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Cannida's newest role is McFarland's backup

Coaches promote Buc they know as quiet hard worker.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
James Cannida works on a defensive drill with USF coach Earl Lane.
TAMPA -- To his teammates and coaches, he's the steady, quiet type. To his people back in Freemont, Calif., he's a talkative, busy young man who once wanted to be a radio broadcaster.

To some of his folks in Savannah, Ga., where he was born, he's a true Southener, all country, grits and cornbread. To his boys back in California, where he spent the bulk of his teenage years, he's all West Coast.

Who is James Cannida?

He's the son of Marilyn Harmon and James Cannida the first.

He's the new backup defensive tackle for the Bucs.

He's the other player whose play led to the release of Brad Culpepper on Monday.

He's a 6-foot-2, 291-pounder from the University of Nevada-Reno who has made such strides over the past season and a half that the coaching staff expects him to play a crucial role this season.

"He's the guy who has worked so steadily, so consistently over the last season or so that he's now starting to come into his own," defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said. "Usually, a defensive tackle like him starts to get it around the third year or so, and that's the case with James. He's a big, mobile guy who has really grown as a player."

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said the Bucs have closely charted Cannida's development since Cannida was drafted in 1998 in the sixth round. He described the tackle as a powerful rusher with great leverage and said Cannida's time has come.

"Here was a guy who was working hard down in the pits," Kiffin said. "And he started getting better and better and better. Then I remember Rod said to me, "Monte, we've got to watch out for this guy.' And we kept watching him, watching him on film, and he was improving dramatically."

While Anthony McFarland also was surging and pushing Culpepper out of the starting position, Cannida, 25, was locking up the backup spot. The coaching staff had seen him make strides in practice, but his effort against the Dolphins in the second preseason game ultimately moved Cannida up the depth chart and Culpepper out the door.

"He played one heck of a game in Miami," Kiffin said. "Finally, we could see it coming out in a game. He just got off some blocks and made some plays that we had seen him do in practice, but this was a live situation."

Cannida, who missed one game in four years at Nevada-Reno, played in two games last season and 10 the season before. Inactive almost weekly, Cannida said he never stopped working and never stopped believing he could be a substantial contributor.

"Last year I was on the roster but basically ran around on the scout team," said Cannida, who married his college girlfriend, Ieesha, on Feb. 27. "I had to be ready and prepared in case somebody went down to play, but I just had to be patient.

"I think it's been good for me because the coaches never put a lot of pressure on me. They never told me, "James, you got to come here and play right away.' And you know, Rod has just worked with me since I've been here trying to get me better. I think it's paid off."

If it has and Cannida makes the most of increased playing time, few likely will hear him gloat ... at least not around One Buc Place. Cannida said he has learned a lot by sitting queitly and observing the personalities around him, and that is not likely to change.

"I'm just a laid-back brother that's trying to work hard since he's been here," Cannida said. "When you've got a vocal leader like Warren Sapp, you don't need guys to say a whole lot else. I mean, we pretty much feed off him, and we just try to go out there and play."

Kiffin said that low-key personality makes Cannida a perfect fit in a defense overflowing with outspoken people.

"We have enough guys who talk, including myself," Kiffin said. "He and (McFarland) will be fine because they don't need to be heard."

But the Cannida who grew up in Freemont and spent lots of time hanging out in Oakland, about 20 miles north, is known for being heard.

"I'm quiet around here, but when I'm around my people and my family, my mouth doesn't stop running," said Cannida, who grew up a fan of Mean Joe Green and the Pittsburgh Steelers. "A lot of people call me the family clown, but if you see me in here, it's quiet. I tell some people I was a broadcast major in college, and they're like, "What? You don't talk enough.' But if you go back and ask somebody (back home), "Is James quiet?', they'd look at you and just start cracking up. Because I'm the furthest thing from quiet."

The Bucs are giving Cannida a chance to be heard on the field.

"He better be ready because he's one snap away from being a starter," Kiffin said.

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