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Fresher Stecker impresses coach

By ROGER MILLS and DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001


TAMPA -- When you're behind Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, preseason is about the only time you get the rock.

Second-year player Aaron Stecker is making the most of it.

With Alstott out until the regular season with a left hamstring strain and Dunn limited to first-quarter action, Stecker has had the chance to shine, and he has left a good impression on the coaching staff.

"He's running the ball much better in this camp," coach Tony Dungy said. "He appears to be fresher and has a little bit more quickness and is not as worn down as he was last year after playing an NFL Europe season. He knows our offense better and has been fairly sharp."

Though he has produced only 64 yards on 18 carries in the preseason, Stecker said he can feel a difference in his legs.

"I think I've displayed a little more quickness and a little more burst," said Stecker, who spent some time working out with Dunn in Louisiana during the offseason. "Right now, when I'm getting the opportunity to run the ball, I'm running the ball well. I'm seeing my reads. Last year, I played 11 games coming into training camp and had 100-plus carries.

"So, I had nicks and bruises and only had two weeks off before coming into camp. I didn't have that burst. I'm just glad that they kept me around."

BROTHERS GRAMATICA: Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica has established himself as one of the game's best kickers. Now he's trying to be the best NFL kicker in his family.

Brother Bill Gramatica, a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals, kicked three field goals, including the winner, in an overtime win over the Seahawks last weekend.

"He's been talking trash," Martin said. "He wants to know how many game-winners I'm going to kick this year. That's Bill. I told him I'll kick more yards than he will."

Gramatica, who finished his collegiate career at USF and was a fourth-round pick by the Cardinals, appears to have locked up the placekicking job in Arizona. He is competing with veteran Cary Blanchard.

"I think Bill's going to be great," Martin said. "It just depends on how he's going to react. Obviously, he showed that he can do it. We joke around, but I hope he kicks better than I do. I wish the best for him. I can tell he's a little more excited now."

CUT DATE LOOMS: After Saturday's preseason game against the Patriots, the Bucs will have three days to shave the 84-man roster to 65, not including NFL Europe players. The first cuts will be made either late Sunday or Monday morning. The NFL deadline is is 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Dungy said the long shots to make the team can't afford to think about the cuts.

"You know it's going to be the last shot for about 15 guys and the problem is, you don't know who," Dungy said. "With that in mind, guys have to go out and do their job and do the best that they can. Not worry about external things, not worry about who's going to be on the team and who isn't, or who people think is going to be on the team and who isn't. Just play your game and do your job and that's really all you can do."

And how is that accomplished?

"It's easier said than done," Dungy said.

ROYALS RULES OUT SATURDAY: Injured punter Mark Royals ruled out any chance he'll kick Saturday against New England. The Bucs had said there was an "outside chance" he would.

"I feel it's definitely too soon to punt this week," Royals said. "I think it would be pushing it a little bit. I'd like to play, but I don't want to do it at the expense of getting me back and not be ready for (the season-opener against) Dallas (Sept. 9)."

Royals began kicking Monday after injuring his right knee early in training camp. He kicked again Tuesday, booting about 25 balls.

"I felt good, but I just can't blast it yet. I can't really get into it yet," he said.

Royals said he was confident he would be ready to kick by the preseason finale at Atlanta on Aug. 31.

MIND READERS: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp told ESPN last week that the jobs of all the players and coaches, including Dungy, would be on the line if the Bucs don't get to the Super Bowl.

Dungy joked about it afterward, saying he was not aware his job was on the line and was happy Sapp knew what was going on in the mind of team owner Malcolm Glazer.

Asked by reporters if he had any idea what the coaching staff was thinking about the upcoming cuts, Sapp replied: "The only guy's mind I've got is Malcolm Glazer's mind, and I only read it once, so I have to stop. That's the last time I'm dabbling into my mind-reading tools. I'm going to stay away from that."

INJURY REPORT: Alstott (left hamstring), center Jeff Christy (left MCL sprain), guard Russ Hochstein (left foot fracture), defensive end Marcus Jones (right hamstring strain) and defensive end Mike Mackenzie (foot sprain) will not play Saturday. Linebacker Marq Cerqua (left shoulder sprain), Royals (right MCL sprain) and defensive end Joe Tafoya (left lower leg strain) are questionable.

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