Gruden Hopes to Keep Dunn in Tampa Bay

February 20 – Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden has big plans for running back Warrick Dunn, but before Gruden can give Dunn the ball, both he and management will have to hand him a new contract. Dunn will become an unrestricted free agent on Mar. 1 and he has expressed little interest in returning to Tampa. Will Gruden's arrival give Dunn a change of heart?

Tampa Bay's new head coach has taken a liking to running back Warrick Dunn, but Jon Gruden and management will have to find a way to get Dunn back in a Buccaneer uniform next season since he will become an unrestricted free agent on Mar. 1.

No one is quite sure what Gruden's offensive philosophy will be in Tampa, but Gruden made it no secret that Dunn (5-9, 180) was the type of player he would like to fit into his diverse style of offense.

"Our philosophy is very simple," said Gruden. Our philosophy is to do whatever we have to do to win. If we can run the ball every single play and if we feel like a defense is vulnerable, we'll do that. We like to be versatile, we like to be creative and we like to distribute the ball evenly, get some balance in terms of our attack, a lot of personnel groupings. There are some plays and formations, maybe that we'll try to mix up on a weekly basis. I think it's a fun offense, honestly. To have a guy like Warrick Dunn that can line up in any eligible position and make plays are certainly the kind of guys that I get excited about."

Dunn has shared running duties with fullback Mike Alstott on Tampa Bay's offense since the Buccaneers selected him in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft out of Florida State University. While Dunn has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice in his five years as a pro, he and Alstott had a tough time coexisting under Tony Dungy's offenses.

Dunn spent most of the 2001 season trying to play through a nagging toe injury, and didn't really put up the type of numbers that would support his demands for a huge contract out on the free agent market. While teams will not be impressed with Tampa Bay's 30th ranked rushing offense last season, the Buccaneers, who are approximately $9.4 million over the salary cap, may still not be able to afford to bring Dunn back.

Dunn didn't express much interest in returning to Tampa before Dungy was fired, but will Gruden's arrival stop Dunn from walking the Pewter Pirates' plank?

"I've had a tendency in my past to really study football," said Gruden. "I try to study offensive schemes and try to find a way to get an edge, and Warrick Dunn is an edge. He's a guy that can make plays-creative plays, in a lot of different spots. You can use him as a receiver, motion him out of the backfield, as a return man. He can handle it inside congested areas and he has breakaway speed. So, he's got all of the criteria any offensive coach is looking for. I just look forward to meeting him and hopefully we can work something out."

Gruden feels two running backs can coexist in the same backfield. During his four-year tenure with Oakland, Gruden had an effective two-back offensive set with running backs Napoleon Kaufman and Tyrone Wheatley, and then Wheatley and Charlie Garner after Kaufman retired.

Gruden will not make many promises in terms of Dunn and Tampa Bay's running game, but he does promise to put the best players on the field.

"It's going to have to be looked at," said Gruden. "It's going to be something that I obviously raise my hand and fight for. Can Mike Alstott be a fullback? Can he be a split-back fullback? I don't know. We're going to try to creatively get our best guys out on the field."

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