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Players deny team lacks leadership

By ROGER MILLS and ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Jaguars middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson's comments that the Bucs lack leadership sent ripples through his former organization Wednesday.

Nickerson, who had seven outstanding seasons with the Bucs and was one of the team's leaders before signing with Jacksonville in the off-season, said Tampa Bay doesn't have anyone to handle the leadership.

The comments didn't go unnoticed by All-Pro safety John Lynch.

"I think they've got enough problems to worry about up there," Lynch said of the struggling Jaguars. "They've taken a team that was 14-2, now they're 2-6. So they've got their own issues to deal with. ... Sure, we miss Hardy, primarily what we miss are his 13 years experience on the field and that he is a good friend."

Coach Tony Dungy said considering the landscape of the NFL with free-agent movements, teams are forced to adapt to leadership changes and the Bucs are no different.

"The leadership has changed," he said. "A couple of our leaders from last year aren't here, but leadership changes every year. I don't think we look to any one particular person, and I don't think we've done that in the past."

Nickerson was an integral part of the Bucs' rejuvenation but felt jilted when they didn't offer him the contract he wanted when he became an unrestricted free agent.

"I could never have a bad word to say about Hardy," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Maybe he left here with some bitterness, but he has to let that stuff go. It may not be the kind of leadership he provided, but we definitely have leaders in this locker room."

WEEKLY AWARDS: During the Bucs' four-game losing streak, four players from the opposing teams were honored as NFC players of the week. In Week 5, defensive end Marco Coleman and punt returner Deion Sanders received the conference's defensive and special-teams weekly awards, respectively. Coleman had three sacks and Sanders returned a punt 52 yards in overtime to set up the winning field goal.

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper was offensive player of the week in Week 6. Lions cornerback Bryant Westbrook (three tackles, a career-high six passes defensed, including two interceptions) Wednesday was named defensive player of the week.

Opponents also have won two plays of the week awards: Sanders won one for his return, and Jets running back Curtis Martin captured the other for his half-back option pass to Wayne Chrebet to defeat the Bucs in Week 4.

SPEAKING OF AWARDS: The announcement of Westbrook's award ends any hopes of Bucs defensive end Marcus Jones claiming it . Jones had four sacks and a blocked field goal against the Lions. But the league seldom awards individuals on the losing team.

"I really wasn't thinking about winning the award," Jones said. "That just goes to show how important it is to come up on the winning side."

GOLDEN BOOT: Martin Gramatica could have factored in the special-teams award after converting all four field goals against the Lions, including a 50-yarder and a career-best 55-yarder, which tied Donald Igwekuike for the second longest in club history. Gramatica has made seven of his last eight attempts. The 55-yarder was the NFL's longest this season.

Gramatica is one of just two kickers to nail two 50-yard field goals in a game this season. He is the only kicker to connect on two attempts of more than 50 yards in the same game twice over the past two seasons.

THE TRUTH IS: Punt returner Karl "The Truth" Williams participated in parts of Wednesday's practice but seems unlikely to be ready for Sunday's game against the Vikings.

"It's still not 100 percent, and right now it's a matter of working out the scar tissue and getting back the full range of motion," Williams said. "It's not pain, but I can feel something (in there). This is something that you don't really want to rush. I don't want to rush back and then reinjure it and be out the remainder of the season."

MORE INJURIES: Offensive guard Randall McDaniel (right quadriceps strain) did not practice, but Steve White (right ankle sprain) participated in some drills. Dungy said the team is "hopeful" that McDaniel will be ready for Sunday. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who missed his first game Sunday since joining the Bucs in 1996, returned to practice and is probable.

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