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Defense could face loss of 3 key Bucs

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

TAMPA -- Yards might be hard to come by against the Bucs' No. 1-ranked defense, but free agency could rip it apart.

For Tampa Bay fans with visions of free-agent dollars being spent in the offseason to improve the offense, consider that three key starters on defense are in the final year of their contracts.

They are linebackers Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton and free safety Dexter Jackson.

Quarles' switch to middle linebacker has been the most successful tactical move this season. He has helped improve the run defense to ninth overall and could edge All-Pro Derrick Brooks for the team lead in tackles (he has 65 to Brooks' 58).

"A big key to our success on defense has been Shelton Quarles," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "When you go back, it's like when Brooks and Hardy Nickerson were one and two in tackles."

Singleton is enjoying his first season as a starter and gives the Bucs three experienced linebackers. Finally, Jackson has stepped up his game just in time for a contract push.

"I don't know if we've ever had a safety we could trust as much as Dexter," strong safety John Lynch said. "He's been in the box (joining the front seven in run defense) more than me, and that needed to happen. For so long, it worked. And then I was getting either the old line sliding or someone accounting for me and that left someone else free. We finally said, all right, if you want to do that, we'll bring someone else down.

"But you needed to step up, and he's done it."

Before the Bucs can add players on offense, they need to decide which ones they can live without.

Left tackle Roman Oben signed a one-year deal and will become a free agent after the season. Through nine games, he may have been the Bucs' most consistent performer on the offensive line.

By far, the decision that will be the most scrutinized is at quarterback. Both Shaun King and Rob Johnson will be free agents.

Even though Brad Johnson returns next season, one of them will be given every opportunity to compete for the starting job in training camp. Then again, why would King or Rob Johnson be willing to sit with so many teams desperate for a quarterback (see Bears, Chicago)?

The smart money is on King, who will get lots of love from the Bucs next offseason.

At 25 and already having won 15 games and played in an NFC title game on the road, King would seem to have a larger upside than Rob Johnson, 29. Coach Jon Gruden is eager to see what King could do with another year in the same system.

It might help that King is a hometown hero. But after two years on the bench, he might be looking to try his luck in the open market.

* * *

GOOD BYE: Gruden has noted the difficulties in playing a team that is coming off a bye week, citing the Falcons and Eagles games as examples. He should know. Gruden is 4-0 after the open date.

"There should be some physical advantage," Gruden said of playing after the bye week. "You should be a little fresher physically. You shouldn't have as many sore bodies as you normally would during the course of the season.

"Hopefully, it shows in our preparation and our detail and hopefully it shows in terms of the speed and physicalness of how we play."

DID YOU KNOW?: The Bucs have never started a season 8-2. ... Gruden has the most wins of any head coach (28) since 2000.

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Today's lineup

  • Section 132, Row X
  • It isn't all fun, games for NFL wife
  • Defense could face loss of 3 key Bucs

  • Rays
  • Piniella's focus on shortstop

  • Lightning
  • Lightning gives up this season's 1st home loss
  • Feaster not yet shopping around

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  • Central girls, boys enjoy strong races
  • Crystal River girls run off with title
  • Gainesville takes out Mustangs, Knights
  • Top-ranked team too much for Seven Rivers
  • Crusaders can't hold on to leads
  • East Lake returns to state
  • Plant looks for respect
  • Cougars headed back to state
  • Bucs wrap up crown on their home court
  • Losses piling on Holmgren
  • NFL Game Day: Week 10
  • Kidney test sidelines Cris Carter
  • Back on top
  • Gators rely on defense in squeaker
  • Defense powers 'Noles
  • A&M drops No. 1
  • Bulls survive scare from Tigers
  • Connecticut fans clash with police
  • South Florida by the numbers
  • Bulls' stand keeps game scoreless
  • Bulls keep their home streak alive
  • Florida by the numbers
  • No turnaround for UF special teams
  • Florida State by the numbers
  • Receiver gets his chance, makes play
  • Maddox carries day for Seminoles
  • Big 12: Wildcats roll past Cyclones
  • C-USA: TCU holds on to lead in league
  • Pac-10: Washington State defense stuffs the conference-leading offense
  • State: UCF strolls 45-21 behind Schneider
  • SEC: Late TD stuns Wildcats
  • Big Ten: Fourth-down TD spurs Buckeyes, keeps national title hopes alive
  • Nation: Holiday, Irish escape upset
  • McGahee setting records
  • ACC: Terrapins remain hot, keep Wolfpack reeling
  • Big East: Orange upsets Hokies in 3 OTs

  • Outdoors
  • Daily fishing report

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