From Sapp to Rice, Tampa Bay has the personnel to do it again



The Buccaneers seem better equipped to remain at the top than their immediatepredecessors.
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Here's the scariest part about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after what they did in the playoffs and Super Bowl: They are bound to get better.
So much better, in fact, that their quarter-century of non-achievement could be erased by several years of championships.
The Bucs are not old on either side of the ball. Their very best players -- Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Keyshawn Johnson -- are in their primes. In Jon Gruden, they have an innovative mind who likely will make more huge strides with the offense. In Monte Kiffin, they have a resourceful coordinator who perfectly utilizes each of his defenders, the stars as well as the role players.
The salary cap is not a major issue, either.
Contagious
"This is just the start," Keyshawn Johnson said. "Now all I have to do is get another one [championship], because when you get it once, you want it twice. And when you get it twice, you want it three times.
"I'm already figuring out what we're going to do next year and who we're going to bring in to help us try to get back in the same position again."
The key addition this year was, of course, Gruden. He cost the Bucs two first-round draft choices, two second-rounders and $8 million. What he brought, aside from his offensive prowess, was a fiery demeanor that, it turns out, was the missing ingredient.
"His leadership is unbelievable," Johnson said of Gruden, who is just 39. "You don't always see a coach transfer from one team to the next, play that team in the championship and still win. Hats off to him. He's worth every penny."
And he's willing to spend a whole lot of pennies to make the Bucs even stronger. Gruden would like to find a deep threat at receiver, bolster the offensive line and come up with more speed in the backfield.
On defense, Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson and a couple other key players need to be re-signed, but the core of the league's best unit -- Sapp says the best ever -- will remain intact.
"We've got to take care of a bunch of our players and then we'd like to go out and get some other guys," Gruden said Monday. "Hey, you good guys out there, are you listening?"
Can't sit still
Gruden knows the Bucs can't sit still. Most championship teams get raided by other franchises. Look what happened to the Ravens and Rams in recent years.
The Bucs are smart, though. Since hiring Rich McKay as general manager in 1995, they've always improved their talent base. McKay not only is a shrewd executive, but the players like him.
They also like the warm weather in Tampa, and they proved in beating Chicago in the season finale and Philadelphia in the NFC championship game that the cold weather jinx is over.
"It's so awesome after what this franchise has been through," Lynch said. "I came here 10 years ago and we were the laughingstock of the league. We worked so hard to become a good team."
Now that they are there, the Bucs seem better equipped to remain there than the Rams, Ravens or Patriots, their predecessors at the top. Hey, St. Louis and New England didn't even make the playoffs this season.
"It's time to look ahead," Johnson said, "and the future looks very bright."
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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