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'Gulf Shore' O on the move

Players react favorably to new offensive style, one that stresses speed and motion, a lot of motion.

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Coach Jon Gruden, right, says Keyshawn Johnson, who led the NFL with 106 receptions, will get more looks at the end zone next season.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 8, 2002


TAMPA -- After three days of minicamp, Jon Gruden has begun to take the Bucs offense in another direction. Forward. Maybe even all the way to the end zone.

Gruden, coach and defacto fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons for Tampa Bay, installed some obvious components to the Bucs attack over the weekend.

The most recognizable traits are a lot of motion and emotion. Plenty of shifting instead of remaining shiftless. Receivers thrown to on the move, some coming entirely free downfield.

"I've been called a West Coast (offensive) coach for some reason," said Gruden, a disciple of Mike Holmgren. "I was an intern in San Francisco for about seven months. We're going to try and call plays that work. We like to run the ball, we like to score points and win games. Whatever you want to call it. We're going to call it the Gulf Shore offense that's exclusive and unique to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We want to run the ball and be a physical football team. We operate in the two-back set the majority of the time and feel like that gives our play-action passing game some sting. At the same time, I think we can be creative enough to utilize our skill people any way we see fit. Let's try to feature it and at the same time, let's not be predictable and let's have some fun along the way."

The difference in the Bucs offense over seasons past is apparent as soon as the players break huddle -- they do it quickly.

To apply pressure to opposing defenses and create confusion, the shifting occurs rapidly and opponents have to react on the fly.

"You're going to see a lot of guys open," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "It's going to cause a lot of defensive confusion. We're a very sound, tough, mentally fundamental defense. You're not going to see it with us. But you get these guys lined up against anybody else, guys are going go run wide open. And every receiver is the primary, so it's going to get everyone involved. It's going to be good."

While Gruden likes to spread the ball around, particularly through the air, don't believe he is pass-happy. Two years ago, Gruden's Oakland Raiders led the league in rushing and were 15th in passing yards while averaging 29.9 points.

Last season, the Bucs were 30th in rushing offense and 21st overall.

"You don't understand how much pressure that takes off the quarterback," quarterback Rob Johnson said. "I think we'll be a run-first team."

General manager Rich McKay said Gruden's offense should not necessarily be confused with the West Coast offenses of the 49ers under Bill Walsh.

"When you hear West Coast, the phrase that usually comes to mind is the horizonal passing game that they're trying to throw at different levels by throwing crossing routes and hitting different receivers on the move," McKay said. "But what is the West Coast offense today isn't what it was 10 years ago. You can look at Seattle's formations and compare them to our formations, two West Coast offensive coaches, and yet I don't think the offenses will look very much the same. I think we've evolved far enough now where that's not the case."

No one should benefit more from Gruden's play-calling and system than receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who led the league with 106 receptions last season but scored one touchdown.

"We've got to get him in the end zone or we have failed," Gruden said. "That's a goal that we have. But they got him the ball 106 times and he went to the Pro Bowl, so they did a lot of things right. But we've got to get him in the end zone because we need as much playmaking from him we can get."

Under the passing attack, Johnson should make more yards after the catch, an element missing last season.

"So you learn another offense this year and you hope that it's much better and the track record shows it's much better than the offenses that have been here in the past," Johnson said. "What can you say? All you can do is go out there and play. You have a guy who has experience in calling plays on a high level and being very potent at doing it. He comes from a good nucleus of people that he's been around and the systems have been the same.

"I think a lot of people are buying into what he's talking about. Screaming about."

Among those supporters are members of the Bucs defense, which fought the offense to a virtual draw during five workouts of team drills.

"More importantly, I did see the expectation and the accountability," safety John Lynch said. "The coaches are demanding a lot from those players. And it's what we're used to on defense and it's happening on the other side. The effort has always been there. But I think it's just demanding perfection.

"I was around Bill Walsh in college. Everybody talks about this system, and since then, a lot of these West Coast offenses have gone different ways. But they always demand execution and precision in what they're doing and you see that going on out on the field. It's apparent and it makes us a better football team."

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Today's lineup

Bucs

  • 'Gulf Shore' O on the move
  • Team unity, progress please Gruden

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