Offensive Coordinator likes what he has seen from QB Shaun King
With the exception of a packed plane – thanks to an equally jammed roster – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' weekend trip to New England has all the feel of a regular-season undertaking. The Wednesday-to-Saturday game planning, the national television crew, the starters geared up to play deep in the game – it's all very fall-flavored.
That's fitting, because Head Coach Tony Dungy and his Buccaneers generally treat the third contest in a four-game preseason slate as the most important one, the week that will be used to instruct players on what a regular-season schedule feels like.
The catch, of course, is that the opponent is the New England Patriots, the same team that will be lined up across the ball in the regular-season opener. "That does make it a little bit of a challenge," said Dungy from the team hotel in Massachusetts, "because we've always used this game to have a normal week of preparations. So this is a big game to us. We have prepared as if it was a regular-season game, and we definitely want to win it.
"But you don't want to reveal everything. We want to send a message that we're a physical, fundamentally-sound team. I'm sure they are thinking the same thing."
This was one of many thoughts shared by Dungy on Saturday evening. Buccaneers.com also gathered bits of last-minute wisdom from Dungy's right and left hand men, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and offensive coordinator Les Steckel. Many of their musings are below, most on Sunday's game but also some thoughts on the state of the team and many of its key players.
Dungy on Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe: "You just can't give him time. We've had success against them the last two times we've played them because we've put on a good pass rush. I've played against him when he had time and it wasn't pretty. We have a mandate to get to him tomorrow."
Kiffin on the expected playing time for the starting defense: "We'll play our starters into the third quarter as long as they weren't in for too many plays in the first half, if there were several long drives. We need to give them the feeling of going in (to the locker room) and coming back out ready to play. We don't want them to put a hat on and relax, we want them to be ready for what's coming in two weeks."
Steckel on his plans for Mike Alstott, who will play in his first preseason game: "We're going to use Mike all over the place. He's a football player, this guy. I said to him this spring, 'How would you like to be Eddie George on one play and Frank Wycheck on the next one.' He smiled and said, 'Coach, I'd like that.' I knew I had found our H-back."
Kiffin on the uniqueness of playing the same time twice in three weeks: "I don't think I've ever been in this position before, with the two games so close. We've played teams in the preseason and then again in the regular season – like Washington and Miami this year – but never like this. How much do you show? What you do is kind of a 'they're thinking that you're thinking that they're thinking that you're thinking.' It can be a real mind game.
"You don't want to just go out there and flop around, loaf, give them confidence. I think we have a defense that hustles, plays hard and flies to the ball, and I want to see that tomorrow."
Dungy on why he likes training camp: "I think you get a real sense of where you will be that season by the time you break camp. When you break, you know if you've got a good team, if training camp was good and tough. This has been a good camp. I see a real hunger in our guys. I even liked camp as a player."
Steckel on the Bucs' offensive line: "They're coming together really well. Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel are fine, fine players, and they've brought a real flavor to our camp. They play the game aggressively, and that has rubbed off. Frank Middleton has had a good camp. Jerry Wunsch is Mr. Steady Eddie, and he gets better every week. Jason Odom, in the two days we had him in camp, looked like a real fine left tackle, and that's a very important position to have."
Dungy on what Keyshawn Johnson has added to the team: "He has been excellent. He's the first guy we've had since I've been here that can consistently catch off-target passes. That helps a lot, because you don't have to be wide open or have the perfect pass. All our quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in Keyshawn. He has made it very competitive in camp, challenging the other receivers to step up. He's also been competitive with our defensive backs. He's helped us in a lot of ways."
Kiffin on the approach his defenders will take on Sunday: "We've got to play hard, and the players have to realize that it's important to win every time you line up. They want to get their sacks and tackles, but they also have to remember that, tomorrow, it doesn't count. In two weeks, it counts. Not many people remember preseason scores, but everybody remembers the score of the NFC Championship Game."
Dungy on the memory of that NFC Championship Game: "It gives us incentive. On the ride home, that was the quietest plane I have ever been on. Nobody gave us a chance to win that game, but we watched film all week and were convinced that we could go in there and beat them. I think the memory of that has carried over – we had really good workouts this spring."
Steckel on QB Shaun King:"Shaun has been the most pleasant surprise of camp, without a doubt. The newspapers have been writing stories every day, 'Can he do it?' By now, my vote is, yes he can. The number one reason: he's a bright young man. When you install a new offense, you worry whether the quarterback can absorb all of this, and he has easily done that."
Dungy on DT Warren Sapp: "He's very determined. He wants to have a big year. After his first big year, in '97, I don't think he realized how much people would focus on him in '98. He had another big year in '99, and this time he really wants to build on that. He really is amazing. His athleticism for that body is amazing."
Steckel on the battle for the backup running back spot: "Rabih (Abdullah) is a real hard-nosed, tough guy who has done well here for the last three years. And he's a really strong workout guy…he and Yo Murphy, you get tired just watching them. Aaron Stecker is in the mix. He's had a great camp. He has tremendous instincts; he doesn't have blazing speed, but he's got tremendous vision."
Dungy on Stecker and the kick return game: "We've had some very good returners here. Three years ago, Karl Williams did everything and did a very good job. Then we got Jacquez (Green) and Reidel (Anthony) and we kind of put them all back there and it fell off. We want to get back to one guy.
"Aaron has done a great job back there. Everything we've asked him to do, he's done. He's done well running the ball. We asked him to return kicks he said he'd never done it before but he was sure he could. He's come close to breaking it all the way three times. Last year, when he was on the 'look' squad, every back we asked him to emulate, he did it well. You start wondering, 'If we put him back there in a game, could he do that?' Then he went over and played well in the Europe League."
Dungy, Kiffin and Steckel have insights on many other topics, of course, but it will soon be time for offensive and defensive meetings and breakout film sessions. Just like they do it in the regular season.