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Bucs line features twin billing

Anthony McFarland's recent standout play looks very Sapp-like.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


TAMPA -- They really are nothing alike, but in uniform, the resemblance is striking.

There's the same explosive burst, followed by a powerful push resulting in a fallen quarterback.

Anthony McFarland knew receiving recognition lining up next to Warren Sapp would be difficult.

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McFarland
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Sapp
What makes it even harder to identify McFarland is that he performs so much like the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"I mean, it's kind of like that. My friends tell me all the time, "I had to look twice to see it was him instead of you,' " Sapp said. "It's good. When you've got two people in there who are playing as well as we are together, it bodes well for the defense because you need two inside dominate forces to play this kind of position we play."

Creating double trouble for opposing offenses is exactly what the Bucs had in mind when they released popular tackle Brad Culpepper to make room in the starting lineup for McFarland, the 15th pick in the 1999 draft.

The move was an obvious one for Bucs coaches, but the reaction by fans stunned everyone. There were nasty letters, cards and phone calls to One Buc Place, which hasn't received that much reaction since the last ticket increase.

But people seemed to forget the Bucs thought so much of McFarland that they took him ahead of Jevon Kearse, the NFL's Rookie of the Year.

If anybody still doubted the move, the past two weeks changed that.

Culpepper, who was claimed off waivers by Chicago, has been inactive for the Bears. McFarland has been anything but for the Bucs.

In the past two games against the Redskins and Vikings, McFarland recorded 10 tackles and two sacks, and forced a fumble.

Oct. 9, McFarland and Sapp were Minnesota twins. The second-year pro from Louisiana State had a career-high seven tackles and a sack and Sapp recorded five stops and a sack and blocked a field-goal attempt that resulted in the Bucs' go-ahead touchdown.

McFarland is flattered by comparisons to Sapp, but he says they are premature.

"He's on a different level when it comes to rushing the passer," said McFarland, who is third on the club with 4 1/2 sacks, three behind Sapp. "He's established a level up there with the best in this league. For me to get close to that, I've got a long way to go. I just want to continue to do what I do best, play hard, get up there and create havoc. With that, sacks will come. Tackles will come.

"Any time you get compared to a great player, you have to know how to take it. You can't look at it and say, "That's me; I'm him.' Because you're not. You've got to understand that people are seeing you doing some things that are similar to what a great player has done, so you're drawing comparisons. But you're still doing something different that defines you as a player. There's something to the way I play that defines me differently from the way he plays. There's also some things that are similar that we do and those are good things."

Don't count Bucs coach Tony Dungy among those surprised at McFarland's contribution this season.

"Usually, with good players, the more they play the better they get, and we kind of felt that would happen," Dungy said. "I know our coaching staff felt like that this summer, during training camp, that he was a guy we had to get in the lineup and we'd get more production out of him. And he has, he's blossomed in that role."

One play from the Monday night game against the Vikings might have signaled McFarland's arrival.

Trailing 17-10 in the third quarter with the Vikings facing third and 11 at the Tampa Bay 25, McFarland rushed quarterback Daunte Culpepper, then reversed field and ran down running back Robert Smith from behind to make the tackle for no gain on a screen pass.

"It was a good play, but a play we preach," McFarland said. "Our defensive line always talks about turning and running. I kind of read the screen a little bit and when I turned, I ran as fast as I could. Luckily, somebody pulled him up a little bit and I was able to get close and pull him down. It's a play any of our defensive linemen can make. It's something we pride ourselves on, turning and running and getting down field."

McFarland's improved play has resulted in him receiving his share of double teams. And as teams pay more attention to McFarland, Sapp will become even more destructive.

"I don't think Warren has benefited as much as he will," Dungy said. "I think people are still conscious of Warren. And the more Anthony comes on and the more pressure he creates, then you'll get people playing us more honestly. They won't be cheating the protections as much and then I think Warren will see some big benefits."

For the Bucs, Booger is better.

"Every week his confidence is building and building," Sapp said. "Hey, pretty soon he's going to take the old man out. I'm going to hold my title until he does."

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