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Don't recognize these Bucs? Relax, that is not a bad thing

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


Never have so many left.

Never have so many come.

Never have the program salesmen had such a product.

Such is the way of the world at One Buc Place, a training facility that needs a great many things. A revolving door, for instance.

Change is a way of life in the NFL. Every coach will tell you this. No team is identical to the one before. Rookies replace veterans. New hopes replace old ones. Fringe players replace slightly more expensive fringe players.

But not like this. There aren't many places where the team picture changes as drastically in an offseason as this one has for the Bucs. As much as a third of the team could be new faces next year, a huge number for a team that has made four playoffs in five seasons.

The result is a lot of people still don't quite know what to make of this team. A colleague, the esteemed Elijah Gosier, tells me the Bucs will be lucky to be better than .500 next season. Other people are talking about the Super Bowl.

Now thatthe offseason shopping is pretty much over, then, perhaps we should look at the report card. Just to see where we are.

IN: Michael Pittman.

OUT: Warrick Dunn.

The Bucs went all the way up to ridiculous when it came to the bidding for Dunn, only to lose when the Falcons went to absurd. They wanted Dunn back, first and foremost, and new coach Jon Gruden was intrigued by the possibilities of drawing up plays for Dunn. And it would have been fun to see Dunn coming from various angles.

While Dunn was the more coveted commodity, however, Pittman might prove to be a better fit. He's an every-down back, and the Bucs never were able to prove that Dunn could be.

EDGE: Dunn. But this could change.

* * *

IN: Keenan McCardell.

OUT: Jacquez Green.

No comparison. The Bucs didn't add a player with this signing, they added another position. They added a second wide receiver.

Some of Green's problems, to be honest, weren't his fault. He's a straight-ahead runner who was trapped in an offense that didn't ask him to run straight ahead. McCardell, on the other hand, is a productive receiver, bigger, tougher with better hands. Gruden will love what McCardell can do after catching the ball.

EDGE: McCardell.

* * *

IN: Rob Johnson.

OUT: Joe Hamilton (injury).

The signing of Johnson was the gamble everyone thought the Bucs had made last year when they took a painful look at Ryan Leaf. Johnson has looked so good in the minicamps he could get a legitimate chance to start. Johnson's history, however, is he makes bad decisions under pressure, and that's harder to see until the games begin. Still, he's a good gamble.

EDGE: Johnson.

* * *

IN: Joe Jurevicius.

OUT: Reidel Anthony.

Again, no contest. The Bucs didn't think Anthony could make their team next year. In Jurevicius, they have another big target to keep the chains moving. The Bucs never have had a bigger, deeper receiving corps.

EDGE: Jurevicius.

* * *

IN: Ken Dilger.

OUT: Dave Moore.

For years, Moore was one of those quiet warriors who squeezed a lot of big plays out of a small role. But Dilger is a Pro Bowl player. He's bigger, quicker into his routes, and the Bucs expect more big plays.

EDGE: Dilger.

* * *

IN: Kerry Jenkins.

OUT: Randall McDaniel.

If this were a career achievement award, McDaniel would win it. He was a Hall of Fame player in his prime, after all. By the end, however, McDaniel had lost power and athleticism. Jenkins is smart and tough, and he'll fit into a more rugged line just fine.

EDGE: Jenkins.

* * *

IN: Roman Oben.

OUT: DeMarcus Curry.

Actually, the contest really may be between Oben and Jerry Wunsch for the starting tackle job. But Curry was the player immediately released when Oben was signed, which is a perfect symbol for how much deeper and tougher you can expect this offensive line to be.

EDGE: Oben.

* * *

IN: Marco Battaglia.

OUT: TBA.

Battaglia hasn't done much over his NFL career, but the Bucs like him. They signed him when Dilger's asking price was too rich for them. When Dilger's numbers became more realistic, the Bucs decided they could sign both.

EDGE: Battaglia.

* * *

IN: Greg Spires.

OUT: Steve White.

The Bucs really like Spires, who is young and athletic and seems to fit well in the scheme. But White was an old war horse who should have started last year. This one, too, could change. But Spires will have to prove it.

EDGE: White.

* * *

IN: TBA.

OUT: Jamie Duncan.

To put it bluntly, the Bucs didn't like Duncan as a player. On the other hand, they're effusive over the sight of Shelton Quarles in the middle. That's why they had no interest in former Buc Hardy Nickerson, who would have been a backup who only played one position. The move of Quarles into the middle leaves the Bucs light on the outside, however. Look for the Bucs to pick up someone just before training camp, perhaps someone else during the preseason. Hint: Think of someone who can play special teams.

EDGE: TBA. (And Quarles.)

* * *

IN: Nobody.

OUT: Donnie Abraham.

The Bucs soured on Abraham, their former Pro Bowl cornerback, because of occasional on-the-field lapses. Still, the guy made plays. Ask yourself this: If Randy Moss is running deep, would you rather see Brian Kelly covering him or Abraham? The Bucs think Dwight Smith, a draftee last year, is ready to move into the nickelback role. We'll see.

EDGE: Abraham.

* * *

IN: Tom Tupa.

OUT: Mark Royals.

Royals never was the same after his injury a year ago. Tupa has been drilling the ball in practice. He also can play a bit of quarterback, though no one wants to test it.

EDGE: Tupa.

* * *

IN: Antoine Walker, Travis Stephens, Aaron Lockett, etc.

OUT: Rabih Abdullah, James Cannida, Jeff Gooch, etc.

These are normal changes, and most of the impact will be seen on special teams. Who knows? Maybe someone can return a kickoff for a touchdown.

EDGE: Push.

* * *

IN: Jon Gruden.

OUT: Tony Dungy.

This is a tough one to judge before the records sort out. Dungy is a better coach than his critics believed at the end, and I wouldn't have fired him. That said, once he was gone, I thought Gruden was the best possible candidate.

So are the Bucs better off? Yes, I think they are. I think Gruden is a better fit. I also think his staff is better. (He has Monte Kiffin on the other side of the ball, Dungy has diddly.) Certainly, you have to be impressed with Gruden's intensity, with his thoroughness, through his first offseason.

EDGE: Gruden.

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