just a ballcarrier, and if he chooses to carry the ball out in his throwing hand, in a throwing grip, that's his prerogative. If he chooses to swing that arm in any direction, including one that emulates a pass, he's free to do so. And if a defender isn't aware that the passer has crossed the line and is thus can only fake a throw, then more power to the quarterback.
One difference: there would be no 'arm-in-motion' ruling or 'tuck rule' if the quarterback's arm was batted and the ball came loose while he was faking a throw past the line of scrimmage. Since he can't legally pass at that point, he doesn't get the turnover protection of an 'incomplete pass' ruling. So the scrambling quarterback with the pump-fake strategy on his mind better make sure there's no tomahawking tackler right behind him.
Jon Jeffrey of Plymouth, Pennsylvania asks:
Hey AM, one simple ? for you. Can you please tell me what Brad Johnson's career completion percentage is and where he ranks on the all-time list. I've got a bet going and I really need a win bad. GO BUCS.
Answer Man: What's my cut?
Actually, this is an easy one, so I'll do it for free. Brad Johnson has a career completion percentage of 61.8%, which puts him at seventh place on the NFL's all-time list in that category.
The funny thing is, the Bucs actually have two of the top 10 players on this list (which requires a minimum of 1,500 career passes thrown). Just ahead of Johnson in sixth place is current starter Brian Griese, who boasts a career mark of 62.4%. A third player who was a Buccaneer at one time, Steve Young, is second on the list with a mark of 64.3%.
The list is dominated by current players. In fact, seven of the top 10 are active this season and five are currently holding starting jobs. Here's the entire top 10 list (updated through games of November 14-15, 2004):
NFL Highest Career Completion Pct. (min.: 1500 attempts)
Notice something about this list? Seven of those 10 players have won a Super Bowl – Warner, Young, Montana, Johnson, Aikman, Brady and Favre. Do you think you could get a little extra out of the bet with all that added information? If so, you know where I live.
Will Parrott of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina:
How can you answer a question from someone who calls our team "the bucks" and also doesn't know #12 Doug Williams? P.S. I love your web listing AM!!!!!
Answer Man: Wait a minute, isn't that exactly the type of person we should be including here?
Will refers to one Waneda of Niceville from last week's column. Waneda had just bought here boyfriend a Doug Williams throwback jersey, though she was a bit hazy on the details, and that's why she contacted me. Now, obviously, Waneda's boyfriend is a Bucs fan, or at least a Doug Williams fan, so that's good. And perhaps by educating Waneda to the spelling of the team name and a bit of its history, we've pulled another person into Buccaneer fandom.
Plus, the question gave us a chance to give Doug some love on the web site, and that's always a good thing.
Last week, we included a couple quickie Q&As at the bottom for visitors who obviously weren't big football fans (such as Miss Waneda above). This week, our quickie section is for those folks who obviously aren't regular Answer Man readers.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you did check out the Answer Man more frequently, you would know what we've already answered all of these questions.
Such as this one from Aiden of Savage, Minnesota:
Dear answer man, I was wondering why the Bucs are playing with their away jerseys at home games instead of their home jerseys? Is it something special or something? Please answer my question, one who knows all of the Bucs. Thanks.
Or the related missive from Loye Aubrey, Jr. of Huntington Beach, California
I was wondering if you knew if and when the Bucs will be wearing their "alternate" black jerseys this season? I am a diehard Bucs fan out here on the West Coast. Thanx A.M. Go BUCS!
Aiden, there are no such things as home and away jerseys in the NFL. True, a lot of teams choose to wear their darker-colored jerseys at home and their white or light-colored ones on the road, but they don't have to. A team decides what color jersey it will wear at every home game at the beginning of a season, submits that list to the league and then wears the opposite of what their opponents have chosen at all road games. The Bucs generally wear white jerseys at home during the first half of the season to force their opponents into dark uniforms on hot and humid Florida afternoons.
For a more in-depth discussion of the issue, please visit Volume 10.
And Loye, we discussed the "alternate" jersey issue "at length" last week. The gist of it: There are no plans for any black, throwback, anniversary or otherwise new jerseys this year. The team takes the issue seriously, however, and will absolutely make its plans known to the fans well in advance if any alternate jersey games are on the horizon. For more on this subject, click here and read the intro to the column.
M. Layhew of Palmetto, Florida:
I wondered if the intros that are on every week would be available at the end of season on this website.
Answer Man: M., yes indeed. In fact an up-to-date archive is up right now for the last three seasons on this page.
For a more in-depth discussion of the issue, please visit Volume Volume 7.
And that's all for the Answer Man this week. There were a few good questions I had queued up that I just couldn't get to this week, so look for discussions of fair catch signals and plays that can be challenged by replay next week. But I need more, so please keep the great questions coming!