Plenty to learn as camp starts
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002
TAMPA -- Their hotel is Celebration, their cafe is All Star and their training camp address is Disney.
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Can Fantasyland be too far a destination for the Bucs?
Jon Gruden doesn't think so. Gone are players who weren't big enough to get on all the rides at the Magic Kingdom. The Bucs are bigger and should be better. But questions abound entering training camp July28:
Will Brad Johnson hold off Rob Johnson and Shaun King for the starting quarterback job?
Gruden has no loyalties when it comes to quarterbacks, but the one he handpicked as the perfect fit for his offense is Rob Johnson. No doubt the former Bill reminds Gruden of the Raiders' Rich Gannon, and the ability to make plays with his feet is a trait that Brad Johnson lacks. It's the classic tortoise and hare race. A steady Brad Johnson probably wins.
Will Michael Pittman make fans forget Warrick Dunn?
Pittman has the durability that Dunn lacked, but he might not produce big chunks of yardage. He averaged 3.5 yards last season, considerably less than Mike Alstott's 4.1. Then again, Pittman never has played in Gruden's offense.
Will Keenan McCardell keep Keyshawn Johnson from drawing defenders like moths to flame?
Good NFL passing attacks feature two receivers. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Johnson did not get much help from Jacquez Green. He will from McCardell, who caught 93 passes for 1,110 yards and 6 TDs for the Jags last season.
Will Gruden make the offense one of the NFL's best?
He might not have to. Tampa Bay won nine games with Clyde Christensen and 10 with Les Steckel calling plays. Gruden's acumen figures to be worth three, maybe four victories alone.
Will rigorous offseason workouts result in a midseason collapse?
From May to July, the Bucs essentially conducted training camp without pads. Two-hour practices were attended by more than 80 players, Monday through Friday, in temperatures topping 90 degrees. That didn't include three minicamps. Gruden's teams have a history of fading down the stretch, and the weather in Northern California is like central air.
"That sounds like an excuse for losing," Gruden said. "It's something you have to do in modern-day football, especially with the number of free agents we have, to get them acclimated to a new system."
Will offensive line coach Bill Muir make the blockers respectable?
How could he not? Muir is the one of the best in the business and he has no loyalties. Todd Washington will push Jeff Christy and Roman Oben will push Jerry Wunsch and Kenyatta Walker. Kerry Jenkins looks like an upgrade at left guard.
Will Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks avoid injury and dominate again?
Both were hurt last season and it crippled the defense. Brooks (ankle) is the weakside linebacker, and plays are funneled to him. Sapp (rotator cuff) creates pressure at under tackle. Sapp should double his six-sack effort and Brooks needs to return to 180-200 tackles.
Will Brian Kelly or Dwight Smith make fans forget Donnie Abraham?
The Bucs lost 31 career interceptions when they kicked Abraham to the curb. Considering Kelly produced as many as you did last season despite 13 starts, improvement has to come rapidly. Smith has shown signs of competing for the starting job.
Will the Bucs discover a legitimate weapon to return kicks?
Still can't believe Aaron Stecker's 86-yard kickoff return against New Orleans didn't result in the first for a TD in Bucs history? New hope exists with Kansas State rookie Aaron Lockett.
Will the NFC South be the weakest division in the NFL?
Don't look for a wild card to come from this division. Carolina is dreadful, Atlanta will be exciting but inexperienced with quarterback Michael Vick and New Orleans lost most of its impact players.
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