Great expectations, this time from within
Preseason talk of the Bucs making a Super Bowl run is getting old. What's new is where it's coming from.
|[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
Jon Gruden's arrival and an offensive makeover have Super thoughts emanating from One Buc Place.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002
TAMPA -- Year after year, the Bucs have entered training camp leading the NFL in hype and bold type.
Every prognosticator with a microphone or magazine seemed to say -- believe it -- this season Tampa Bay finally could reach the Super Bowl.
But the Bucs' biggest opponent always has been one they couldn't see or touch.
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Lofty expectations -- heaped on them by fans and media in the past four seasons -- have been nearly as hard for the Bucs to reach as the end zone.
The arrival of coach Jon Gruden, an offensive mind who rebuilt that unit with eight veteran free agents, might not do much to change that. But there's something different about the biggest source of pressure Tampa Bay will feel entering the 2002 season.
It's coming from inside One Buc Place.
"I just feel like internally our expectations are higher than they've ever been," general manager Rich McKay said. "Because of what you saw in the offseason, what I think you're going to see from the offense from a productivity standpoint, and I truly believe the defense will be as good or better than it's been, so our expectations are very high."
It makes sense.
Take a proven offensive savant like Gruden, who inherits a defense with four Pro Bowl players and a coaching staff intact -- and presto -- Super Bowl contender.
"We've seen Jon's offense all spring," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "I think he really is noted for his offensive knowledge and it's even more evident on the field when you actually go against him. I think it's a real challenge to our defense because we've got to keep up. But we're going to have an offense now and we have a chance."
Gruden also seems to have better players with whom to work. Replacing receivers Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony, who combined for 49 receptions for 564 yards and one touchdown in 2001, are Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, who totaled 144 catches for 1,816 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Tight end Ken Dilger was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2001 after seven seasons with the Colts. The offensive line, which yielded 47 sacks, should be better with the addition of guard Kerry Jenkins and tackle Roman Oben.
But Gruden, the youngest NFL coach at 38 and for whom the Bucs traded No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks to the Raiders, isn't making reservations for San Diego in late January.
"You have a great responsibility as a head coach regardless of how you got here or what your contract says," Gruden said. "I respect Tony Dungy tremendously and what he did here. I know I have big shoes to fill. And at the same time, I'm not going to make any predictions or bold statements. We're going to work hard and we're going to play hard and do the best we can and we expect to win. We'll see what happens.
"I enjoy hearing other teams talk and make their statements and I've been known to put that on a bulletin board and let other players know who's self-proclaiming what's going to happen. Nobody predicted New England to do what they did and no one predicted Baltimore to do what they did or St. Louis the year before. I think you have to have a humble, no-nonsense, hard-working approach to this game and what you say you'd better be able to back up. This is not golf, you're not hitting all the shots."
Of course, some Bucs have been known to dabble in fortunetelling. A year ago, defensive tackle Warren Sapp predicted anything short of a Super Bowl appearance would result in sweeping changes in the coaching staff and on the roster. But talk is cheap, and preseason chirping is the kind of thing that once led to the Bucs being labeled "paper champions" by Steelers safety Lee Flowers.
"We've tried to talk about that a little bit as a football team. Let your shoulder pads do the talking and let's concentrate on coming together as a team," Gruden said. "We've got some things we've got to work through. We've got a new head coach, we've got a new offense going, we've got a lot of roster turnover and we've got a new training camp site. With that said, "Let's concentrate on football.'
"But I'm not going to put gag orders on anybody. If somebody happens to say something that's bold and very profound, I'm sure I'll read about it and I'm sure we'll have to have some kind of a conversation."
McKay said he isn't concerned that Gruden will feel added pressure to win as a result of the price the Bucs paid for him:
"This is a guy who is internally pressurized on a daily basis. I don't know the way the transaction came down, the way he came here, the thoughts of what he can do, I don't think any of that drives Jon. I think Jon drives Jon and does it every day."
But Kiffin said some of the expectations placed on Gruden's offense may be unrealistic. "We still have to understand we've got to do our job on defense. What's tough is everybody expects Jon to never punt. I don't care who you are, whether it's Mike Martz or Joe Gibbs in his heyday, it's awfully tough out there."
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