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Garner: Gruden can work it out

ROGER MILLS
Published March 14, 2004

TAMPA - Like the signing of Michael Pittman two years ago, the Bucs didn't bring in veteran running back Charlie Garner to sit on the bench.

If the versatile Garner is fully recovered from his left knee surgery, he is going to get his touches, if not as a running back then as a receiver out of the backfield.

So if Pittman resolves his legal problems and Mike Alstott recovers from neck surgery, it's going to be running back by committee.

Garner said coach Jon Gruden can make it work: "It's kind of trying at times, but I think your head coach is liable for that. He can make that as smooth or as rough as you can. ... He'll find a way to get people the ball and keep them happy. That's what he does, and that's why I can come work for him again.

"When I went to the Raiders, Tyrone Wheatley had just had 1,000 yards and I still signed. So it's not about me. I know how Jon's going to handle the situation. He's going to handle it the best way he sees fit."

O LINE IN FLUX: The primary area of concern this offseason has been the offensive line. The Bucs have added three linemen (Derrick Deese, Matt O'Dwyer and Matt Stinchcomb) and appear intent on bringing in a fourth (Todd Steussie) or fifth.

The newest Bucs come with a reputation for being, how shall we say, mean!

"I believe there's a certain code that offensive lines live by in pro football, and toughness is one of them," Gruden said. "We feel like we have a group of tough guys here, we really do."

The Bucs have targeted linemen who are prepared to scuffle in training camp. O'Dwyer has been described as the type who will engage Anthony McFarland in a shoving match on the first day of minicamp.

The Bucs also applied the fullcourt press on right tackle Orlando Brown, considered the most intimidating tackle in the game, before he re-signed with the Ravens.

"We're going to continue to look at the offensive line and do everything we can to bolster that group," Gruden said.

AHEM, EXCUSE ME!: The Bucs' feeding frenzy on offensive players, general manager Bruce Allen said, has not gone unnoticed by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Toward the end of the first week, however, the Bucs added linebackers Jeff Gooch and Keith Burns, visited with defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and pursued safety Rogers Beckett.

But even with the loss of safety John Lynch and the uncertain future of defensive tackle Warren Sapp, the Bucs appear to feel pretty good about the defense.

"We've lost a lot of players, but we feel like our opening-day roster, from a defensive standpoint, we've got some continuity there," Gruden said.

"We've lost some key players, don't get me wrong, but we're not done. We're at the beginning stages of free agency and hopefully we can get Monte a couple of guys, because he is getting a little crazy."

LONGER DEAL: Contrary to a reported two-year, $5-million contract, Stinchcomb's contract is five years and $9.5-million, according to the NFLPA. While the signing bonus is unknown, Stinchcomb will earn $535,000 this season, then $1-million, $2-million, $2.6-million and $3.2-million.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The team announced the signing of punter Josh Bidwell on Saturday, four days after losing free agent Tom Tupa to the Redskins. Bidwell, a fourth-round pick by Green Bay in 1999, averaged 41.1 yards in five seasons.

Bidwell, a testicular cancer survivor, missed his rookie season after being diagnosed.

PENDING ANNOUNCEMENT: The Bucs are close to unveiling plans for a new training facility next to Raymond James Stadium. It likely will be double the size of One Buc Place, considered the most outdated and laughable practice facility in the NFL.

LYNCH'S LAST WORD: "In closing, I would like to say to the people in Tampa that I will always be a Buccaneer. I'll be playing someplace else next year and I look forward to that, but I would always be a Buccaneer in my heart. These years have been special to me and my family. I thank everyone for them."

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