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Will he be Sam the man or the sham?

This time last year, Alvin Harper was a Cowboy, Tampa Stadium seemed forever, we'd barely heard of PSLs, Warren Sapp was a Hurricane, we hadn't encountered Malcolm Glazer, Trent Dilfer was an unsigned rookie, Floyd Peters was Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, Rusty Tillman wasn't, Derrick Brooks was a Seminole, Hardy Nickerson and Jackie Harris and Courtney Hawkins hadn't been injured, Craig Erickson was a Buc and Hugh Culverhouse was alive.

Tampa Bay and its perpetually embarrassing NFL franchise have experienced 12 months of evolution overload. Bottom line on the changes: unquestionably positive. I say that in spite of September through December, when the Bucs went 6-10 to perpetuate their long-running W-and-L ugliness.

Maybe I'm coming down with SDD, the contagious Summer Delirium Disease. But with training camp just four sweaty weeks away, I'm feeling far, far, far more positive about the Bucs, their ways, their means and their possibilities.

It could be because I just floated out of Sam Wyche's office. Sam can be a con man. He can oversell.

But there was no wand in amateur magician Wyche's hand as Tampa Bay's head coach proclaimed his 1995 roster as the "best team this community has had since John McKay coached the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game in 1979."

Where do I plunge? Look, I'm no rookie at limb-climbing. But put me down for a thumb's up. I'm picking Tampa Bay to go 10-6 and make the playoffs. The Bucs haven't gone 10-6 since 1979.

Okay, let's hear it, Sam.

Why will 1995 be absolutely, positively better than the Bucs' last 12 records of 2-14, 6-10, 2-14, 2-14, 4-11, 5-11, 5-11, 6-10, 3-13, 5-11, 5-11 and 6-10?

"A coach can get fired doing things his way, but I think we're going to get in under the wire. Our first Bucs season (1992) was a hodgepodge. Things turned out to be worse off than I'd anticipated. We had some problem guys. I love Vinny Testaverde and think he's quarterbacking well in Cleveland. But it became clear it wasn't going to work out here.

"By our second season, you could see players understanding where we were, where we were as a team and where we were trying to go. They began analyzing themselves. I kept weeding out.

"The tragedy of our third season was that it should've been an exciting upturn. But everything had to go right. No margin for error. It damaged us when (tight end) Harris and (linebacker) Nickerson got hurt. We should've gone 8-8 or better. We all know that. Seattle, New Orleans and Detroit were pivotal games that we should've won. But the cold fact is, we went 6-10.

"Let's get to 1995. Our college draft looks marvelous. Warren Sapp has Pro Bowl abilities. At 290 pounds, he's pure speed. Sapp's attitude and everything else is sensational. Our defense needed a personality, and Warren brings that, too.

"Derrick Brooks looks tremendous at right outside linebacker, the side opposite from where opposing tight ends line up. Linebackers there need to be great runners. Derrick can really motor. He's also strong, 230 pounds and as smart a football player as you'll see. Linebacker won't be a deep position but it's going to be good with Nickerson, Lonnie Marts, Brooks and Demetrius DuBose.

"We have new coaching enthusiasm in defensive coordinator Rusty Tillman. Floyd Peters was a fine coach who'll do well with the Los Angeles or Oakland Raiders, but last season our defense seemed to be getting stale.

"Tillman and I played together in Washington. The man is a lit fuse. Our defense will be motivated. Key to everything is the line. Eric Curry is in the best shape I've seen. He and Santana Dotson have to reach new levels of QB pressuring. If the DL does its job, our secondary will be fine. We've got numbers back there this season. But our linemen can't hang the DBs out to dry by not excelling on pass rushes."

Sam, Sam whoa!

I'm running low on space.

Give us some offensive paragraphs, led by an assessment of Dilfer, the quarterback who must produce if the Bucs are to approach a giddy record, like 10-6.

"Craig Erickson did good work for us last season," Wyche continued, "but we couldn't keep him while picking Trent as our starter. Craig will do well in Indianapolis. I totally believe Dilfer will become outstanding. Just give him a little time to grow into the job; maybe even a little patience.

"Dilfer will probably have his sour moments in exhibitions. Maybe a bad interception here and there. But the good stuff is coming. Trent has size, talent, arm, smarts and attitude. His off-season program has been exemplary: on the field, in the film room, at the chalkboard.

"Our offensive line really has me excited. Those men have worked together three or four years now. They're all big enough, strong enough, quick enough and smart enough. I've seen some terrific NFL offensive lines and Tampa Bay should be about to have one. All this will make Errict Rhett an even better tailback.

"Now let's talk pass receivers. We're going to use a lot of two tight-end formations. Harris is 100 percent again. What a great downfield threat. Tyji Armstrong is close to the best blocking tight end in the league.

"Then you get to our wide receivers, including the deep threat of Harper that everybody remembers from Dallas, but also the wonderful depth we have with Lawrence Dawsey, Courtney Hawkins, Charles Wilson, Horace Copeland, Lamar Thomas and also Tyree Davis, who looks so much more imposing after spending time in the World League."

That's it.

Out of space, Sam.

There will be no 6-10 this season, or there will be no more Sam Wyche. He knows that, you know it and I know it. But put me down for 10-6 and Sam lives on. "I really love the Tampa Bay area," he said. "Love living here and coaching football here; want to die here; but not too soon, please."

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