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TV analysts differ on Dilfer

Tampa Bay, picked by some to make the Super Bowl, failed to reach the playoffs. The great expectations became great disappointments.

The cry on talk radio this week has been change: Get rid of quarterback Trent Dilfer, draft a hot-shot rookie passer, fire offensive coordinator Mike Shula, get Tony Dungy to yell at players.

Do something.

"I think people get a little frustrated with Tony because he's so even-keeled, and he's not often baited into bold or brash statements or making rash moves," said Mark Malone, a former Pittsburgh quarterback and host of ESPN2's NFL 2Night.

Observers such as Malone, CNN/SI's James Lofton and Fox's Bill Maas don't believe the team needs an overhaul. There is a variance in opinion, however, when it comes to quarterback.

Maas, an analyst on Fox's broadcast of the Cotton Bowl today, said all the pieces are in place for Tampa Bay to be a contender except one: quarterback.

"It's not Dilfer's physical ability," Maas said. "I just think he puts too much pressure on himself. He overanalyzes things and thinks too much. I think he came in this season and said, "I'm a Pro Bowl quarterback. I have these new receivers. I'm going to throw downfield a lot.' I think that hurt the team early on.

"What you have there _ ball-control offense, great defense, good coaching _ is the best formula for success there is, but you need a quarterback who makes the plays the rest of the offense creates for him. Trent hasn't been able to do that on a consistent basis, and that's been their biggest problem."

Lofton also sees the passing game as a weakness, but he said the answer is giving Dilfer time to develop chemistry with the new receivers.

"They definitely need to improve their passing game, but scrapping Shula and Dilfer is not the answer," Lofton said. "What they need is continuity. They need a full year to work with them. They went out and got new receivers and as soon as they got them, they all broke down like old Christmas toys. Those guys need to stay healthy."

Like Maas, Malone said the offense is a tale of two halves. In the first half, it struggled with the passing game because it constantly was trying to throw downfield on what he calls the most difficult pass in football _ the play-action deep ball.

"As the season went along, they got better because they started spreading the offense out, putting Warrick Dunn in the slot and getting rid of the ball quicker," Malone said. "That was much more productive. They started to find an identity late in the season.

"I know there's not a lot of people who believe in Trent, but I'm one of the people out there who believes this guy has started to turn the corner. His approach to the football game and his job is like night and day from past seasons. His mechanics and footwork are much better than I've seen before and I think he can only get better. He has a bright future."

Malone also cautioned against having a rookie replace Dilfer because there is no guarantee he would be better, and even if he were, it would be three to four years before he truly understood the game.

Lofton also has hope for Dilfer, but he certainly sees room for improvement in a quarterback who completed only 52 percent of his passes.

"He's got to be at least 60 percent," Lofton said. "He's got to make all the easy throws _ those you should be at 80 percent on, and the tough throws he should be at least 50 percent.

"He needs to not be so hurried. He needs to believe a guy is going to work his way open. Occasionally, on a deeper throw, he would just launch it and hope that somebody would come up with it instead of really throwing to the area where the guy would be running to."

Maas said a quarterback change would not be a reaction to the 8-8 season but a well-crafted decision coming from analysis of Dilfer since Dungy arrived in 1996. He said keeping Dilfer or exploring another option _ rookie or veteran _ will be the toughest decision of Dungy's career.

"Tony is at a crossroads," Maas said. "The future of the Bucs, and the future of Tony Dungy rests on this decision. He's worried about the history down there (of losing future stars Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Chris Chandler).

"But I don't believe Trent Dilfer is one of those guys. You think about those guys down there, they failed because they didn't have a team around them. The Bucs have everything else around (Trent).

"If you make a change, you gotta live with it and you gotta be right."

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