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Dungy after better play by defense

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


TAMPA -- Changing the offensive coordinator and starting quarterback every year may not result in more points or victories. So coach Tony Dungy also has some ideas to improve a Bucs defense that turned from stopper to sieve at times last season in finishing ninth in the NFL.

"After the '99 season, I said I didn't think we played as well as we could play, that we could make some improvement. But we really didn't improve," Dungy said. "And I think all of our players to a man feel like we could have and they're pretty determined to make that improvement this year.

"There were some things we did better. We rushed the passer as well as we have, we played more man coverage, we got the turnovers going, we scored off defense. But we didn't play as consistently. We didn't stop the run the way we did in '98 and '99. We didn't make big plays in the game when we needed them."

How much worse was the defense in 2000? With a little help from the offense, Tampa Bay lost four straight games in which it was tied or ahead in the fourth quarter.

You also have to remember that, before last season, the Bucs had not finished higher than third in total defense since '96, the year Dungy came aboard.

"I think it was a wake-up call for us when we looked at the tape and saw how we finished," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Ninth in the league isn't good enough. We need to go back to the basics. That's a good thing for us because it gets us p----- off. And there's nothing more scary than this defense when it's p----- off."

RYAN EXPRESS: Sure, he has to drop a few pounds. And he still is learning the playbook. And for now he is No. 3 on the depth chart. But things have never been better in the pro career of quarterback Ryan Leaf.

"I was talking to my wife the other night. I was sitting out in the pool and she was standing there. We just got our house done. And I told her, "I don't think I've been happier than at this time in a long time,' " Leaf said. "Now it's just a matter of getting out there and getting going. Hopefully, I'll be around here for a long time."

Although the competition is fierce, Leaf said he is forming a fast friendship with the other quarterbacks -- Brad Johnson, Shaun King and Joe Hamilton.

"I think we look at it as we're probably the best quarterback situation in the league," Leaf said. "I'm going to a team that has an opportunity to win year in and year out and it's something I've missed. We have a bunch of great guys, and it starts from the top."

ALLRED ALL RIGHT: The Bucs would like to sign former Bears tight end John Allred, brother-in-law of safety John Lynch, as soon as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

Allred was invited to minicamp for a physical.

"He had surgery toward the end of the season and we just wanted to see where he is and look at our tight ends in this camp," Dungy said. "Sometime, maybe later on, we'll get a chance to sign him."

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