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Tampa Bay could run an end around

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


Expect the unexpected. These aren't your bewildered granddaddy's Buccaneers.

They're good, solid and Super Bowl XXXVI is doable. Feeling is, with 12 players who have been to Pro Bowls, a household deep in overall competence, none of Tampa Bay's talent pangs reek with desperation, even at that most debated of positions, left offensive tackle.

We're a few Saturday morning cartoons from NFL pickings and, I guarantee, not a soul in the Bucs' draft room (no, darling, this ain't war) is absolutely locked in on who will be first plucked by Rich McKay/Tony Dungy.

A blustery 70 percent of media guessers say Michigan tackle Jeff Backus is Bucs meat. Could be, but if the 310-pound Wolverine is available when Tampa Bay chooses, it is not a lock he will be the nominee.

Expect the unexpected.

In predraft hours, there is a national absorption of avalanches of data, ratings and media guesses. Mocks can be crocks. Some predictors are astute but others no more reputable than a race-track tout named Poor Boy.

Among draftniks, nothing is more distorted than the expounding on needs of 31 franchises. Problem is, no matter a college bloke's celebrity, rookies seldom make major impact except with rotten NFL teams. Forecasters are notoriously short-sighted.

Tampa Bay's offense, even with new coordinator Clyde Christensen, is more blend than bombs-away. In-house fears over left tackle are not so raging as on the streets.

Pete Pierson is the predictable 2001 starter, unless the Bucs sign a backsliding Richmond Webb. Backus or any prized newcomer is destined for cameo learning opportunities.

Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden and Anthony Munoz are extreme rarities, behemoths who left school quite prepared to be NFL starters. Backus is not on their planet.

That's how things work, especially with high-level NFL teams, no matter the urgency of screaming Kipers and other fist-pounding analysts. Two years from now, nobody will remember any 4/22/01 judgments.

By then, all that'll matter is how today's chosen athlete is doing in 2003. It would be fitting, if less exotic for public and media, for needs to be based not on 2001 but over the next three or four seasons.

I mean, what are Bucs needs at offensive guard, where Randall McDaniel is still adequate but aging, expected to play another year or two?

If the Bucs snag a fourth-round OG, it could be labeled "Project XTB," an experiment with some late bloomer who is big, strong and quick enough to perhaps grow into an adequate Randall successor by '02 or '03.

Impact, only not immediate.

It wouldn't flatten me if Tampa Bay, with its first pick, eschewed offensive line options and went for a linebacker. They're set with 'backers, but never underestimate the thundering heartbeat of a Dungy-coached team, with interest forever keen in looking out for the defensive front seven.

If it happens to be a 'backer, put your money on Jamie Winborn. With the Bucs, there's something about Vanderbilt fellows, especially LBs named Jamie. Already established is Jamie Duncan, a Commodore ex, and the quick, undersized but passionate Winborn is from the Bucs mold. If you're thinking Tommy Polley of FSU, that's not going to happen.

There's another warm possibility. Tampa Bay craves depth and fresh possibilities at tight end, a position that should be more dynamic with dump-off artist Brad Johnson as quarterback.

There are two possibilities: Todd Heap of Arizona State and Alge Crumpler of North Carolina. Good blockers. Proven receivers. Christensen may be whispering in ears of Coach D and general manager McKay.

One more consideration.

Today's high-round, wild-card possibilities for the Bucs involve cornerbacks and wide receivers. This is a shallow draft at some positions, notably quarterback and offensive line, but there is a blurring wealth of CB and WR options.

History's most abundant.

Maybe, in the third or fourth round, Tampa Bay will find Robert Ferguson of Texas A&M, Reggie Wayne from Miami or Iowa's Kevin Kasper for hiring as pass catcher and special teams contributor.

They could get quality at cornerback, like Utah's speedy Andre Dyson, Minnesota's tough Willie Middlebrooks or FSU's competitive but undersized Tay Cody.

Relax. Enjoy. Be entertained. It's not World War III. This weekend's draft will have little effect on Super Bowl XXXVI. Keep needs in perspective. Be thinking '03 or '04 more than '01.

San Diego, no, I mean Atlanta, it's your turn ...

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