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Teams still seek Bucs defenders

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003

TAMPA -- The Bucs defense has been one of the elite units in the league the past five years and players and coaches alike have received appropriate recognition.

But one byproduct is that a number of former Bucs staff members hold head coaching or coordinating jobs in the league and have a solid idea of the capabilities of Bucs players.

Colts coach Tony Dungy, Jets coach Herman Edwards and Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith have gobbled up Bucs free agents over the past two seasons.

It could be a problem again this year.

"Biggest competitors, no. As potential homes for our guys, yes," general manager Rich McKay said. "You never know who your competition will be from a monetary standpoint. But from fit standpoint or a scheme standpoint, certainly (they're our competitors). The scheme has been extended and if they feel like they are players that fit well within our scheme, and I think most of our players have over the years, they say, 'We think this guy can come in and play this position.' "

Last year, the Jets signed cornerback Donnie Abraham and defensive end Steve White, the Rams signed middle linebacker Jamie Duncan and the Colts finished the season with safety David Gibson and defensive tackle James Cannida.

"Heck, (Bears GM and former Bucs director of player personnel) Jerry (Angelo) has to have about five or six of our guys that we drafted and late guys that we took because he knew what we liked in them,' McKay said. "It does happen. It's somewhat of a negative."

SPEAKING OF THE BEARS: Angelo might strike again, this time dipping into the offensive coffers. Angelo has stated his fondness for free-agent quarterback Shaun King.

Though the Bears are expected to make a strong push for former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, King will get a look.

In Baton Rouge, La., on vacation, King said he is aware that he has been linked to the Bears.

"I know Jerry and that's the extent of my knowledge when it comes to the coaching staff over there," said King, a standout at Gibbs High and Tulane. "I don't know any of the coaches, really. But, I have heard that Chicago is a nice city."

After being drafted by his hometown team, King vaulted into the starting lineup as a rookie, led the team to the NFC Championship Game in 1999, lost his job to Brad Johnson two seasons later, then struggled in his one start this season.

Now embarking on his first experience with free agency, King said he is keeping his mind open.

"Of course I want to stay in Tampa," he said. "But I'm not against leaving. I left home to go to college when I could have stayed, didn't I?"

The Bucs begin quarterback orientation March17 and have only Johnson and recently signed free agent Greg Zolman. McKay said the Bucs won't have their quarterback situation cleared up before then but added "there might be one more guy added to the list before then. We'd like to do that."

King said he and Rob Johnson, who started two games this season, aren't too concerned about that deadline.

"Of course, you look at the calendar and you know the dates and what it means if something is not done by that time," King said. "But Rob and I have been in (coach) Jon (Gruden's) system for one year now. We'll be fine. If we're not there then doesn't mean we won't be there later on. ... I go by what they told me and they said they want me back. I'll leave it at that."

THE HOT TOPIC: The fact that Stephen Davis and Emmitt Smith are free agents hasn't gone by unnoticed by the Bucs.

Davis has expressed interest in the Bucs. He is considered a classic "4-yards-per-carry" player, an attractive quality. But the Bucs expect Davis to want much more than they likely can offer considering the money invested in Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott.

Gruden's penchant for veterans makes Smith an enticing possibility but he likely would share carries with Pittman and Alstott. He probably would be featured more in Carolina, a team reported to have interested in the game's all-time leading rusher.

PARTING SHOTS: Former center Jeff Christy handled his release with class and dignity and showered praise on the progress the offense made.

"It's changing now, the attitude of the offense; I think we showed what we're capable of toward the end of the year," he said. "I'm glad I was part of it and helped turn things around. I'm sure they're going to take it a step further next year."

The 10-year veteran isn't conceding that his career is finished.

"It's not the first mountain I've climbed," he said. "I've been climbing mountains all my life, from (NFL draft analyst) Mel Kiper saying when I got drafted that I was the worst pick of the first day, I still have that article framed. This is just another chapter in my book. It's a challenge that I accept fully, 100 percent. I'm going to dedicate myself to it and I feel very confident that I can still play in this league and at a very high level. I'm looking for an opportunity now and ready to move on."

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