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Running back duo rekindles power, speed

Warrick Dunn's 48-yard run, aided by Keyshawn Johnson, is his longest carry since 1998.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000


TAMPA -- For most of the preseason, the Bucs rushing game was more like Russian Roulette.

On Friday,Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott were fully loaded and firing away. Tampa Bay's WD-40 combination averaged 6.75 yards a carry and both had impressive runs to help the Bucs take a 20-7 halftime lead.

photo
[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Warrick Dunn evades a tackle attempt by the Chiefs' Larry Atkins on a 48-yard run in the second quarter.
In the first quarter, Dunn broke loose for his longest carry in two seasons. On third-and-2, the Bucs went to a spread formation and Dunn slipped through a lane and raced down the right sideline for 48 yards. It was his longest run since a 50-yard carry in the November 1998 game against Minnesota.

The highlight of the play was a powerful stiff-arm against cornerback Eric Warfield. He also got key blocks from receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Reidel Anthony.

"It's something we'll all be doing, not just me," Johnson said of receivers blocking. "It's one of the reasons why they gave up two No. 1 picks and paid the guy some money, to not only catch passes but also block when he's not catching passes. That's always been a part of my game."

Said Dunn: "If they were not there, they were going to get yelled at (today)."

Alstott may have set a record for most broken tackles on a 1-yard touchdown run. He left five would-be tacklers in his wake with a bouncing, spinning run that put the Bucs up 14-7 at the start of the second quarter.

"It was a straight lead play and they did a great job congesting the middle," Alstott said of the defense. "So I bounced out to the left side and the defender had the angle. But I was able to break a few tackles.

"My job is to get in the end zone and I was able to accomplish that."

Dunn and Alstott combined for 81 yards on 12 carries for the duo's most productive rushing effort of the preseason. Alstott missed the first two games resting a strained hamstring, and had 18 yards on five carries against New England last week.

Dunn, healthy this preseason after limping through the 1999 training camp, had not demonstrated his game-breaking ability with 69 yards on 25 carries before Friday.

Without the 48-yard run, Dunn would have had 12 yards on four carries. But if the team follows suit, Dunn should get more carries as the primary back on first and second down.

Alstott, who wasn't sure he would play Friday, was thrilled to get a few more carries. In addition to his second-quarter run, he also scored the team's first touchdown on a 3-yard run through the middle of the defense.

Tampa Bay continues to be impressive in short yardage situations. Both Alstott touchdowns and Dunn's long run came on second or third down situations with two yards or less to go.

The efforts of Alstott and Dunn were complemented by the play of the offensive line and tight end Patrick Hape. Guard Frank Middleton said he was thrilled to see Dunn return to his old form.

"Just like last year, our bread and butter is going to be the run," Middleton said. "If we can't run, we can't win. Just to see Mike do his thing and Dunn get back in the open like he did in '97 and '98, it just makes you think your job is going to be so much easier when those guys start running like that."

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