With a new quarterback and Tony Dungy's blessing, first-year Bucs coordinator Clyde Christensen charts an aggressive course for the previously passive offense.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Clyde Christensen says he would "be extremely disappointed if we don't attack and go after people offensively."
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 29, 2001
TAMPA -- By Monday morning, we will know.
Shortly after sunrise, they will huddle, a play will be called, the ball will be snapped and the offense will begin to move.
If Bucs coach Tony Dungy was right, the direction will be forward.
All we know now about the attack designed by Clyde Christensen is this: It had better produce yards, followed by first downs, leading to points.
The 43-year-old Christensen, who has coached tight ends and quarterbacks for the Bucs, is the third offensive coordinator in as many seasons for Dungy.
Oh, and if Christensen fails, he very well may be Dungy's last coordinator.
"I'd be extremely disappointed if we don't attack and go after people offensively," Christensen said. "Within our personality, we should be an attack team, be explosive and improve and have some fun on offense. I'd be extremely disappointed if we didn't go after the jugular and play good, physical football."
The challenge for Christensen is to finally narrow the gulf between the Bucs' bullying defense and its 98-pound weakling on offense.
Yes, the Bucs set a franchise record last season for points scored (388), touchdowns (43) and scoring margin (plus-119). But they scored 17 or fewer points in six of their seven losses, including a 21-3 playoff defeat at Philadelphia.
That was good enough to prompt Dungy to dump Les Steckel after one season.
After an exhaustive search for an offensive coordinator, Dungy turned to Christensen, an original member of his staff who has advantages that his predecessors did not.
Start with a proven veteran quarterback: Brad Johnson. Mike Shula had to endure the elevator rides of Trent Dilfer. Steckel was hamstrung by the inexperience of Shaun King.
"I would foresee us throwing the ball more -- whoever ends up at quarterback," Dungy said. "If it's Brad, you've got a high percentage passer who's thrown a lot of passes in the league. If it's Shaun, you've got a guy going into his third year instead of his second. If it's (Ryan) Leaf, it means he beat those other two guys out and obviously is playing good ball. But we still are going to be a team with two backs that we are going to try and get the ball to.
"Clyde will listen and take input from a lot of sources and then do what's best. I think I'll have input because he respects my opinion."
Given Dungy's assessment, Bucs fans might be worried that Christensen will puppet his coach's conservative philosophy. After all, when Dungy started in Tampa Bay, he thought the shotgun formation was too dazzling.
"What's bothered me about that perception is Tony gives less input to the offense than anyone that I've worked for," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. " ... But it's Clyde's deal. Tony doesn't tell any of these guys what to do. He just says utilize the personnel, be smart and execute. What does Tony want? He doesn't say I want this play and that play."
Christensen already has made tough decisions that will put his handprint on the offense.
He plans to use Warrick Dunn as the featured running back, although Mike Alstott will remain on the field more and figures to catch more passes.
"I think what we learned about Warrick last year is not to limit him," Christensen said. "The more he gets, the better he gets. Your eyes deceive you. You see a guy who weighs 160 pounds, but he plays a lot bigger than that, he's a lot more physical than that. I do feel the more times he's given the ball, the higher percentage that he's going to pop one."
The Bucs plan to make more frequent use of receiver Keyshawn Johnson, establishing him early and in the red zone.
"That's what he does great," Christensen said. "That's why we went and got him. That's why we're paying him a few dollars more per hour than some other guys. He's big, he's physical and he's courageous. When you get down in the red zone, points are hard to come by in this league."
Christensen also will be comfortable throwing the ball more with Johnson, who has completed 61.8 percent of his career attempts.
"The difference in completing 56 percent and 60 percent is a lot of yards when you have backs like Mike and Warrick," Christensen said. "That's why we went to get him. He throws crossing routes very well, which Keyshawn is exceptional at. He has a great leadership and his accuracy on checkdowns jumps off the film at you."
Another thing Christensen did was reduce the voluminous playbook used under Steckel.
"If people know what the plan is, then they're not surprised," he said. "I think where you get into problems as an offensive coordinator is when you say, "Hey, Warrick, we're going to give you the ball.' And then when you look at the halftime stat sheet, he's got four carries. That's when you get into trouble. Or you say, "Hey, Keyshawn, we're going to feature you. We think we can throw over the top of this corner.' Then you hit halftime and you haven't called any of the plays you had in for him."
Christensen's only play-calling duties at the NFL level came at the Pro Bowl two years ago after Dungy defined trouble in paradise by firing Shula in Hawaii. The NFC scored a Pro Bowl record 51 points that day.
"If I was going to own a construction business, I'd want to learn how to build the house itself. I wouldn't just want to own the company," Christensen said. "I'd want to know how it worked so I could go up the ladder the correct way."
Christensen has made the climb. Will his offense follow?
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