By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000
TAMPA -- Much has been made of the task Jamie Duncan has in replacing Hardy Nickerson, but Duncan won't be alone.
Shelton Quarles, who will start at strong-side linebacker, will move to the middle position when the Bucs go the nickel situation. It's a role he filled in 1998 when Nickerson was out six games.
"It's just a matter of going out there and getting the reps and hopefully doing the same thing that Hardy used to do," said Quarles, in his fourth year. "He brought a lot of stuff to the table with his experience and his athletic ability and strength. I just have to try and do some of the things he did, but in my own special way."
Linebackers coach Lovie Smith said the decision is not a reflection on Duncan. The staff just believes, for now, the best cover linebackers are Quarles and Derrick Brooks. Duncan continues to work on his pass-coverage skills, and had an interception in Thursday's morning session.
BOAT TO BOAT: Bucs and Commodores are both seafaring sorts, but that's not the reason former Vanderbilt players are hoping to join Tampa Bay. Five former Commodores are on the current roster, including Quarles, Duncan and rookie linebacker Antony Jordan.
Coach Tony Dungy said it helps that Vanderbilt has coach Woody Widenhofer, the architect of the great Steel Curtain defenses Dungy played on in the 1970s.
"Woody is a pretty good linebacker coach and they play a system that's very linebacker friendly, very similar to what we do," Dungy said. "He plays with the type of guys we play with, guys who are very smart, very athletic. In those terms, it's pretty good for us to go there and scout because we know we have a chance to see some guys who can fit into our system."
The Bucs also have former Commodores in tight end Todd Yoder and receiver Tavarus Hogans.
BUILT TO FIT: Receivers coach Charlie Williams says he loves the offensive system brought to town by coordinator Les Steckel because it can accommodate various types of receivers.
The Bucs receiving unit features tall, strong players such as Keyshawn Johnson and Chris Daniels, as well as the short, speedy types such as Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony and Karl Williams.
"The big guys are going to be the Zs. The guys on the other side, the Ys, are going to be the quick short guys," Williams said.
Although there's variety in the corps, the Bucs are not looking for a specific type of receiver. The coaching staff believes the best way to determine who makes the team is to simply look at who is the most productive.
"I really believe this: size and speed make no difference," Steckel said. "All we're looking for is a consistent receiver that can catch the football and block in the running game. We're looking for a guy we can rely on every snap. We're not going to run by people. You don't run by people in this league unless your Randy Moss, I guess."
SHOTGUN: Last season, Dungy was asked about the shotgun formation every day as the team added it to the offense for the first time during his tenure. This year, the shotgun isn't getting as much attention, but the team does plan to use it.
During a recent two-minute drill, the team worked almost exclusively out of the formation. On one play, however, center Jeff Christy's snap sailed over quarterback Shaun King's head.
"It doesn't bother me," Christy said. "I know they're not all perfect, but I'm not doing it on purpose. I'm thinking differently in different situations. Sometimes it's hurried, sometimes it's not, sometimes I'm coming off the ball, sometimes I sit back.
"That's what I take into consideration every time I snap it. Every time I go to the right, it goes right. Every time I go to the left, I snap it to the left. I just have to work on it more and get zeroed in on where I'm going on each play."
Dungy said how Christy handles the snaps will be paramount in how much the team uses the formation, but he added King likes to work out of the shotgun after using it at Tulane.
CATCHING ON: Safety David Gibson, who played the position only one year in college, is getting a crash course on playing in the NFL. But secondary coach Herman Edwards said Gibson is progressing quickly on the learning curve.
"He's getting better," Edwards said. "He's really raw, but the more he gets exposed, the more he learns. He's a pretty smart guy and he has a knack for making big plays."