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Steckel and Jauron resume their battle

In 1998, Bucs offensive coordinator Les Steckel had the same role with Tennessee and Bears coach Dick Jauron was the defensive coordinator for Jacksonville.

To a certain degree, the chess match between the two was a draw. Tennessee scored 22 points in the first meeting but lost 27-22. In the second game, Steckel's unit could only squeeze out 16 points, but that was enough to produce a 16-13 victory.

"I really respect Dick Jauron and his defensive philosophy," Steckel said. "When he was at Jacksonville, he was outstanding. Obviously, their new coordinator (Greg Blache) is running the same type of system _ extremely sound, always in the right place. There's no holes there.

"We got our work cut out for us."

Under Jauron, the Bears seem to do more reacting than attacking. But Steckel said he cautioned quarterback Shaun King not to be complacent.

"We have a young quarterback and, as we told him last week, expect the unexpected," Steckel said. "He's prepared this week just last week, very well. But we've tried to give him as many looks as we can and I think he's well-prepared. But we always expect the unexpected."

DOUSING MILBURN: Coach Tony Dungy did not need any reminders about the ability of Glyn Milburn, who returned a punt 93 yards in 1998. But he got one anyway when he went to Hawaii to coach the NFC in February.

"We had Milburn in the Pro Bowl and he is a talented guy," Dungy said. "He's very smart. He's quick, he breaks tackles and he understands what he's doing back there. We definitely are going to work extra on that and we can't allow him to be the factor that decides the game."

Milburn's punt return for a touchdown was the last allowed by the Bucs before Sunday's 66-yard touchdown return by New England's Troy Brown.

HAIR TODAY: Strong safety John Lynch is sporting a buzz cut after wearing the same hairstyle for his entire Bucs career. Why the change?

"The guys are always on me because ever since I've been here, eight years, I've had the same haircut," Lynch said. "I wasn't going to go with a long one, so I went in and said give me a Howie Long. But he didn't know who Howie Long was so I said, "A flat top.' "

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: The Bucs are 2-2 in home openers under Dungy, but Raymond James Stadium has been an inhospitable place for visitors.

After falling to the New York Giants in the home opener a year ago, the Bucs won seven straight at RJS and are 14-3 in regular-season and playoff games since the building opened in '98.

The Bucs, seven-point favorites, also have a five-game winning streak over Chicago. But Dungy said the Bucs can't place too much stock in the friendly confines.

"I think our guys are looking forward to being home," Dungy said. "Division games are always tough, they're always big.

"I think you learn every week you've got to do it and every year (you've got to do it). What happened last week or what happened last year really doesn't matter. We can't rely on the home crowd, we can't rely on the heat or the home field and the noise. We've got to come out and play. And if you play, whether it's in New England or here or anyplace else, you'll be in good shape. But you have to play every week in the NFL."

PASSING FANCY: Only one team _ Minnesota _ attempted fewer passes than the 24 King threw Sunday at New England.

Much of that was because the Bucs had an 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter and went to work on the clock with running plays.

But don't necessarily look for the passing attempts to increase Sunday if the Bucs are ahead.

"It really depends on how the game goes," Dungy said. "I think in the first half, we probably had 17 or 18 passes. Then in the second half, we're ahead. And that would probably be how you'd perceive every game going. Having 15 to 17 passes in the first half, hopefully be ahead, and then just have six or seven passes in the second half. If it's a tight game and we're behind, then you get your 15 passes again in the second half and you have a 30-throw day. But I thought last week was ideal."

SPENCE FOR HIRE: He arrived the week before final cut and was active for the opener, and tight end/fullback Blake Spence has spent all his spare time learning the playbook.

Dungy has stressed that offensive guard Randall McDaniel's appearance in the backfield as a fullback is a temporary thing until the Bucs find someone suitable to replace the injured Kevin McLeod.

"I'm still focused on learning both the fullback and tight-end plays," Spence said. "I did a little bit of (playing fullback) with the Jets but not much.

"They were calling me a fullback but not really using me that way. I've been in the backfield before, in practice and stuff and it's more of a battering ram type of thing where you have a 5-yard head start and you're trying to crack on a linebacker. It's always good to be versatile and be able to do both. That's what I'm working on."

INACTIVES: Tampa Bay's four early designees are Spence, safety Dexter Jackson, tackle DeMarcus Curry and defensive end John McLaughlin.

_ ERNEST HOOPER, RICK STROUD

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