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Bucs' problem isn't chemistry, players say

"I've never seen chemistry make a tackle. We're talking about humans," Sapp says.

By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001


TAMPA -- The Bucs locker room sounded more like a laboratory with all of the talk of chemistry Thursday. Rookie Kenyatta Walker was under the microscope one day after discussing his clashes with veterans. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp continued to field questions about his perceived feud with receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Other elements still don't seem to mix. Mike Alstott or Warrick Dunn. Rookie Dwight Smith and his alarm clock.

But the players said there are no significant rifts and the scrutiny is because of their .500 record. "I've never seen chemistry make a tackle," Sapp said. "I've never seen chemistry catch a pass or make the proper line call or anything like that. We're talking about humans; about jobs that have to be done. And when you're not doing the job, it's going to be pointed out to you.

"It's nothing to lose any sleep over. This team is going to be fine."

As evidence of their solidarity, Sapp cited how many teammates spent Sunday evening after the 20-17 victory at Detroit.

"We all went to Key's house and watched the Lakers game," Sapp said. "We've got Magic fans. We've got Lakers fans. We hang out. But what are we supposed to do? Come in here and tell you all so you can tell we're tighter than you think? Who cares?

"There's no reason to congregate together and talk. What are we going to talk about? What we did wrong?"

Johnson, who also has been asked about his relationship with Sapp during conference calls and his radio show, said the invitation was extended to all his teammates.

"Everybody came over to watch the Lakers game. And I won," said Johnson, a Lakers fan. "I'm a bigger person than that. My door is always open." Thursday, Bucs players debated the comments made by Walker on Wednesday in which the rookie from Florida accused his teammates of being "jealous" and said anyone who was dissatisfied with his performance after switching from right to left tackle can "kiss my a--."

Sapp denied reports that he had confronted Walker, the Bucs' first-round pick who also voiced his objection to the treatment he has received. "I've never been in Kenyatta's face other than, "How ya doing, young man,"' Sapp said. "I don't know what his job is, and I can't describe his job. I wouldn't try to. So I don't know when him and me have ever had a confrontation."

Tight end Dave Moore, a 10-year veteran who frequently lines up next to Walker, said most of the friction is a function of the .500 record.

"Everything gets magnified because we're 4-4," Moore said. "If we're 6-2 right now, no one is having this conversation. You try to look for answers, and they're not always in the right place.

"It's when guys try to do more than their own job and tell other guys how to do theirs is when you start to run into chemistry problems."

But Bucs coach Tony Dungy said chemistry might be as important as talent.

"(Chemistry is) hard to define. It's hard to know when you're getting it," Dungy said. "It's difficult to know how to tinker with it. But talent is a very, very small part of winning in the NFL.

"I mean, you've got to have it. But it's how you're playing; the confidence you play with; the belief you play with; the feeling guys have for each other. That's a bigger factor."

Dungy said coaches try to develop chemistry through motivation and signing players who will work well together.

"It's hard to put your finger on," Dungy said. "You have it (some years). Some years, you don't. It takes one injury sometimes. One guy comes back, and you regain it. You don't always know."

Moore said despite external perceptions, there is nothing wrong with the Bucs' chemistry.

"I'm on the inside looking out, and I've been in the league for 10 years. There's a lot of places and a lot of times where people have their own thing going on. But here, everybody gets along well. Everybody busts each other's chops.

"What's happening now is that guys are taking it out of the locker room. What happens on the field usually doesn't go into the locker room. And now guys are starting to take it away from the field. You can't get 60 guys, especially with the pride that we all have, from every walk of life, every background ... you'll never go a season without somebody jawing at somebody else at some point."

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