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D-Day: Dungy opens first camp with Bucs

This is the day that took forever to get here for Tony Dungy.

At 40, he still could hide behind the calendar, because few men are NFL head coaches at that tender age. Though he usually was in the running when those jobs opened, owners almost always hired someone of another race.

But as delayed as his arrival has been, the wait for someone like Dungy has been even longer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dungy is the fourth man to direct the Bucs in the 1990s, evidence enough to reward him with an eye-popping six-year, $3.6-million contract.

But consider the other three: Ray Perkins was an intimidator, Richard Williamson was in over his head and Sam Wyche played games with players' minds.

What the Bucs needed was the calming presence of Dungy, a steady hand to direct a team that has been rudderless during 13 straight losing seasons.

As Bucs players report to training camp today at the University of Tampa, the task facing Dungy is trying to change attitudes with his quietude.

"Hopefully, we'll be classy," Dungy said. "That's something that I would really want to instill as well."

Although he only has been on the job for five months, Dungy's handprints are all over One Buc Place.

Veteran players like Hardy Nickerson, who had grown sour during his four seasons in Tampa Bay and had no interest in re-signing until Dungy was hired, are rejuvenated and enthusiastic about the future.

"I know I'm excited with the new coaching staff and with Tony being here. It's just a refreshing feeling," Nickerson said. "It's something I haven't felt since I've been here.

"It's just a lot more positive. Everything is a lot more structured. There's no wasted motion or movements."

Dungy rarely screams at players, and his lack of self-promotion probably cost him a few jobs. But he gets his points across and has instant credibility with players. Nobody will benefit from Dungy's calming influence more than quarterback Trent Dilfer, who distrusted Wyche and eventually felt betrayed by him.

"I hate it when I'm hollered at or embarrassed in front of my teammates," Dilfer said. "I don't think most people respond well to that.

"Tony is somebody who can talk to you as a man. He can still criticize you, but it's done in a constructive and caring way. You know that the guy is on your side and wants you to succeed. And if that doesn't work for everybody, he's got assistants who can get in their face."

Dungy also is a realist. He knows he has inherited a team with a solid nucleus, but it is inexperienced at nearly every critical position and lacking in fundamentals.

"You're kind of humbled by where you're at," Dilfer said. "Sam had a way of making a 2-2 preseason feel like you were 10-0."

Anyone who thought Dungy is soft could be in for a surprise. The cushy evening workouts have been replaced by two-a-days in the heat.

After three days of practices, Dungy has a treat for his players: a 3{-hour bus ride to Jacksonville to twice sample the stalag camp of Jags coach Tom Coughlin, followed by a 3{-hour bus ride home arriving in Tampa before midnight. Six hours later, players will be awakened for breakfast and begin preparing for a full scrimmage at 9 a.m.

The next week, the Bucs practice three times in two days against the Dolphins before opening the preseason against them at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"I would like to think when we work, we'll work hard," Dungy said. "And when we rest, we'll rest long. The things I'm used to, I don't know how the players will consider them. It'll be physical, but it'll be fun. Fun physical."

Dungy has a laundry list of things to watch for in his first training camp.

"Trent has to come on. The development of our quarterbacks is crucial because we have four young quarterbacks and not everyone is in that same boat," he said. "I think there's going to be very good competition at the wide receiver slots. I think our linebacker corps is going to be very good, and I think we're going to have some competition for those backup spots. On the offensive line we've added some people and I think that's going to help us."

Apparently, no job is safe. Dungy has made that an anthem since he arrived and players are beginning to take him seriously. Jimmy Johnson makes headlines when he jettisons a player. Dungy won't be doing it to draw attention.

"You have to make everybody feel that every year you've got to prove yourself," Dungy said. "For this team, there is no track record. It's a different system, different coaches, different expectations. Everybody is basically starting over."

Everybody?

"Even at Hardy Nickerson's position. Hardy played great last year and in the past and we expect him to play great this year, but to say that Hardy Nickerson is going to be the starting middle linebacker is premature I think at this point. We're really going to evaluate it and see what happens in camp, and we've got to play the best guys and the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win."

When Dungy says this, you somehow believe him.

Bucs training camp

WHO: Eighty-two players will begin competing for 53 spots on the regular-season roster.

WHEN: Players report by 2 p.m. today. First workout is at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

WHERE: Pepin/Rood Stadium on the campus of the University of Tampa.

DAILY SCHEDULE: Workouts at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. are open to the public. The schedule is subject to change because of the weather.

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