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The Honeymooner: Spindler's missed

Free-agent defensive tackle Marc Spindler was the only significant no-show at June minicamp, but Spindler, a former Lion, has an excellent excuse _ he is out of the country on his honeymoon. Spindler originally was expected to attend the final week of the three-week minicamp but has not appeared, with only today's practice remaining.

"We thought he'd be here this week," coach Sam Wyche said Wednesday. "I don't know. Maybe I misunderstood. He said he would be back by this week, so he's got some catching up to do. But he worked here the whole off-season, every day, so condition-wise it won't be a problem.

"This is something I would take exception to if he'd been with us last year and knew this was coming. But we're not mad at him. He'll catch up."

No, Johnny, no

The Bucs remain interested in adding one more veteran tailback before the start of next month's training camp, but don't expect it to be recently released Jets running back Johnny Johnson.

Johnson, the Jets' leading rusher the past two seasons and team MVP in 1993, was let go Tuesday after repeated trade attempts failed. His contract _ $1.7-million in 1995 _ proved too difficult for the Jets to unload. As a free agent, Johnson probably will command a starter's salary in the neighborhood of $1.5-million, a figure Tampa Bay can't afford to pay a backup, general manager Rich McKay said.

At tailback, the Bucs feature 1,000-yard rusher Errict Rhett, backed up by veteran Vince Workman, who is in the final year of a three-year deal. Free agents Tiger McMillon, Bobby Joe Edmonds and Jerry Ellison round out the competition.

"If the market completely fell on him, we might be interested," McKay said. "But not at this level."

Johnson, 26, gained 931 yards last season, but New York this off-season obtained running back Ron Moore from Arizona in a deal involving Jets receiver Rob Moore. Johnson's agent, Jim Sims, says his client has interest in the Bucs, even if it's not mutual.

High on Harper

The Bucs saved the best for last at Wednesday's workout _ Hail Mary pass practice between quarterback Trent Dilfer and 6-foot-3 receiver Alvin Harper, the man Tampa Bay expects to go up with the best of them.

The trouble was coming down, however. Harper, a former Cowboy, failed to employ his landing gear on one bomb, resulting in a flat-out effort.

"We practiced dribbling Alvin Harper on his back there at the end of practice," Wyche said. "Alvin went up, but he didn't come down feet first. He landed flat on his back. He just got the breath knocked out of him. But I checked and he will live."

A leg to stand on

For the record, the new running backs coach is Kippy Brown. But for now it's Gimpy. The onetime University of Tennessee assistant is sporting a flexible brace on his right knee and walking with a cane after rupturing the patella tendon and cracking his knee cap while on vacation in Knoxville.

The injury occurred during a pickup basketball game last month involving Brown, his 20-year-old son, Jerome, and others. Brown must wear the brace another two weeks and use the cane until it becomes unnecessary.

Asked what his charges say to a running backs coach with one bad wheel, Brown joked: "They call me Gimp. That's about it."

_ DON BANKS

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