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Summer will help forge new team

Coach Tony Dungy bounced off the practice field at One Buc Place at the end of the team's three-day rookie camp like he was walking on a hot stove. But while dehydrated players drenched themselves in water and peeled off their clothes as if on fire, Dungy stopped just short of the shady awning, spread his arms and took one last bath in the sun.

"Everybody told me about the heat, but it feels go-o-o-o-o-d," Dungy said. "So far, it's been nice and comfortable."

Hey, wait a minute. Wasn't this man supposed to be soft?

By the end of training camp, Dungy will destroy that myth and all the other excuses owners used to make him wait the past decade to become an NFL head coach.

Two-a-days and scrimmages against two of the league's taskmasters in Tom Coughlin at Jacksonville and Jimmy Johnson at Miami will greet Bucs players in the first 10 days of camp. By then, Dungy might have some answers to the five biggest questions surrounding the '96 season:

1. Will Trent Dilfer develop into a solid starting NFL quarterback?

No longer a whipping boy and free from the amusement-park mood swings of Sam Wyche, Dilfer acts and feels like a new man. Now he has to play like one. Dungy has had a calming effect on the entire team, but nobody will benefit more from his steady hand than Dilfer. A simpler numeric offensive system with a foundation built on a running game should allow Dilfer to blossom.

"I think most young quarterbacks do struggle," Dungy said. "I think the young quarterback that comes in and excels right away is the exception. I can only think of (Dan) Marino and maybe (Drew) Bledsoe early, but then last year he had a little bit of a tough time. It happens to most of them."

2. Will No. 1 picks Regan Upshaw and Marcus Jones have an impact on a defensive line that was last in sacks last season?

Not to tip their hand, but the Bucs can line up with four aces: No. 1's Eric Curry, Warren Sapp, Upshaw and Jones. But it's more likely Upshaw will be inserted for Curry at right defensive end on passing downs and Chidi Ahanotu will start at left end. Sapp and Jones will anchor the middle.

"I think we've got talented guys there," Dungy said. "What we have to see in the preseason and the regular season is if we can do it on a day-in, day-out basis."

3. How improved will the offensive line be, especially run blocking?

The addition of right tackle Doug Riesenberg could be huge. He may not have much left in the tank and is a candidate for injuries at this stage of his career, but at least now the team can go to its right. There still is a hole to fill at left guard, where 300-pound Stephen Ingram is battling smallish Jim Pyne.

4. Will running back Errict Rhett report to camp today or become a holdout?

At press time, Rhett and the Bucs still were renegotiating. But since he is under contract, Rhett will be fined if he is a no-show, and the team's offers will begin to be reduced.

"Errict's going to be a big part of what we're trying to do and we expect him to have a good year, so hopefully that situation will get resolved before Sunday," Dungy said.

5. What can we expect from a Dungy defense?

Aside from a mostly veteran linebacking corps, the Bucs are green at most positions. But unlike most head coaches, Dungy embraces youth. Producing turnovers and sacks has been the hallmark of his defenses, and this year will be no exception.