By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
TAMPA -- After toting the ball 42 times for 316 yards in the past two games, running back Warrick Dunn is making a strong case that he is capable of becoming the primary ball carrier.
With backfield mate Mike Alstott at least two weeks from playing, Dunn likely will get more carries against the Dolphins and Rams in the next two games.
That could provide answers to questions about the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder's potential to handle the pounding.
"I think he probably can," coach Tony Dungy said. "And it's not the fact that we ever doubted he could. His first year, 1997, he ran the ball quite a bit and was the featured runner and ran it early on and often."
Dunn, who said he avoids taking big hits by getting low to the ground, has shared the carries with Alstott in the past two seasons. During that time, Alstott has had 484 carries (including playoffs) and Dunn 460.
"It was just a matter of trying to use all your weapons and trying to get Mike the ball," Dungy said. "That's been a tough thing for us, to get both guys the ball. But when you have good players, you just can't not use them. Right now we're forced to, and Warrick's making the most of it."
Alstott hasn't played since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Bears on Nov. 19. He had a cast removed late last week. Dungy said Alstott could be ready for Green Bay on Dec. 24.
"He's doing better than we anticipated," Dungy said. "But right now he's still in the rehab stage."
FAMILIAR FACE: When Dungy was defensive coordinator of the Vikings, he became familiar matching wits with then-Bears coach Dave Wannstedt.
Dungy said there are similarities between Wannstedt's Bears and his current Dolphins team.
"Their style is very similar," Dungy said. "They don't make a lot of mistakes. They're based on executing well and playing hard. Their defense is very much the same. They like the speed guys, and they're a little bit more bump-and-run coverage with (Patrick) Surtain and (Sam) Madison than they did up in Chicago."
SIMILAR POINT OF ATTACK: The Bucs defense has developed a reputation for being strong at the point of attack with All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp (131/2 sacks) and second-year player Anthony McFarland (61/2 sacks) creating havoc.
But the Dolphins boast two equally impressive defensive tackles, Tim Bowens (6 feet 4, 320 pounds) and Daryl Gardener (6-6, 317). Though Gardner and Bowens don't have the sack numbers of the two Bucs tackles, they are largely credited with flushing quarterbacks outside and into the hands of defensive ends Trace Armstrong (151/2 sacks) and Jason Taylor (13 sacks).
"They're big guys, and they're strong and powerful and do a lot of damage inside," Dungy said. "Our guards are going to have their hands full. I haven't seen all the guys in the NFL, but they're certainly tough inside defenders."