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Bucs' Moore a very confident man

Dave Moore has been a quiet, competitive constant in Bucs huddles since Tony Dungy became coach in 1996. A solid but uncelebrated tight end who, like the eye of a hurricane, is a tough calm around which Tampa Bay football storms complex and controversial have churned.

Ol' 83, he heard hundreds of quarterback calls from Trent Dilfer. Then Shaun King took over. Moore has experienced tackle-to-tackle personnel evolution in Tampa Bay's offensive line.

On this island, Dave survives.

He ran plays called by Mike Shula, until that Bucs offensive coordinator was replaced in February by Les Steckel. Dave adjusted to a new system. His eyes brightened this season upon finding vocal, gifted wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson among Moore's oft-criticized gang of 11.

"We're still learning as we go," Moore said. "So much is still new. You can feel confidence increasing as this year's group gets more familiar with each other. We go cold for a while, then get hot. Now we really can get hot. I'm convinced that almost any highs are possible."

Moore eschews demeaning former offensive chief Shula. "Mike prepared us well, as does Coach Steckel," said the 258-pound former University of Pittsburgh fullback/tight end. "But as a game goes on, Les is more apt to surprise us with a play call.

"At times, when the call comes in and Shaun relays it to us, a little smile will come to my face, thinking, "Wow, we're really going after it.' No question it can be invigorating.

"Against the Minnesota Vikings, there was a halfback pass called by Les. It was intended for (tight end) Todd Yoder. It went incomplete, and Coach Steckel took some grief for the call. I was 100 percent for what he did.

"If that play clicks, which it should've, the whole tempo of the game can change. It can be a huge momentum swing. A lot of offensive coordinators aren't willing to go out on a limb like that. Steckel goes for what he believes in."

Still painfully fresh on Bucs minds was Sunday's overtime loss against the Packers, costing Tampa Bay the NFC Central championship and a first-round playoff bye. Instead, the Bucs got a trip to Philadelphia for a wild-card chance against the Eagles.

"We sputtered through the first half at Green Bay, with some errant passes, some balls being dropped, including by me," Moore said.

"But with us trailing 14-3, Shaun said in the huddle, "This is ridiculous, guys. We've got to make some big plays.' He's so calm, no matter the situation, but there is also real competitive fire in our quarterback. When he gets into a good rhythm, Shaun can throw a football as well as almost anybody around.

"We went into a hurry-up offense, which seemed to surprise the Packers. It clicked, and we pulled to 14-all before losing (17-14). What's clear is that our offensive limitations are now strictly dictated by how well we perform.

"With a new OL, plus Keyshawn, the sky is now the limit. It's up to us, how we do our jobs. In the past we would pound it on the ground, and if everything went really well, we might score up to 24 points. But now we can score plenty of points. We have the resources. It's up to 11 guys functioning on the field."

For four-plus seasons Moore enjoyed seeing his Pinellas County fishing buddy, Mike Alstott, doing most of the Bucs ball-carrying. But now, after injuries and fumbling problems affected the 260-pound Pro Bowl fullback, the totes are predominantly in the small but sure hands of Warrick Dunn, a scooter who weighs 180.

Moore's faith in Alstott has not been dampened. "So many things are a matter of circumstance and opportunity in pro football," he said. "I was playing behind a good tight end, Jackie Harris. He had some injuries. I got my shot. That's why I'm around with the Bucs to play against the Eagles on Sunday.

"Alstott is still a good, tough runner. He will contribute where and when Mike is asked. But no, I can't see us going away from Warrick getting most of the carries, considering how well Dunn has played the last month or so. But yes, Alstott will be back and doing well when the full chances again come his way."

Moore grew up in Succasunna, N.J., about 40 miles west of the Meadowlands, where the Giants and Jets play, and about 85 milesfrom Philadelphia. He said the Moore clan was quite splintered as to NFL allegiances, but none of them rooted for the Eagles.

"I was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan," Dave said. "They were so good in the '70s. My brother and father pulled for the New York Jets. Most of the rest of our family were for the Giants."

But now, they are Bucs nuts all. "This one is pretty near my Jersey home country," Moore said. "I'll have 20-plus in the stands at Veterans Stadium, among all those Eagles fans.

"I'm familiar with the Vet. While with Pitt, I played against Temple regularly in Philly. Of course, there were only 10,000 in the stands, a little quieter group than we will encounter Sunday. That field is a turf monster. Hard and ugly.

"I expect us to handle it."