Bucs News And Notes: Thursday

December 26 – Which three Tampa Bay players should feel right at home when they take the field in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday night? Are the Bucs concerned about Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp's lack of production over the last seven games? Can the Bucs finally win in cold weather? Which two Tampa Bay players were voted Player of the Year by NFL Alumni on Thursday? PewterReport.com has the answers to these questions and more in this notebook full of news and notes from One Buccaneer Place.

BROOKS, RICE WIN NFL ALUMNI AWARDS:
NFL Alumni, which is made up of former National Football League players, voted 10 current players and one coach as 2002 NFL Alumni Player of the Year honorees on Thursday and two Tampa Bay Buccaneers were among the 10 honorees.

Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and right defensive end Simeon Rice were both named Player of the Year by NFL Alumni on Thursday afternoon.

Brooks, who was voted to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl last week, was named NFL Linebacker of the Year. Brooks set a new franchise record with four defensive touchdowns, three on interception returns and one on a fumble return. Brooks leads the Bucs' defense in tackles with 159 and he has also recorded a sack, four interceptions, one fumble recovery and 14 passes defensed.

Rice, who was also voted to the Pro Bowl last week, was named NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year. Rice leads the NFC in sacks with 15.5. In the months of November and December, Rice set a new NFL record by recording two or more sacks in five consecutive games. Rice has recorded a career-high 73 tackles this season along with one interception, six forced fumbles and 11 passes defensed.

Before Thursday's announcement, Tampa Bay had only had one player voted Player of the Year by NFL Alumni. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber was named Defensive Back of the Year last season after recording a league-high 10 interceptions.

"They've had great years," Gruden said of Brooks and Rice. "They're great leaders here. Both those guys represent what this franchise is all about. I'm proud of those men and hopefully they can continue to play at that level for years and years to come."

PewterReport.com has listed the entire 2002 NFL Alumni Player of the Year selections:

OFFENSE

Quarterback—Rich Gannon (Oakland Raiders)
Running Back—Priest Holmes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Wide Receiver—Marvin Harrison (Indianapolis Colts)
Tight End—Bubba Franks (Green Bay Packers)
Offensive Lineman—Jonathan Ogden (Baltimore Ravens)

DEFENSE

Defensive Lineman—Simeon Rice (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Pass Rusher—Jason Taylor (Miami Dolphins)
Linebacker—Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Defensive Back—Patrick Surtain (Miami Dolphins)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special Teams Player— Michael Lewis (New Orleans Saints)
Coach—Andy Reid (Philadelphia Eagles)

CAN BUCS END EMBARASSING LOSING STREAK IN COLD WEATHER?:
As most Tampa Bay fans know by now, the Buccaneers are 0-21 in games where the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees.

But most Bucs players are not as focused on that disturbing statistic as the media and fans are.

"You never know what the weather is going to be like, you've just got to win," said Brooks. "In my opinion it's more of a mental thing than anything else. You only get wired in on winning and no matter where you play, if you play well you are going to win."

There are several players in Tampa Bay's locker room that used to play in colder temperatures quite often, so they're not really dwelling on what the weather will be like come Sunday night.

"I've played in colder games than what it's going to be Sunday," said Bucs left tackle Roman Oben, who played for Cleveland and the New York Giants before joining Tampa Bay. "We'll kind of take the Eskimo approach; they know it's going to be cold everyday so they don't really worry about it."

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said his team will lose Sunday if they focus more on the weather than the 4-11 Bears.

"If we're saying we can't win a playoff game on the road where it's cold, then we damn sure can't win in Chicago because we know it's going to be cool in Champaign," Gruden said sarcastically. "I think that's for mentally weak people, personally. I think that's an excuse and hogwash. If we even bend to those standards we're going to become distracted a find a way to lose the game."

And for the inquiring minds that want to know, the forecast in Champaign, Illinois is calling for a high of 47 degrees and a low of 37 degrees on Sunday, which means the temperature at game time will be floating right around the 40-degree mark.

THREE BUCS SHOULD FEEL RIGHT AT HOME IN CHAMPAIGN:
While Sunday's game at Champaign, Illinois will be the first for most of Tampa Bay's team, three Buccaneers know Memorial Stadium quite well.

While Soldier Field undergoes renovations, the Bears have played all of its 2002 home games in the University of Illinois' home stadium. They're 3-4 in Memorial Stadium this season.

That's where defensive end Simeon Rice, fullback Jameel Cook and tight end Ken Dilger played while they attended the University of Illinois. Needless to say, they're all looking forward to playing in Champaign again on Sunday.

"It's no different than any other stadium," Rice said of Memorial Stadium in Champaign. "It's just where I started so it's historic for me because it's the field I began playing on early in my career and it helped me stage what I am doing now. To be able to go back there and play in front of the fan base, the teachers, the professors and the people I played in front of is an honor for me.

"For me, it's euphoric, it's a dream come true to be able to go back to the stadium that I feel like I built. There are certain intangibles to go back where you started from. I'm not from Champaign, but I am from Champaign in a sense and to go back and play there is an honor for me."

Rice only needs one sack to tie Tampa Bay's franchise record for sacks recorded in a single-season, which is held by Warren Sapp (16.5 in 2000). Rice said he's looking forward to finishing the 2002 season strong in the stadium he practically started playing football in.

"I've got a few tickets to get, but it goes with the circumstances," Rice said. "To go back and finish strong in the place I started out at, the place that gave me my springboard, the first place that gave me my national stage, I look forward to go back and show and represent what I am about now and play with my enthusiasm and get this win."

Dilger played his last game at Illinois in 1994. While he's looking forward to playing there again, Dilger said it would be strange to dress in the visitors' locker room.

"It's going to be fun," said Dilger. "I haven't stepped on that field since I left in '94. I thought I would never step on that field again as a player. I have a lot of great memories there and it's a great stadium. The town of Champaign is still a fun city to go to college in.

"It's going to be a little strange getting dressed in the visitors locker room. I know it's not very big or very plush."

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, WARREN?:
Tampa Bay defensive under tackle Warren Sapp has disappeared in the sack column.

Sapp is in a slump, failing to record a sack in the last seven games. In fact, the last time Sapp recorded a sack was against Carolina on October 27, when Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl defensive tackle brought down Carolina rookie quarterback Randy Fasani on the first play of the game.

Sapp has obviously missed Bucs nose tackle Anthony McFarland, who was able to free Sapp up by drawing double teams for the first seven games of the season before fracturing his forearm against the Panthers on Oct. 27. Sapp has recorded eight sacks this season and all of them came in the first eight games of the regular season.

Despite Sapp's disturbing lack of production in terms of sacks, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he has been disruptive in the trenches lately.

"I think there's a lot of ways to measure production at the defensive tackle position," said Gruden. "Warren has been as disruptive as he's ever been. His sack total maybe in the last five or six weeks and tackle total may not be what were accustomed to. He's playing extremely well inside and I think the scouting reports people have on him will say the same thing. He's just got to keep playing and keep flying around in there and good things will happen."

GET BLITZED FRIDAY FROM 5:00-6:00 PM:
Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds' weekly radio show on 620 WDAE – "Buccaneer Blitz" – was postponed last Wednesday due to the holiday. But the show has been rescheduled for Friday, December 27 from 5:00-6:00 p.m. ET.

Join Reynolds and 620 WDAE afternoon host Steve Duemig for at least one hour of hard-hitting and in-depth analysis on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Reynolds and Duemig will discuss the Bucs' 17-7 loss to the Steelers and they'll preview Tampa Bay's upcoming game against Chicago.


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