By SCOTT PURKS and ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000
TAMPA -- Usually, when All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp speaks, everyone listens. But do they act?
It's hard to say if that was the case Sunday, but Sapp's scathing criticism Friday of the system put in place by new offensive coordinator Les Steckel likely sent shock waves throughout the franchise.
After a 31-17 win over the Bills, the locker room resonated with some understanding why Sapp was critical of the offense but also offered support for Steckel.
All-Pro safety John Lynch, who played despite dislocating his left shoulder last week, said Sapp's comments, while not ideal for public knowledge, had impact.
"It caused us to do some soul-searching," Lynch said. "I don't want to say it was a good thing because I think (coach) Tony (Dungy) addressed us and said we should keep those things in the locker room. But the end result might have been that we came together a little more."
Added quarterback Shaun King, who was 10-for-18 for 106 yards: "We've got a good system. We're just young in it, and we'll get better as we stay in it. I think what we are first is we're a team and we believe in each other and we believe in Les. ... I think it helped us more than it hurt us. We just rallied around each other and said let's just go out and do our jobs."
In Saturday's Times, Sapp pointed out that the Bucs' new offense had no identity and was not playing at the level it should.
"The saddest part about it is that we play at the highest professional level of football and a high school team has more base (offensive) plays than we do, because I can't tell you what it is," Sapp said Friday. "I can't even tell you our favorite formation."
Running back Warrick Dunn wasn't sure if Sapp's critical words helped.
"I don't know, it probably did, it probably didn't," Dunn said. "But I think offensively, we took it upon ourselves. We have a great offensive coordinator. We have a great scheme. We have the athletes on offense to do it. The thing is, we haven't been consistent. When we are consistent, we're going to move the football, score points and win football games. The last few weeks, we haven't been consistent."
Dunn, who ran for 106 yards, caught a pass for 23 yards and scored two touchdowns, said he had no problem with Sapp's comments but said the offense has come a long way since its days under former offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
"This offense is so further along in what we did last year or two years ago," Dunn said. "We've made a lot of pluses, definitely in the green zone. We've moved forward. That's all you want to do. Scoring points, moving the football, we've moved forward. We're much more explosive, a better football team. "Guys were learning and not knowing what to do in each individual play. We all have those days. There's a lot of stuff you have to learn. We're learning it, we're understanding it and I think guys are starting to hone in now on what we have to do each week."
Cornerback Ronde Barber said too much was made of Sapp's comments.
"That doesn't affect us," Barber said. "You guys (in the media) have been looking for that comment for six years, or whatever. So, let it go. I'm sure he's dealt with it in his own way and moved on."
On Sunday, Sapp didn't back down from his comments but made it clear they were not directed solely at Steckel, but aimed at the offense as a whole.
"Les Steckel has been around this game long enough to know I wasn't trying to single him out," Sapp said. "Les calls the plays, 11 guys perform the plays. They needed to perform better.
"Les had to put us in a better position. I think he did that today. I think he will continue to do that the next four weeks to win this championship. That's all (the comments were) for."
Steckel appeared unfazed by Sapp's comments.
"I have to tell you, I really wasn't (concerned)," he said. "I'm sure it was just based on frustration. I don't have any ill feelings about it at all. I really don't. You have to know me. I didn't even read the article. I'm too busy trying to beat teams."