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Bucs finding asset in bevy of receivers

With multiple targets for Brad Johnson's arm instead of a lone Keyshawn, the offense is more efficient.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2003

TAMPA -- From Alvin Harper to Bert Emanuel. From Reidel Anthony to Jacquez Green. Year after year, through free agency and the draft, the Bucs did their darndest to find productive receivers.

Even when they got one, trading for Keyshawn Johnson in 2000, they struggled to find someone to complement his skills.

So in walks new coach Jon Gruden, carrying with him a new philosophy, new attitude and new idea of what he wants from his eligibles. And what do the Bucs do? They sign free agents Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell. They add tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley.

Now that's an upgrade.

"We know what we have to do," Jurevicius said. "We know that we have a talented corps all the way from Keyshawn down to guys on our practice squad. We have valuable guys who know how to play. We work hard. We push each other. We feed off of each other, and it's been great."

In Sunday's 31-6 victory against the 49ers, the Bucs' new pairs of hands pointed the way to the NFC Championship Game. They snared huge third-down catches, made finger-tip grabs in the end zone, took body shots and popped right back up.

"I think we've done that all season long," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "That's the strength of this offense. It's not just the individual. It is about spreading the ball around.

"Our passing game has been very, very efficient from the get go. We do spread the ball around a lot and get the ball to a lot of people."

They did again Sunday. In addition to Keyshawn Johnson, who had five catches for 85 yards, the Bucs got valuable performances from Jurevicius, Dilger and Dudley.

Jurevicius has been one of the most consistent reserves and showed again that his ability to get first downs, particularly on third and long, is proving more valuable to the team.

The former Giant had three catches for 48 yards and added a 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

"You always hear about our offense," Jurevicius said. "They can't score points. They can't do this. They can't do that. I don't care if we don't go deep. If we catch 100 passes over the middle, 'Oh, well!' We won. We scored touchdowns. We're an efficient offense. We do what needs to be done. We're a legitimate team."

Jurevicius, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, was particularly effective taking advantage of a weakened 49ers secondary and firing up fans. He said receivers fed off each other.

"I think we did (take advantage of them) in some cases," he said. "You always look for something to take advantage of, and at times, that was something we could do.

"One (guy) makes a play, you want to make one. I make one, someone else wants to make one. At this level, you don't want it any other way. One thing I enjoy is adding a little bit of flair. I think it gets our crowd going. If I'm going to be on the field for whatever down and I'm going to catch passes, well, I'm going to make the best of it and get a little excitement out there, too."

Brad Johnson said Jurevicius is a potent weapon.

"Joe, I've always said, is kind of like our X factor. He comes in the game, and they'll put their nickel guy on him. And it's a mismatch for him. He's a very dominant receiver, makes catches, is a physical receiver. And the great thing about Joe is that he makes yards after the catch. It's a lot of fun to play with Joe."

And it seems it also is fun to play with Dilger and Dudley, who combined for four catches, 47 yards and a touchdown.

"We're a first-year offense. How many teams in a first-year offense do this well?" Dilger said. "It takes a while to get everyone on the same page. And now that we're getting everyone there, this offense is proving to have a lot of potential to do things.

"It's a great feeling. You know we worked hard all year long, and I think in the second half of the season, we began showing what we can do."

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