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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rushing load falls on Dunn

Warrick Dunn runs for some of his 115 yards against Carolina on Oct. 12, the last time a Buc surpassed 100 yards.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Warrick Dunn runs for some of his 115 yards against Carolina on Oct. 12, the last time a Buc surpassed 100 yards.

TAMPA — Warrick Dunn was bundled up like a downhill skier in a snowstorm Wednesday. Heavy sweatshirt and pants. Wool cap. All he needed was a St. Bernard with a brandy cask.

Temperatures dipped into the mid 40s for the morning walk-through. But you can't blame Dunn for wanting to warm up quickly. The 33-year-old running back is being counted on to be the furnace that heats the Bucs' ground game.

Earnest Graham was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a high ankle sprain. Cadillac Williams hasn't taken a handoff in 14 months because of a knee injury and could be inactive again Sunday at Detroit. And rookie Clifton Smith has lost a fumble in all three games he has played.

Fortunately for the Bucs, they can turn to Dunn, a 12-year veteran with 10,657 career yards.

But how much punishment can the 5-foot-9, 187-pounder take? Don't sell him short.

"I feel all right," Dunn said. "I'm not … slow to get out of bed or regretting the possibility of touching the ball that many times. Actually, I think because of how the season went — going from sharing time with Earnest — if I have to carry the ball a little bit more in the second half of the year. … It's only what? Six games? So I can do that."

Dunn proved he still has the goods to be a featured back, rushing 22 times for 115 yards in a 27-3 win over the Panthers on Oct. 12.

But that was the last time a Buc reached the century mark.

Injuries to fullbacks B.J. Askew, who missed six games with a hamstring pull, and Byron Storer, out for the season with a torn ACL, have contributed. Opponents also have stacked the line of scrimmage with as many as eight players.

The result is a rushing offense that has dropped from seventh in the NFL to 14th at 115.1 yards per game.

"We're still going to have to be able to run against an eight-man front," center Jeff Faine said. "It's something you're going to have to do in playoff football, especially the way things are going. To go deep into the playoffs, it looks like we're going to have to be able to go up north and win."

That's why coach Jon Gruden said he feels fortunate to have a player such as Dunn, who this season has rushed for 476 yards (4.4-yard average) and caught 26 passes for 207 yards.

"Warrick's got the ability to play in every situation," Gruden said. "He relishes this time. He knows the team needs him to step up. You need somebody at that position to be comfortable in every situation. Fortunately, Warrick is that."

Sunday, Dunn rushed for 53 yards (on 20 carries) to surpass Ricky Watters for 19th all time.

"If you've got more yards rushing than Ricky Watters, you're a superstar. You're a Hall of Famer," said Gruden, who coached Watters as the Eagles' offensive coordinator from 1995-97.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, Dunn won't get much help with Graham lost for the season. Williams might not play because he can't contribute on special teams. That's why the Bucs signed former Packers running back Noah Herron on Wednesday.

The Bucs also haven't settled on a short-yardage back. Dunn said he made a bad read in that situation Sunday against the Vikings because he hadn't practiced those situations.

What will help Dunn on Sunday is knowing he has the whole game to get untracked. Thus, he can be more patient.

"You don't have to force anything. It'll just come," Dunn said. "I can take the 2 and 3 yards instead of always trying to make the 6-, 7-, 8-yard runs. So I can take those small runs and hope from what I see that can translate into something bigger in the game. I just have to stay patient."

Dunn has been in this situation before, especially in Tampa Bay, on those rare occasions when Mike Alstott missed games with an injury.

"I don't know what our offensive plan is," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "I just know when 28 gets the ball, he's going to try to make something happen."

fast facts

Elite company

Warrick Dunn is poised to become one of the few players with 10,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions:

Yards Rec.

Marcus Allen 12,243 587

Tiki Barber 10,449 586

Marshall Faulk12,279 767

Emmitt Smith18,355 515

Warrick Dunn10,657 489

Note: LaDainian Tomlinson (11,336 yards) has 494 catches.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rushing load falls on Dunn 11/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 7:45pm]

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