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Watch for rising Bucs

Jon Gruden and Rich McKay say the team may trade up in the draft.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bucs don't have a pick in the first two rounds of next month's draft, but coach Jon Gruden said Saturday that could change.

Gruden said the team is looking at ways to improve its position, possibly trading personnel or draft picks to land a first- or second-round choice.

The team gave up its first- and second-round choices as part of its deal to get Gruden from the Raiders, but Gruden said the Bucs aren't resigned to waiting until the third round.

"We're not done. We're going to be a player in the draft before it's all said and done," Gruden said at the NFL combine, one of the few times he has met with the media since being hired last month. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if we've got some picks in the early rounds. There are ways of acquiring picks and we're going to investigate every option that is available to us to improve our team."

General manager Rich McKay confirmed the team is considering making a deal to move up.

"Well it's early, but yeah. You always look to maneuver and see how you can create picks in the draft," he said. "That's how you have to approach it from a scouting standpoint. If you don't, you won't be prepared. That's the way we're telling our scouts and that's the way we're going about it (at the combine). What will happen on draft day? You never know."

McKay wouldn't say which players, if any, the team would be willing to part with.

"Rule out nothing," he said.

Gruden reiterated his assessment of the quarterback situation.

"Brad Johnson right now is the starting quarterback and he's obviously earned that. At the same time, I've gone on record to say I expect Shaun King to compete and I believe he'll make things interesting," Gruden said. "This is a guy who has a lot of intangibles that I admire. He's a winner; a young guy. He has just got a certain vibe about him that really intrigues me."

Neither Gruden nor McKay would say which positions they were evaluating the most this weekend, but Gruden said he liked the Bucs defense and said the offense has plenty of talent beyond the obvious stars, making special mention of tackle Kenyatta Walker: "a very promising player"; and guard Cosey Coleman: "looks like he has a tremendous future in the league."

"We're impressed with what we have, but we expect to get better," Gruden said.

Gruden said team chemistry was his top offseason goal, perhaps alluding to the supposed rift between receiver Keyshawn Johnson and defensive tackle Warren Sapp that arose after the Bucs playoff loss in Philadelphia.

"I'm not going to put a lot of stock in that. I'll investigate it and when I have an opportunity to make any further statements where I have more information, I'll be happy to do so," Gruden said. "But I do think you're talking about two very emotional men, and when you lose a playoff game, it's a very emotional time.

"But I'm not going to overexaggerate this incident between two guys. I've talked to Keyshawn and I've talked to Warren a little bit, and I'm confident those two guys are going to be leaders for us and two of our best players."

NOTES: It's no coincidence the Redskins have signed a few former Gators who played under coach Steve Spurrier, such as quarterback Danny Wuerffel, receiver Chris Doering and former Bucs receiver Reidel Anthony, whose reported one-year, $525,000-contract should be finalized Monday.

Few teams seemed eager to acquire them but Spurrier insisted they have value.

"I know NFL people don't think Danny Wuerffel can play, but they weren't where I was when he was in college," Spurrier said. " ... He's got all the passing records and all those championships."

Spurrier suggested Anthony, who averaged 28.8 catches in five seasons with the Bucs, also might be better than he has shown.

"I was on the sidelines when he caught 18 touchdowns his last year at Florida. I saw what he could do," he said. "I don't know what happened in Tampa Bay. But hopefully we can get him excited again and give him an opportunity to be a really big-time receiver."

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