SR's Fab Five

October 4 - This week we are pulling SR's Fab Five from beyond the Insiders Pass premium wall to give Bucs fans a preview of my weekly column. Hope you enjoy and wish to subscribe to get similar articles offering Buc Mag's inside info, insight and analysis. The Bucs have passed more than they have rushed, gone are the days of power "O", Keyshawn is getting the damn ball, Dave Moore is missing in action and all is getting back to normal in the world. Here's another edition of SR's Fab Five.

Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

1. Not too impressed with the re-vamped Tampa Bay offense after generating four field goals and only two touchdowns in two games against teams (Dallas and Minnesota) with a combined 1-5 record? Me neither. The Bucs have moved the ball virtually at will down the field, but why have they failed to convert trips to the red zone into touchdowns?

It could be a lot of things. It could be new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen's rookieness. It could be the fact that the newness of the offense has not yet worn off, especially with a brand new quarterback in Brad Johnson. But my instinct tells me that this offense has yet to find an identity - much the same as it did last year under Les Steckel.

For years, the predictable Bucs offense consisted of power running with a straight-ahead blocking scheme as well a play-action passing game. This was the Mike Shula approach, full of flaws and predictablity, but at least the Bucs offense had a ground zero - something to turn to as a base. It's hard to determine what will become of the Bucs offense through two weeks of action. But here's what we do know, in their two games, 49 rushes and 68 pass attempts.

I'm all for opening up the offense, but the usually present running game wasn't too effective against Dallas and was absent against Minnesota. The Bucs only had 16 rushes against the Vikings. Tampa Bay only trailed Dallas by three points during one quarter in the season opener, and the Bucs never trailed by double digits against Minnesota, yet they passed the ball like crazy. Is this the Bucs' new identity? Time will tell, and Warrick Dunn's injury may hamper and delay the offense's quest for that new true identity.

2. Were you expecting the Bucs to turn to Mike Alstott to handle the entire rushing load in Warrick Dunn's absence? Well, the coaching staff is going to go with a rushing-by-committee approach instead - with Alstott slated for a few more carries than Rabih Abdullah and Aaron Stecker. Why? Several reasons.

First, believe it or not, Alstott is the best blocking fullback on the team with the season-ending injury to Charles Kirby during training camp. This puts the Bucs in a precarious position. If Alstott were chosen as the primary ballcarrier, his lead blocker would be rookie Jameel Cook or converted tailback Rabih Abdullah. I think Alstott would be the ideal player to shoulder the load while Dunn's sprained foot heals, but more than likely, he will be called on to block while some of the more unproven ballcarriers such as Abdullah or Stecker tote the leather.

Another reason why the Bucs may be more apt to give Stecker and Abdullah more of an opportunity than Alstott is that they are quicker into the hole and faster once they've gotten through it. With the departure of guards Jorge Diaz and Frank Middleton, who were little more than maulers, and Pro Bowl center Tony Mayberry, who outweighed current center Jeff Christy by over 30 pounds, the Bucs don't have the interior personnel to run power football with the success that they had in 1997 and 1998.

Right guard Cosey Coleman is a 300-pounder with great strength, but for all practical purposes is a rookie. Christy and Randall McDaniel weigh in the 280s, and are finesse blockers imported from Minnesota where the emphasis was always on the pass. They thrive by angle blocking, which the Bucs offensive line incorporated last year upon their arrival.

But in third-and-short situations when the Bucs go to a double tight end set and the line splits (the gap between offensive linemen) shrink, the splits for the defensive linemen virtually disappear as the outside linebackers usually come up and cover up the tight ends. The result? No angle blocking opportunities for the offensive linemen. It's mano-a-mano and may the strongest and the most girth win. For players like Christy and McDaniel, unless they use proper technique, they won't get any surge off the line, and sometimes proper technique still isn't enough.

Look for the A-Train to get more carries, but it won't be the same type of smashmouth football as it was in 1997 and 1998.

3. Even after two games, Bucs fans are already questioning offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen's play-calling, especially in the red zone. The Bucs only have two touchdowns after several trips to the red zone against Dallas and Minnesota. One of the missing ingredients in the Bucs' typical offensive attack inside opponents' 20-yard line is tight end Dave Moore.

Moore has yet to catch a pass this year, but has been the team's most reliable red zone weapon with almost all of his 20 career touchdowns coming inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Granted, with more talented options such as Keyshawn Johnson, Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Jacquez Green to throw to, Moore is the team's fifth offensive option on most plays. But Christensen, the team's tight ends coach from 1996-98 should know how valuable Moore can be in helping the team score touchdowns, let alone move the chains with a catch or two on third down.

4. Despite the sluggishness of the offense inside the red zone, the Bucs have done a decent job moving the ball this year through two games, especially through the air. Keyshawn Johnson is getting the ball with great regularity - averaging seven catches per game - which is something that both he and the team are happy about.

Thus far, Johnson has totalled 14 catches for 167 yards, and even though it's early, he is on pace to record 112 receptions for 1,336 yards this season - both of which would be Buccaneer records.

There were times when former offensive coordinator Les Steckel would almost forget about Johnson in games and let a player whom the Bucs invested two number one draft picks and tens of millions of dollars not be used properly. Christensen is living up to the promise of getting KJ the ball with more frequency and the passing game is thriving because of it.

5. Is it time to panic, Bucs fans, after Sunday's loss to the Vikings and a 1-1 start - even though most pundits and prognosticators felt like Tampa Bay should have easily triumphed over Minnesota? No, certainly not when the Bucs haven't even had their home opener yet.

I asked several players about the challenges of playing on the road, regardless of the opponent, as compared to playing at home. Almost all of which said the main goal is to win all 16 games, but the realistic goal for all NFL teams is to win all home games (8-0) and split the games on the road (4-4). The players and front office people I spoke with would forgo the season and take a 12-4 record right now.

The reality is that the so far, the Bucs have split their road games and have yet to play a home game. If the Bucs can't prevail over the unbeaten Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium's home opener, should you then panic? Perhaps.


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