That's what Trent Dilfer has to do before the Bucs can catch the
If they compare the rosters of the Bucs and the Packers--minus
the starting quarterbacks--most people around the NFL would say
Tampa Bay has an edge in talent. But factor Bucs passer Trent
Dilfer and counterpart Brett Favre into the equation, and the
advantage swings decidedly to Green Bay. "Absolutely," Dilfer
says. "I'd agree with that."
Dilfer, starting his fifth year as a pro, isn't down on himself;
he's just being honest. Tampa Bay is winless in its last five
games against the Packers, mostly because the Bucs have scored a
total of four touchdowns and averaged just eight points in those
meetings. This accumulation of offensive frustration weighed
heavily on Dilfer during the bus ride to the airport after Tampa
Bay's 21-7 playoff loss to Green Bay last January. In the wake
of a game in which he completed 11 of 36 passes for 200 yards
and threw two interceptions, Dilfer remembers thinking that if
he had made two or three key plays in each of the five losses to
Green Bay, the Bucs wouldn't have felt the pressure to play a
perfect game to beat the Packers. Favre made such plays once or
twice or three times a game, and Dilfer knew he had to close the
gap between himself and Favre.
So in the off-season Dilfer worked to become more athletic. "How
many touchdown passes did Brett have last year?" Dilfer asks.
"About 35? I bet 20 of those were by the book and 15 he created.
I threw 21 touchdown passes, and I created four. You've got to
be good when a guy's holding on to you; instead of taking the
sack, you've got to somehow get off a seven-yard pass. This
year, when I have to make a play like that, my body's going to
Despite ranking last in the league in pass offense, Tampa Bay
finished 10-6 last season and made its first playoff appearance
since 1982. The Bucs enter this year much improved at their
weakest position in '97, wide receiver. They signed free agent
Bert Emanuel, formerly of the Falcons, and selected speedy
Jacquez Green of Florida with the 34th pick in the draft. But
until Dilfer starts making more big plays, he knows that the
balance of power in the NFC Central won't shift to Tampa Bay.
PATRIOTS, CARROLL QUESTION GLENN
Second-year Patriots coach Pete Carroll says that Bill
Parcells's shadow will always follow him, but this season he
expects the pressure to be nothing like what he experienced in
1997. Still, if Carroll can't inspire wideout Terry Glenn to
play up to his potential, as Parcells did by pushing Glenn
through a standout rookie season in '96, there will surely be
more mentions of the Pats' former coach.
When New England opened camp last week, Carroll admitted he was
"very disappointed" that Glenn hadn't participated in about a
dozen of the team-prescribed 40 off-season workouts. Told that
Carroll was disappointed, Glenn, who as a result of his absences
failed to collect a $50,000 bonus, said, "Yeah, he probably
would be, but I was in the program for the most part. It's just
that I have a two-year-old son at home in Columbus [Ohio], and
when I left here after our [early June] minicamp, I had so much
joy being around him that I stayed with him. I worked out there
and at my home in Florida."
However, a source close to Glenn says, "He never would have
missed those workouts under Parcells. He respected Bill. He was
afraid of Bill. He respects Pete but not in the same way."
Glenn followed a 90-catch rookie season with 27 receptions
during an injury-plagued 1997, then vowed to be more diligent in
his conditioning. In a pair of practices one day last week, he
looked like a star, repeatedly beating reserve Patriots corners.
But if he's not outstanding in October, Glenn will draw
Carroll's wrath. "I want to prove to Pete he can count on me,"
He has some work to do.
SEND JOHNSON THE BILL
When the mother of Bills quarterback Rob Johnson remarked to her
son last week that top rookie passers Peyton Manning and Ryan
Leaf hadn't signed, Johnson chuckled and said, "I guess I'm
really screwing them up." Irreverence befits Johnson, who,
despite having only one career start in the NFL, skewed the
salary scale for quarterbacks when he signed a five-year, $25
million contract extension in July. He's a California bodysurfer
who showed up for an interview last Saturday in bare feet,
wearing a Melrose Place T-shirt and Hawaiian shorts.
Taken by the Jaguars as the 99th selection in the 1995 draft,
Johnson was filling in for injured Mark Brunell in
Jacksonville's '97 opener when he completed 20 of 24 passes for
294 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-27 victory over the Ravens.
He threw four more passes the rest of the season. Still, in
February, Buffalo traded its first-round pick (No. 9 overall)
and a fourth-round selection in the '98 draft to the Jaguars for
Johnson. The size of Johnson's contract rocked the Manning and
the Leaf negotiations. Last Saturday the Chargers and Leaf
finally agreed on a deal that could be worth $31.25 million over
the next five years, but at week's end Manning and the Colts had
not come to terms.
From the Bills' standpoint, Johnson's deal was justifiable: He
could have become a free agent after the season, and because the
salary cap will rise an estimated $8 million in '99, he might
have commanded an annual salary in the $6 million range even if
he turned in only a mediocre performance this fall.
Nevertheless, when his agent, Leigh Steinberg, told him what
Buffalo was offering, Johnson says he was embarrassed. "I mean,
it's ridiculous," he says. "All I've ever wanted is a house on
the beach somewhere. It's hard to justify that kind of money for
one start. But the way I look at it is this: They traded a
first-round pick for me, I've got three years of NFL experience,
and I'm just 25. I think I'll be worth it."
BRONCOS LIKE TANUVASA
The Broncos aren't panicking over the loss of pass-rushing
defensive end Alfred Williams, who is expected to miss four
months with a torn right triceps. That's partly because they
think fifth-year defensive tackle Maa Tanuvasa is on the verge
of becoming a great interior rusher. "He's as close to John
Randle as I've seen since I've been in the league," says Denver
defensive assistant John Teerlinck, who coached Randle for four
seasons in Minnesota.... Look for the Packers to trade kicker
Brett Conway and stick with Ryan Longwell. Conway, a third-round
pick in '97, spent the regular season on injured reserve.
Longwell, a rookie waiver-wire pickup, seized the opportunity
and eventually made 24 of 30 field goals and all 48 of his
extra-point attempts.... Training camp rookies who have made
early impressions: the Jets' Jason Fabini (fourth-round pick),
who could start at right tackle; the Dolphins' Patrick Surtain
(second round), a possible starter at cornerback; and the
Cowboys' Flozell Adams (second round), who could push left guard
Nate Newton out of a starting job.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS Under the gun Nobody has to remind Dilfer that he's at the heart of the Bucs' offensive futility.[Trent Dilfer in game]