Going into training camp each of the past three seasons, the
Buccaneers had reason to predict that quarterback Trent Dilfer
would live up to the expectations that made him Tampa Bay's
first-round pick--No. 6 overall--in the 1994 draft. In '96, when
coach Tony Dungy took over for Sam Wyche, the theory went: Trent
won't have that wacky Sam to screw him up anymore. In '97 it
was: He's had a year to get the offense down, so now he'll
flourish. In '98, after the Bucs added wideouts Bert Emanuel and
Jacquez Green, it was: He's finally got the weapons he needs to
be a premier player.
But as the Bucs attempt to rebound from a disappointing 8-8
season, they're no longer making excuses for Dilfer. "Trent has
to play better" has become Dungy's mantra. Dilfer has made 64
consecutive starts, but he has thrown 10 more interceptions (69)
than touchdowns during his career. In no season has he reached
the NFL's average completion percentage for the 1990s (57%).
Last year Dilfer did little to distinguish himself, with 21
touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He stumbled in losses to the
Lions and the Saints, and he saved his poorest performance for
perhaps Tampa Bay's biggest game: With the Bucs fighting for a
playoff spot on Dec. 19, Dilfer completed 14 passes in 34
attempts for a mere 100 yards in a 20-16 upset loss to the
As he prepares for a new season, Dilfer knows this much: Dungy
won't be so hesitant to make a change, especially now that Tampa
Bay has added Eric Zeier, acquired in a trade with the Ravens,
and Shaun King, a second-round draft pick out of Tulane. That's
quite an upgrade from the Steve Walsh-Scott Milanovich duo that
backed up Dilfer last year. "It's do or die," says Dilfer. "This
is the year that matters. I've got to get it done."
To prepare for this challenge, Dilfer dropped 12 pounds from his
playing weight of last year; at about 226 he'll be better able
to evade the rush. For the first time in the Dungy era he'll
have a quarterbacks coach. Clyde Christensen moves into the role
after spending the last three seasons working with the Bucs'
tight ends. Dungy is also flirting with the shotgun, a set that
enables a quarterback to get a better view of a pass play as it
Those changes are all well and good, but if Dilfer expects to
become a marquee player, he's going to have to improve his
accuracy. Good NFL quarterbacks complete at least 60% of their
throws; after three mostly inactive seasons, Randall Cunningham
stepped off the unemployment line to complete 61% of his passes
for the Vikings last year. It's hard to imagine Dilfer's
improving from his 52% completion rate of 1998 to the low 60s
(his best season came in 1996, when he completed more than 55%
of his attempts), but that's what the Bucs need him to do. "I'm
focusing on statistical accuracy," Dilfer says. "What I'm
stressing with each receiver in practice is that he run each
route exactly the same every time in practices and games."
If Dilfer can get on target, most of the other pieces needed for
Tampa Bay to make its second playoff appearance in three years
seem to be in place. A receiving corps with Emanuel, the speedy
Green and Reidel Anthony complements the strong backfield of
cat-quick tailback Warrick Dunn and mountainous fullback Mike
Alstott. One major question mark, however, is Emanuel, a
disappointment last year after coming over as a free agent from
the Falcons. Slowed by a sprained right ankle and a bruised
kidney as well as a concussion, he caught only 41 passes for 636
yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. The receiving numbers were
the lowest of his five-year career and nowhere near the output
the Bucs expected from a player they signed to a four-year,
$16.4 million contract in April 1998. "It's good to be back to
my old self," Emanuel said early in camp. "Now I can give the
team the production it expects," which is about 75 catches and
1,200 yards. Alas, Emanuel was slowed in mid-August by another
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay is the only NFL team
rated in the top five in total defense each of the last two
years, and this year's unit should be better than ever. One
sizeable reason: defensive tackle Warren Sapp's waistline. "No
ifs, ands or buts about it," says Sapp, whose sack total dropped
from 10 1/2 in '97 to seven last season. "I was too fat last
year. Everybody knew it. Everybody saw it." He's down about 30
pounds, to 286, and should give the Bucs the inside pass-rush
pressure they lacked in '98.
