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Bucs' course: pass fail?

" ... The hardest thing for me after a scrimmage (against Miami) like that is now I have to deal this week with the questions," QB Trent Dilfer says.

Just minutes after his lackluster performance in Saturday's scrimmage against the Miami Dolphins, Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer began steeling himself for the scrutiny that was sure to come on Monday.

Entering his sixth season, Dilfer knew the three interceptions against the Dolphins would spring up like weeds this week, threatening the optimism coach Tony Dungy is trying to cultivate during the team's training camp at the University of Tampa.

"I told someone on the bus that the hardest thing for me after a scrimmage like that is now I have to deal this week with the questions," Dilfer told reporters Monday. "Not that the questions are wrong, but you have to deal with them. It would have been nice for this week to have been like last week when no one wants to talk to you. That was the highlight of my life.

"Hopefully next week, I'll play great and you guys won't want to talk to me."

Dungy and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen have a heightened sense of urgency about the offense's preseason performance because they want to get off to a good start. General manager Rich McKay is hoping the added attention will be a positive for Dilfer.

"He is a guy who is always going to be under scrutiny and until he gets over these barriers, which really for a quarterback means you almost have to go to the Super Bowl," McKay said. "He understands that. I think he'd be the first to tell you that."

The approach on Monday by Dilfer was to acknowledge the criticism without fretting over it. Dilfer insisted he will worry only about what he can control. He conceded his effort against Miami _- 7-for-13 for 78 yards _ was not inspiring, but the success he had leading up to the scrimmage has tempered that disappointment.

In practices here and against the Dolphins Friday in Davie, the Bucs' passing game looked good with a number of key completions downfield. Jacquez Green has 10 touchdowns in workouts, so Dilfer said he remains upbeat.

"I think the best thing about it is watching on the film, it's easily correctable things," Dilfer said. "The more reps you get the better you get because playing quarterback a lot of it is feel. You lose your feel for six months. My mind works faster than my instincts in training camp. It takes a couple of weeks for them to catch up.

"If there hadn't been any good things, I would be in bad shape, but there's actually a lot of light at the end of the tunnel."

Dilfer's detractors, however, believe that light may be another train if he remains in control. Backup Eric Zeier undoubtedly fueled the criticism of Dilfer by completing 5 of 10 for 61 yards and the team's only touchdown.

Zeier is seen as the first legitimate threat to Dilfer's starting position since Dungy became coach in 1996, but Dilfer said he's not bothered by the presence of the fifth-year veteran.

"Maybe," Dilfer said when asked if Zeier was brought here to push him for the starting job. "I stopped last year trying to figure things out. I'm happy Eric's here. He's been a good friend so far. I expect him to go out and play the best he can and try to show off. That's what I would do if I was in his position.

"I push myself hard enough so I don't have to be pushed by another player. I know our coaches know that, I know that, but that's not to say he shouldn't try to do it."

Of all the pressure on Dilfer, he said the greatest is coming from within. In the off-season, he worked on a number of fundamentals and did a lot of jogging and cross-training to trim down to 225 pounds, his lowest weight since he was a sophomore in high school.

Saturday's game against Cleveland will be another chance for Dilfer and the offense to show they can produce, and he said they will take full advantage of it.

"I'm excited because I know we're better, and I know we're going to do a lot of neat things on offense this year," Dilfer said. "I believe, and I haven't heard this from Tony, but I believe he's going to give us every opportunity on Saturday as a first group to get some things going.

"It doesn't mean it's going to happen on the first series or the second series, but I think through the course of the first part of the game we're going to be able to have a great deal of success offensively and that will just breed confidence, and with confidence will come more success."

_ Staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.

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