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Comella visits as Alstott waits

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

TAMPA -- Greg Comella is to Mike Alstott what Michael Pittman is to Warrick Dunn.

The Bucs, anticipating an inability to reach an agreement on a restructured contract for Alstott, have identified his possible replacement in Comella, 26, the free-agent fullback from the New York Giants.

Comella, 6 feet 1 and 248 pounds, visited One Buc Place about 10 days ago. With the signing of Pittman, the Arizona Cardinals free agent, Alstott obviously is not regarded by Bucs coach Jon Gruden as the primary ballcarrier.

Talks on a restructured deal began last week for Alstott, who has a $2-million roster bonus due April15. Comella helped the Giants reach Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa two years ago.

While Comella is not as dominant a blocker as some teams would like, he figures to be a better blocker than Alstott.

And Comella is one of the best receiving fullbacks in the NFL, with 75 receptions over the past two seasons.

Gruden likes to spread the ball around, but his fullbacks rarely carry the ball.

For Alstott to be effective, he would have to share time at tailback with Pittman.

"We like to use a number of backs," Gruden said. "And we like to find the back. The guy that never comes off the field. If we feel we've got that guy, we might go that route. By committee? Yeah, that might be a tool that we use here."

Alstott has two years remaining on a contract that averages nearly $4-million per year.

Gruden would like to keep Alstott as much as Alstott would like to remain.

But Gruden was even more determined to retain Dunn, who signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.

Like Dunn, Alstott will have to be convinced he will play a larger role in the offense than as a short-yardage and goal-line back. The Bucs have to satisfy Alstott contractually and convince him he will compete with Pittman for carries.

That combination makes an agreement difficult.

OLD SCHOOL: The Bucs did not hire Bill Parcells, but players might have trouble noticing the difference.

At least two of Parcells' likely assistants are on Gruden's staff -- offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir and strength coach Johnny Parker.

Both are a contrast to the assistants they replace from Tony Dungy's staff -- offensive line coach Chris Foerster and strength coach Mark Asanovich.

And both coached under Parcells with the New York Jets. Muir is very confrontational and regarded as one of the best line coaches in the league. Parker has made his mark, clearing the maze of weight machines from under the awning outside One Buc Place and having them sold.

Expect the Bucs to work harder this offseason than perhaps any of the six seasons under Dungy.

-- Staff writer Roger Mills contributed to this report.

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