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Gimme Five

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


TALK OF THE TOWN

Five topics worthy of inane debate on talk radio.

1. A SUPER (BOWL) CAUSE: The past has been dismissed, the future has been ignored. All that matters at One Buc Place is now. By firing the most successful coach in franchise history, by saying it is not enough to simply make the playoffs, by surrendering four first-round draft picks in six years, the Glazers have made their intentions perfectly clear. This team needs to reach the Super Bowl in a hurry. Anything less is a waste.

2. WHAT'S MY O-LINE: You can reach the Super Bowl with an ordinary quarterback and an exceptional offensive line. It is much more difficult with an exceptional quarterback and an ordinary offensive line. In other words, the Bucs are doomed to repeat their own history if this line is not significantly better. The best off-season upgrade? Replacing Chris Foerster with new offensive line coach Bill Muir.

3. EASY PICKINGS: Mourn not for the Lions and Packers and Bears. In the short term, the relocation to the NFC South will be a major boost for Tampa Bay. The Bucs have been washouts in the playoffs the past two seasons because they did not have homefield advantage. With the Saints, Falcons and Panthers as division mates, the Bucs might just get the first-round bye and homefield advantage that could carry them through the playoffs.

4. IT'S HIS SHOW: Three years ago, the Bucs had more masterminds plotting defense strategies than NATO. The defensive staff included Herm Edwards, Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Lovie Smith with Tony Dungy as the overseer. Dungy is the head coach in Indianapolis, Edwards is the head coach of the Jets and Smith reached the Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Kiffin now has a chance to prove he was more than Dungy's right-hand man.

5. NO PRESSURE, JON: It is rare for a team to change coaches after reaching the playoffs. Rare, but not unprecedented. Since 1995, five teams have brought in a coach from outside the organization to assume control of a playoff team. The verdict? Mixed. Three teams returned to the playoffs the next season and two did not. (This does not include teams promoting their own coordinators to the top spot.) The last coaches to come from outside and bring a team back to the playoffs were Pete Carroll and Steve Mariucci in New England and San Francisco in 1997.

A LIST OF FIVE

Five reminders Tony Dungy used to be the coach here.

5. All the telephones ring to the tune of Amazing Grace.

4. Secretaries tired of hearing the same old Bryan and Joel argument. "I fired him!" "Did not." "Did too." "Did not." "Did too."

3. Receivers complain the offense no longer uses either of the pass routes they learned last season.

2. Warren Sapp still begins most sentences with, "Golly."

1. Colts GM Bill Polian calls every day, laughs, then hangs up.

FIVE WARNING SIGNS

1. Mike Alstott gets most of the carries. The offense seems committed to Michael Pittman as the featured back. If Alstott is carrying the load, something has gone wrong.

2. Linebackers start picking up sacks. One of the trademarks of Dungy's defenses was pressure from the line. Too many sacks by linebackers means too many blitzes.

3. Lomas Brown is invited to the huddle. Nothing personal, the man is practically a legend. But doesn't it say something about the lack of depth on the offensive line when the Bucs lure a 39-year-old tackle out of semi-retirement?

4. Keyshawn Johnson leads the league in receptions. Multiple formations, shifts and variations of routes are what make this offense dangerous. Too many passes to Keyshawn means defenses are not being fooled.

5. The Bucs return a kickoff for a touchdown. Say a prayer, kiss your loved ones and prepare for the end of civilization as we know it.

FIVE FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

1. MOST LIKELY MVP: Derrick Brooks. No more contract squabbles, no more injuries. Just a sideline to sideline player in the prime of his career.

2. MOST LIKELY TO LEAD THE TEAM IN SACKS: Rob Johnson. Even as a backup, he'll beat out Sapp, Rice and the rest of the defense.

3. MOST LIKELY TO SET A FRANCHISE RECORD: Brad Johnson. Doug Williams threw for 3,563 yards in 1981. Two decades later, Johnson passes him.

4. MOST LIKELY TO BREAK CURFEW: Jon Gruden. Of course, no one will be able to prove it. Even at 3 a.m. there's a chance he's coming to work.

12. MOST LIKELY UPSET: Cincinnati on Sept. 29. The Bengals finish the job they nearly pulled off last season.

FINAL FIVE WORDS

Would you believe 11 victories?

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