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Bucs' bucks not likely to be spent on a QB

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001


TAMPA -- Quarterback is ever-flaming fodder for debate among Bucs' constituency, but Tony Dungy is not interested in hiring Trent Green or Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson or Rob Johnson, Elvis Grbac or Elvis Presley.

"I do not feel a need to go for a $4-million quarterback," said the Bucs coach. "My confidence is strong in Shaun King.

"I don't think we have to do something major. As far as having any new QBs in camp, that depends on how our other signings go."

Offensive tackle is a runaway No. 1 priority. Jerry Wunsch has until Friday to deal exclusively with the Bucs or wait and consider offers from other NFL teams. Ronde Barber, a starting cornerback, has the same ritzy quandary.

"Trying to put myself in their shoes, I would probably take it all the way to Friday," Dungy said, "seeing all options. But I do feel good about our chances of keeping Wunsch and remain optimistic on Ronde, although there will likely be influence by (twin) Tiki Barber, who has his own free-agent decision with the Giants."

Since the retirement early in the 2000 season of 12-year starter Paul Gruber, the OT business has been fragile for Tampa Bay. Jason Odom missed last season with a bum back, then opted to quit the NFL. Wunsch is dependable, if not Pro Bowl quality, but circumstances have escalated his value.

Even if the Bucs retain Jerry, they should continue shopping, through the college draft and from among huge and accomplished NFL men who, like Wunsch, appear on the free-agent list. Highly respected Richmond Webb is reachable, his Dolphins days likely done.

An even bigger tease is Todd Steussie, who may be leaving the Vikings. If the Bucs sign him, they would have half Minnesota's offensive line from 1999, center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel having made the leap to Tampa Bay last year.

"A lot could be solved by signing Jerry," Dungy said, "but, yes, when there is word of guys who likely will be on the market, we quickly get videotapes, doing homework and adding to what we already know of them. This is a nature of today's (salary cap) situation, something I don't really think is good for the NFL."

There must be foresight. "If you plunge now, it can hamper chances of keeping your players that this system will make available a year away," Dungy said, having just returned from checking out collegiate prospects at the Indianapolis combine. "In 2002, we will be talking about Warrick Dunn, Reidel Anthony, Brian Kelly and Jamie Duncan among others."

While off-season talk has been smoking, on the streets and among media, Dungy clearly sees only minimal need for changing Bucs faces. "People have a misconception about us facing a small window of opportunity to become a Super Bowl champion," he said.

"After five years here, my biggest disappointment is the amount of inconsistency that has affected our results. I don't think it's scheme or who's calling plays (offensive coordinators) or who's at quarterback.

"If we get an acceptable level of consistency, we can reach and win the Super Bowl. We have the talent. Too often, we're not closing out games. Like being up 17-6 on the Jets and having the ball in the fourth quarter, but losing. Like having a plus-4 takeaway edge in Green Bay and losing."

Since we were venturing into the nauseating, I asked Tony to reflect, after almost two months of festering, on a 21-3 playoff loss at Philadelphia, where the Bucs gave their most despicable effort since he became coach in 1996.

"To a great extent, I didn't do a good job," Dungy said. "After losing (the regular season's final game) at Green Bay, the whole focus was 'If we'd made a kick' and 'We could've had a bye' and 'Could've been at home in the playoffs,' so we didn't get over it as we should have; didn't take the initiative."

Can't argue his points. With a stunning field-goal miss by Martin Gramatica, Bucs machinery went into a funk. It was the considerable challenge of Dungy and assistants to get minds aptly refocused for the Eagles, no matter the Green Bay dismay. That didn't come close to happening.

So far, post-Philly, the biggest happening has been Dungy's bouncing of offensive chief Les Steckel, promoting quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen to the pilot's chair.

"I just wasn't comfortable with the way we were doing things," Dungy said. "Les brought a lot of good things, but something kept bothering me. It wasn't a result of the Eagles loss or anything late. Not a rash decision.

"In the coming season, I think we'll use more two-back offense, incorporating both Dunn and (Mike) Alstott."

Reminded that the Bucs did best with Warrick as a lone running back, Dungy nodded and commented, "I know we did, but we still need to make more efficient use of Mike, a Pro Bowl fullback who has a lot to offer."

My guess is, Dunn will be the primary runner, with Alstott used as a changeup carrier plus being recast in the role of his early NFL times as a frequent pass receiver.

If you think Dungy, the old defensive fellow, might've had philosophies reaffirmed, seeing D dudes from Baltimore rule Super Bowl XXXV, well, that's accurate. "Baltimore is what I think a great defense can be," he said, "being good enough to seize control of playoff games on the road, refusing to allow an opponent a real chance."

He yearns to emulate.

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