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A stalwart starts again with Bucs

Doug Riesenberg was under the mistaken assumption that he led a normal life. The suburban home, the wife and two daughters and the steady work fooled him.

The world flowed so smoothly around him, it was easy for Riesenberg to forget he was beholden to the whims of the NFL.

For so long, he had avoided the typical maladies of a pro football player. He had spent nine years with one team and in one position. No holdouts, no serious injuries, no training-camp turk asking him to give up his playbook.

Which explains why he was caught by surprise when the phone call came a few months ago.

"It was very strange," Riesenberg said. "My wife and I were out running some errands, and when we came home I found out the Giants had called. They said either you take a big pay cut or we're going to release you."

Just like that, it was over. Riesenberg, 31, went from being a fixture on the New York Giants offensive line to being a fixer-upper on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line.

He could have stayed in New York, of course. He had, after all, started 115 of the past 116 games for the Giants. But the club no longer believed his skills warranted his $1.7-million salary. He probably could have remained a Giant for the same $700,000 deal he signed with Tampa Bay, but Riesenberg acknowledges that hurt feelings were at work.

"To put it on terms with everyone else in the world: You sign a contract for four years, you expect it to be honored. But a year later they want to change it," Riesenberg said. "I just had a little hard time dealing with that."

The Bucs had no problem dealing with Riesenberg's plight. Tampa Bay tried to sign him when he was a free agent two years ago, so the Bucs moved quickly to grab him this summer.

Riesenberg may have a few more dings these days, but he and Paul Gruber are the most accomplished players on the Bucs line.

"He's playing fine. Whether he is where he was five years ago I don't know. I don't know if any of us are what we were five years ago," Bucs offensive line coach Chris Foerster said.

"But if we felt he was on the downside, heading down, we wouldn't have signed him. He's still playing very well and can bring a lot to the club."

Specifically, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Riesenberg brings a run-blocker mentality to the Bucs. That fits nicely with coach Tony Dungy's plan to revamp the offense with a run-oriented attitude. The Bucs ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season (99.2).

Riesenberg was part of a Giants offensive line that helped pave the way to a Super Bowl XXV victory at Tampa Stadium with a crushing running attack.

"We were excited when he became available," Dungy said. "The fact that he is able to be here from Day 1 and get a feel for our system we think is going to help us. He's going to help us be able to run the ball."

The signing of Riesenberg also gives the Bucs much-needed depth on the line. Scott Dill, last year's right tackle, was waived to clear a space for Riesenberg on the line and under the salary cap. Dill was re-signed later at a lower salary and will move over to left guard, where he will challenge Jim Pyne.

Ironically, a big concern about Riesenberg could be his durability. Though he has 67 consecutive starts, he was banged up for much of 1995. Riesenberg says he feels great this year and should fare better on the natural grass of Tampa Stadium.

"I had a knee injury last year and I had never had one before, so that made it a strange season," he said. "I was feeling good and then _ bing! _ it was gone."

Riesenberg dismissed the notion that he is the critical piece in Tampa Bay's pursuit of a stronger running game. Though his position, right tackle, generally is the spot where bread-and-butter running plays are aimed, he said teamwork and play selection are far more important than any single lineman.

As for his impact, Riesenberg said he will continue doing what he has done for nine years.

"I look at some of these young guys coming in the league, 310 pounds and running a 4.8 in the 40. That's absolutely amazing," Riesenberg said.

"Somehow, I keep surviving. I don't know how, for sure. Maybe it's a bunch of little things. But I've hung in there. I've never been lucky enough to be voted to the Pro Bowl, so I don't think anyone else thinks I'm that good. But I think I've been effective enough to play for as long as I have."