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No sign of McCardell? Oh well . . .

RICK STROUD
Published May 23, 2004

TAMPA - Here's the reaction at One Buc Place from Keenan McCardell's refusal to participate in offseason workouts until he receives a better contract.

A few shoulder shrugs, assorted yawns and a chorus of crickets chirping.

At 34, McCardell is a rare athlete, capable of a Pro Bowl season in which he was the team's most valuable player.

But he should consider coach Jon Gruden's response when asked about the 7-9 record of 2003.

"This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business for coaches and players," Gruden said.

You can't blame McCardell for wanting to use the leverage of a career year to improve his contract situation. He is due to earn $2.5-million this season and $2.75-million in 2005 and undoubtedly would like to see those salaries guaranteed this year in the form of a signing bonus.

But if the offseason has proven anything, it's that Gruden and GM Bruce Allenaren't sentimentalists.

While McCardell is at home in Houston, his job as the slot receiver is being filled by former Cowboy Joey Galloway and first-round pick Michael Clayton.

Even before becoming a no-show, McCardell was likely to share some playing time with Galloway and Clayton.

"His speed is rare," Gruden said of Galloway. "We're going to find ways to creatively use him, and we're excited about having him here. We really are. He's a great guy, and he's having a lot of fun learning our stuff, and he's a natural fit. He runs after the catch, he's physical and he's extremely fast. This guy here is a different kind of player. He's a nasty player. He's physical, he'll run back punts, he can play in any formation and in any situation and seems to like what he's doing."

Gruden is enamored with Galloway's speed, an element missing from Bucs receivers. The only player comparable that Gruden has coached is James Jett, then the NFL's fastest man. "Not that that entitles you to first downs or anything," Gruden said.

Nothing entitles Galloway to a starting job, either. In fact, even with McCardell missing, it will take him until the regular season to master the offense.

"This is probably the biggest change I've made so far," Galloway said. "I've been through a lot of offenses in my career with a lot of different coaches. This one is a lot different because there's a lot of movement, a lot of shifts, a lot of guys lined up in a lot of different places. And the lingo is different. Once you get the lingo down and you learn how to communicate, then you start to learn the offense."

Galloway was asked about his first impressions.

"I think everybody is a little afraid of this team," Galloway said. "Everyone knows this is a good football team; now they just don't know what to expect because there's so many new guys here. I think in past years, you always identified Tampa Bay as a team that was going to play fast and bring a tough defense, and they were going to beat on you. And now with all the new guys, people are a little afraid because they don't know what to expect."

Meanwhile, the Bucs aren't acting as though they expect to see McCardell any time soon.

KING FOR A DAY: Defensive end Lamar King, a former No. 1 pick by the Seahawks who was recently signed as an unrestricted free agent, should be remembered by Bucs fans. He's the player who broke Trent Dilfer's collarbone late in the 1999 season. That forced the Bucs to eventually go with rookie Shaun King (no relation) at quarterback, and the result was an appearance in the NFC title game.

A TIME FOR HEALING: Considering all the injuries that derailed the Bucs in 2003, healthy bodies to start a new season are a necessity in the NFL.

But a number of key players still could be on the mend when players report to training camp July 30.

Receiver Joe Jurevicius, running back Charlie Garner and linebacker Ian Gold are recovering from knee surgery. Linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) and left tackle Derrick Deese (ankle) had arthroscopic procedures. Guard Cosey Coleman, who had abdominal surgery, won't be cleared to resume working out until training camp, at the earliest. Though reports are excellent on fullback Mike Alstott, who had surgery to repair a herniated disc, his prognosis won't be complete until he sustains prolonged contact in camp and the preseason.

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