FB Mike Alstott displayed his power running style of old in 2005, as well as a few new tricks
Mike Alstott has played his entire NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a total of 10 memorable seasons.
Make it 11.
Alstott, the six-time Pro Bowl fullback who ranks as one of the most popular players in franchise history, will be back for his 11th year as a Buccaneer after agreeing to a new contract on Saturday, the first day of free agency.
The free agency market opened after midnight on Friday – eight days later than originally planned due to the lengthy but ultimately successful CBA negotiations – and the Bucs immediately got busy. They started their efforts at home: Defensive tackle Chris Hovan had a new deal in place by 1:00 a.m. and Alstott's pact was finalized not long after that.
Despite speculation that the former Purdue star might retire at the end of 2005, both he and the Buccaneers were motivated to extend his career after his strong showing last fall. Used primarily as a short-yardage and goal-line weapon in the rushing attack, Alstott scored six touchdowns among his 34 carries, tying for the team lead and marking his highest total since 2001. The fifth-leading receiver in franchise history, he added 25 catches for 222 yards and another touchdown.
By all accounts, Alstott also turned in some of the finest lead-blocking of his career last year. He helped paved the way for rookie back Cadillac Williams' 1,178 rushing yards and the league's 14th-ranked rushing attack. Tampa Bay had finished 29th in rushing yards in 2004.
Alstott's fine season – not to mention his sudden penchant for leaping over defenders into the end zone – helped rekindle the local enthusiasm for his career. He has long captured the fans' imagination through his rugged style and a memorable series of second and third-effort highlight-reel runs. During the early part of his career, he formed a "Lightning & Thunder" duo with scatback Warrick Dunn and averaged nearly 700 rushing yards per season from 1997-2002. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after each of those seasons.
Early in 2003, however, as the Bucs attempted to defend their Super Bowl XXXVII title, Alstott suffered a neck injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve and led to fears that his career would be over. Instead, Alstott worked hard to recover from the injury and came back to play in 14 games in 2004, contributing 230 rushing yards and 29 receptions. He has completely put that injury behind him and appeared refreshed in 2005.
His magic around the goal-line was certainly back. In a thrilling, 36-35 victory over Washington in November, Alstott scored two touchdowns on what were technically recorded as one-yard runs, although in both cases he leapt from the two-yard line and simply flew over the defense. To cap that effort, Alstott used a second effort to score the game-winning two-point conversion after the Bucs scored a touchdown in the game's final minute. Alstott called the game, and the final run, his second-most memorable NFL moment, after that Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
That victory helped the Buccaneers finish the season 11-5, a reversal of the previous year's record, and win the NFC South, though they eventually lost a Wild Card game to those same Redskins. The organization seems intent on keeping the key components of that division-winning team in place, having already re-upped with Alstott, Hovan, cornerback Juran Bolden and quarterback Chris Simms and restructured the contracts of several other key veterans. Undoubtedly, the CBA extension, which brought with it a salary-cap jump to $102 million, has helped in that endeavor.
Alstott's return will allow him to continue his climb up the Buccaneers' career statistical charts. He is far and away the top touchdown producer in team annals, scoring 68 times, including 55 on the ground. The next-highest touchdown and rushing touchdown totals belong to James Wilder, who had 46 and 37, respectively. Alstott also owns the second-most rushing yards in team history, with 4,917, and while he would need a 1,000-yard campaign to catch Wilder (5,957), he needs only 83 yards to become the second Buc rusher to reach 5,000 yards.
Alstott's 284 receptions rank fifth in team history, as mentioned, but now he has a realistic shot to rise as high as second on that list. While Wilder has a commanding lead at 430 catches, the next three totals – 321 by Mark Carrier, 298 by Keyshawn Johnson and 286 by Kevin House – are all within reach. Alstott would need 38 grabs in 2006 to move past all three into second.