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Anonymous? Sure ... but still an offensive key

He might not be the first name mentioned, but TE Patrick Hape is a factor in the Bucs' production.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2000


TAMPA -- In the shadows of the bright lights that are shining on the Bucs are players like Patrick Hape. If Mike Alstott is erupting through the line for a touchdown, like he did on a 28-yard march against Denver last season, Hape, the quintessential blocking tight end, usually is the one springing him free.

Hape raises the curtain, operates the light board and makes sure all the props are in place so the stars can take center stage.

"You have all these guys you hear about, six or seven stars, eight or nine stars, but you still have 53 guys on the team, and the rest of the guys have to be solid," Hape said. "You can't have 53 stars, so then you got us. Hopefully, we can become stars alongside these guys."

This year, a funny thing happened on the way to the season premiere: The Bucs running game stopped drawing rave reviews.

Even when Alstott returned from a strained hamstring in the third preseason game, the running show didn't go on. But when Hape, sidelined with a foot injury since June, returned to the lineup Friday in the fourth exhibition game, the Bucs had their most productive first half of the preseason.

Coincidence?

"I hope it's because I'm in there, and I hope it continues to be that way," Hape said. "That's all up to me."

Hape's hope was confirmed by coach Tony Dungy even before he returned. Early in training camp, Dungy lamented Hape's absence. Fellow tight end Dave Moore missed his blocking, too.

"We do a lot of combination blocking with two tight ends in there," Moore said. "Without him in there for the preseason games, it threw me off because I know he's going to be there to wipe out a guy instead of waiting for someone to show up and no one's there."

It was surprising to some observers because Hape's value always has been understated. The fourth-year veteran has 13 catches for 61 yards in three seasons, and some of his most remembered plays have been critical mistakes: goal-line fumbles against San Francisco in 1997 and New Orleans in '98.

Then there was the season-opener against the Giants a year ago. With the Bucs trapped against the goal line, Hape was the target of a high spiral pass from quarterback Trent Dilfer. If he caught it, he had about 40 yards of field in front of him.

Hape didn't catch it. Some argued the pass was too high; others said he should have had it. On the next play, the Giants intercepted Dilfer's pass and returned it for a touchdown.

Hape's role is such that he makes headlines only when he makes a mistake. When he does his job correctly -- and he does it often -- credit often goes to others. Quarterback Shaun King came off the bench to preserve a key victory against Seattle last season, and his first touchdown pass was caught by Hape.

"Our tight ends the last few years have been guys, when you watch the film, you can't live without, but yet, they go unnoticed pretty much weekly," said Moore, adding that the media and fans rarely realize when an offensive lineman has a great game.

"That's how it is for blocking tight ends and fullbacks, too," Moore said. "When Alstott comes through here untouched, there's usually a reason for it, either great offensive line play or key blocks by tight ends or fullbacks. (Hape is) a guy who really excels."

The humility of his role is not a negative for Hape. It's his fuel. Hape will tell anyone who listens, "You're never too good to pick up a penny.

"I don't know if I'm that much better of a blocker than Dave or any of the other guys," he said. "I just try to do it consistently. If you can do it most of the time, I guess you get a reputation. I think the reputation might precede me a little bit. You just got to keep working hard at it. You can't just say I'm a good blocker, that's it. You got to keep working at it and continue to be that way."

Job insecurity has dogged Hape every preseason, and this one was no different. As he stood on the sideline with the foot injury, an array of other tight ends filled the void, some of whom were considerably flashier at receiving. Hape, who had a screw placed in the foot to heal the injury, wondered if he would be able to find a home in the new offense of Les Steckel.

When the final cuts were made, Hape was entrenched while others, such as Henry Lusk and James Whalen, were looking for work. Not only will he block from his tight end position, but with Kevin McLeod potentially out of football because of a heart condition, Hape again will back up Alstott at fullback.

"I've worried all three years. This is my fourth year, and I worried again this year," Hape said. "Like I said, you're never too good to pick up a penny."

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