DT Warren Sapp turned in his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season in 2000
Recently, it has been suggested that the addition of Simeon Rice to Tampa Bay's defensive line will make it impossible for opponents to choose which Buccaneer to double-team in 2001.
A perfectly reasonable line of thinking led to that conclusion, but somehow we just can't picture the following scene taking place:
Setting: Opponent's Offensive Meeting Room, Saturday Night
Offensive Coordinator: "Well, it looks like we won't be double-teaming Warren Sapp anymore."
Sapp, the NFL's most prolific sack-man over the last two seasons combined, has noted in the past that the quickest way to the quarterback is straight up the middle. Frequently, however, Sapp's path to the passer is knocked off a straight line by two or more blockers. Put fewer obstacles in front of the man who has racked up 29 sacks over the past 32 regular season games, and you might be asking for a fresh coat of Sapp on your quarterback.
Last season, without Rice but with such stellar linemates as Marcus Jones, Anthony McFarland, Chidi Ahanotu, Steve White, James Cannida and Tyoka Jackson, Sapp finished with a career-high and Buccaneer-record 16.5 sacks, just one-half sack off the NFL lead. He was the driving force in the team's run to a franchise-record 55 QB takedowns.
Only once all season did he go as many as two consecutive games without a sack, and never three. He also recorded 76 tackles and was often dominant against the run with his quick penetration of the backfield. Just as he was in 1999, Sapp was one of the most consistently disruptive forces in the NFL last season. Moreover, with his play over the past five campaigns, the former University of Miami All-America deserves mention among the finest players in franchise history.
Or simply ponder the statistical support.
Since Tony Dungy took over as head coach in 1996, Sapp's second NFL season, the 6-2, 300-pound tackle has amassed (including playoffs), 59.5 sacks, 324 tackles, 12 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and nine passes defensed.
Lee Roy Selmon retired after eight seasons in 1995, and his career Buc sack record of 78.5 stood like a lighthouse above the fish, unassailable for a decade and a half. Nobody even got halfway to Selmon's mark until Sapp came along. Now, with 58.5 regular-season sacks, Sapp looks like a good bet to break Selmon's mark in 2002. In fact, if he could raise his sack total for the fourth consecutive season (7.0 in 1998 to 12.5 in '99 to 16.5 last fall), Sapp might even catch Selmon this year.
But we don't have to head into the unlikely territory of 20-sack seasons to properly assess Sapp's value. This is an every-down player who can be a force against any offensive formation. Last season, he was on the field for 90.5% of the Bucs' defensive snaps; over the last seven games, as the Bucs were fighting for their playoff lives, Sapp went to the sideline for just 12 of a possible 466 snaps.
He has been to four Pro Bowls, equal to teammate Derrick Brooks and trailing only Hardy Nickerson (five) and Selmon (six) in Buccaneer annals. He has been an AP First-Team All-Pro two years running, something not even Selmon ever accomplished (though Derrick Brooks and John Lynch have, also, these past two years). He and Selmon are the only two Buccaneers to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
He is athletic enough to have been used at fullback on offense during his rookie season and to have picked off a shovel pass in the backfield with one hand and return it for a touchdown that same year. He plays with intensity in the Buccaneers' biggest games, as evidenced by his four sacks in five playoff games. He moves laterally down the line of scrimmage in pursuit of ballcarriers as well as any tackle in the league. He is an emotional leader in the locker room and a student of the game.
Simply put, Warren Sapp is unstoppable.