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Dream depends on Dilfer, defense

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Their successful off-season nearly over, the 1995 Bucs soon must stop living off headlines and return to the sidelines.

Just how long their six-month winning streak continues depends largely on their quarterback and the men paid to make other quarterbacks' lives miserable.

"The two keys to me right now are how well or how quickly Trent (Dilfer) comes along, and how well or how quickly our defensive line comes along," coach Sam Wyche said this week, closing his team's three-week June minicamp. "Those two parts of the team are going to make a difference with everybody else.

"Trent had a very strong three weeks here. If you evaluate each practice session, he finished stronger than he started. From what we can judge, he's made the giant strides that he had to make in these three weeks. Now he needs to keep making giant strides."

Although Dilfer's ascension to franchise-quarterback status will be the preseason's primary question mark, Wyche knows the career resurrection of left end Eric Curry and the impact of defensive tackle Warren Sapp might well determine the story of the season as much as anything.

"Defensive line is the next (most important) thing, because if the defensive line is getting pressure on that quarterback, then I really feel good about our linebackers, and the secondary is really going to benefit," said Wyche, whose defense posted an NFL-low 20 sacks in 1994. "Off this (minicamp), our defensive line is going to be the best it has been in the four years I've been here. I see it really being strong."

As July dawns, all is typically upbeat. But this year the Bucs can count more blessings than usual. Curry has been drawing raves for his off-season dedication and recommitment to conditioning. Sapp, albeit without pads, has impressed Wyche with his grasp of the defense and footwork. Even Dilfer, his own harshest critic, has seen a layer of fog lift.

"I think the minicamp was an opportunity to take what I've learned in the classroom this off-season and apply it, and see how much I really did learn," Dilfer said. "I've been very pleased with the results, and have seen constant improvement in every area.

"My frustrations last year were that I could do anything in the classroom, then I'd go out on the field and blow up. This year, I can't do that."

Neither can the Bucs.

No June swoon: Wyche gave this week's minicamp format a thumbs up, noting a preference for three weeks of work in June rather than last year's four-week May schedule. He's hoping the benefit will be increased retention come training camp.

"The thing we learned last year, everything went well, but we left too much time between the end of this workout and the start of camp," Wyche said. "Some of the details fall away, but the key now is not to let too much of it fade away before we come back and start working again."

No ifs, ands or Bucs: He's not ready to issue any playoff guarantees (sorry, Sam), but Wyche is emphatic about this being his best Bucs team.

"This year we are at the point where we can have some things go wrong, and we've got a good enough team to overcome some things going wrong," Wyche said. "Whereas last year, obviously in retrospect we didn't overcome some things going wrong. So I hope we have improved that much, that we are now at a point we can play a whole season like we played the last six or eight games of last season."

Hail, yes: Armed with that self-deprecating wit that serves him well, Wyche this week looked ahead to this preseason's obvious highlight: his first return trip to Cincinnati (Aug. 11) since ending his eight-year tenure (1984-91) as Bengals head coach.

"I just hope the parade's not too extravagant up there," he said. "I've heard a lot of kids are having to miss some of their summer vacations to rejoin the high school band for my arrival."

Drawing the line: One of Wyche's attention-getters in minicamp was letting the players race one another in 40-yard dashes, by position. The 240-pound Dilfer took the quarterback race, but his 205-pound backup, Casey Weldon, disputed the results daily and called for a rematch, claiming the Bucs' 1994 No. 1 pick clearly jumped the gun.

Said Wyche: "It doesn't surprise me to hear that Trent cheated just a little bit on the start. I've played golf with the man, and he's a competitor. He wins a lot of matches on the first tee box."

Attention, campers: The next time the Bucs huddle it will mean business and the end of another off-season. A two-day, conditioning minicamp at One Buc Place will begin July 19, with the first training camp practice scheduled for the evening of July 21 at the University of Tampa.