Dunn is Hurting the Bucs Offense, and Himself

December 10 – Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn has been playing on an injured foot since Week 3, and he has continued to hinder both the Buccaneers offense and his value when he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Is it time for Dunn to be deactivated and rest his injured toe for a game or two while FB Mike Alstott carries Tampa Bay's running game? A closer look at Tampa Bay's running attack is in order for this free installment of Flynn's Focus.

Have the Buccaneers seen enough of RB Warrick Dunn in Tampa Bay's rushing attack? Buccaneer Magazine wrote about Dunn's running woes last week, and after the Bucs-Lions game concluded on Sunday, his mediocre numbers continued to get worse.

Dunn has rushed a total of 125 times this season and 42 (33.6 percent) of those have gone for no gain or a loss.

In Dunn's last two games, he has carried the ball 26 times for 45 yards (1.7 avg.). He has also been stopped eight times for a loss and four times for no gain in those two games.

In his defense, Dunn is running behind a very inconsistent and below average offensive line. Tampa Bay's running game is ranked 30th in the NFL and only the 1-11 Carolina Panthers are ranked worse than the Bucs.

Dunn has been hampered by a nagging toe injury since Week 3 this season, and it's obviously affected his play. If this were any other season, perhaps Dunn would be on the sideline healing. But Dunn just happens to be in a contract year. He will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he was supposed to show Tampa Bay that he could be a feature back in the NFL. Right now, Dunn is having a hard time proving he can get back to the line of the scrimmage on a consistent basis, never mind carry the Bucs' running game.

"The only thing I can do right now is rest," said Dunn. "But I can't rest right now. I have to play."

But at this rate, Dunn is doing nothing but hurting Tampa Bay's offense and decreasing his value for when he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Dunn's partner in crime, FB Mike Alstott, is averaging a respectable 4.0 yards per carry and has scored eight touchdowns this season. The A-Train has already proven he can be an effective running back in Tampa Bay's offense with FB Jameel Cook as his lead blocker, but offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and Co. have remained stubborn and continue to rush Dunn.

This is just an idea, not a solution to Tampa Bay's running woes. But it might be a way for the Bucs to make emends in the running game. Why not rest Dunn for a game or two and feature Alstott and RB Aaron Stecker in the running game? Christensen proved he could use Stecker as a third-down back in place of Dunn against Minnesota in Week 7. In that game, Stecker rushed eight times for 30 yards (3.8 avg.). Like Dunn, Stecker was more effective in the passing game as a third-down back, where he caught two passes for 51 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown on a screen pass.

While Dunn is struggling on the ground, he has been effective in the passing game. Dunn has caught 57 passes for 469 yards and two touchdowns. He is a very dangerous weapon coming out of the Bucs backfield, and Tampa Bay would certainly miss him if he were out of the line up. But Stecker might be able to fill in as a third-down back while Dunn heals.

Odds are the Buccaneers will not even think about deactivating Dunn. Christensen and Dungy will probably continue to rely on Dunn to carry a woeful running game on his healthy foot while they hope their offensive line will somehow start to resemble one sometime soon.

"We're probably going to look at everything," said Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. "We're going to try to come up with a way to make it work. Whether it's spreading people out for Warrick (Dunn) or whether it's playing him behind Jameel (Cook). We've got to get him (Dunn) a little more room. But we have to get both of Mike and Warrick going down the stretch."

A healthy Warrick Dunn could serve the Tampa Bay offense, and himself better in the long run, but unfortunately, politics will probably not allow that to happen.

Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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