In the end, though, Tampa Bay's fate will rest not with Sapp but
on the right arm of Dilfer. Or Zeier. Or King. For the Bucs,
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Workhorse Alstott, who averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his first three seasons, can take some pressure off the passing game.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES
Sept. 12 N.Y. GIANTS
19 at Philadelphia
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
10 at Green Bay
17 Open date
31 at Detroit
Nov. 7 at New Orleans
14 KANSAS CITY
28 at Seattle
Dec. 6 MINNESOTA (Mon.)
19 at Oakland
26 GREEN BAY
Jan. 2 at Chicago
1998 Record 8-8 (3rd in NFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 4/27/22; defense 8/2/2
1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 2 (tie)
Opponents' 1998 winning percentage: .539
Games against playoff teams: 6
Tampa Bay ran the ball a league-high 52.3% of its plays from
scrimmage last year. The Bucs' 8-8 finish was unusually poor for
a team that ran that often: In the 1990s, 38 teams have finished
a season with more rushing plays than pass plays, and only seven
of them (18%) failed to finish with a winning record.
Pct. of plays
Team Rushing plays Pass plays that were rushes W-L
1994 Colts 495 404 55.1 8-8
1997 Oilers 541 452 54.5 8-8
1998 Buccaneers 523 477 52.3 8-8
1993 Bears 477 436 52.2 7-9
1991 Giants 487 464 51.2 8-8
1992 Browns 451 432 51.1 7-9
1993 Jets 521 510 50.5 8-8
PLAYER TO WATCH
In April the Bucs drafted Kansas State kicker Martin Gramatica
in the third round, making him the first player from Argentina
to be chosen. Though Gramatica hasn't lived there since he was
eight, his selection was cause for celebration in the homeland.
One of the surprise interviewers from an Argentinian radio
station was soccer star Diego Maradona. "You're my idol!"
Gramatica told Maradona. "Now," Maradona replied, "you're mine."
During his last two years in college, Gramatica made 41 of
51 field goal attempts and all but one of 107 extra point tries;
his 65-yard field goal against Northern Illinois in 1998 is the
longest in NCAA history without a tee.
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS
Coach: Tony Dungy
Fourth season with Buccaneers (24-24 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Trent Dilfer 81
429 att. 225 comp. 52.4% 2,729 yds. 21 TDs 15 int. 74.0 rtg.
RB Warrick Dunn 57
245 att. 1,026 yds. 4.2 avg. 44 rec. 344 yds. 7.8 avg. 2 TDs
RB Rabih Abdullah 275
244 att. 1,225 yds. 5.0 avg. 29 rec. 142 yds. 4.9 avg. 18 TDs
FB Mike Alstott 44
215 att. 846 yds. 3.9 avg. 22 rec. 152 yds. 6.9 avg. 9 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Bert Emanuel 91 41 rec. 636 yds. 2 TDs
WR Reidel Anthony 101 51 rec. 708 yds. 7 TDs
WR Jacquez Green 138 14 rec. 251 yds. 2 TDs
TE Dave Moore 261 24 rec. 255 yds. 4 TDs
K Martin Gramatica (R) 123 69/69 XPs 22/31 FGs 135 pts.
PR Jacquez Green 138 30 ret. 15.1 avg. 1 TD
KR Jacquez Green 138 10 ret. 22.9 avg. 0 TDs
LT Paul Gruber 6'5" 296 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Jorge Diaz 6'4" 295 lbs. 12 games 12 starts
C Tony Mayberry 6'4" 292 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Frank Middleton 6'3" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Jason Odom 6'5" 296 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LE Chidi Ahanotu 17 tackles 0 sacks
LT Brad Culpepper 52 tackles 9 sacks
RT Warren Sapp 45 tackles 7 sacks
RE Regan Upshaw 29 tackles 7 sacks
OLB Jeff Gooch 53 tackles 1 sack
MLB Hardy Nickerson 70 tackles 1 sack
OLB Derrick Brooks 158 tackles 1 int.
CB Donnie Abraham 38 tackles 1 int.
SS John Lynch 85 tackles 2 int.
FS Damien Robinson 12 tackles 0 int.
CB Ronde Barber 70 tackles 2 int.
P Mark Royals 88 punts 45.6 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
 1997 college statistics