Quarterback Trent Dilfer is the toast of Seattle.
After leading the Ravens to the 2001 Super Bowl title, it seemed no team wanted him. Seattle took a chance on him, and he outplayed starter Matt Hasselbeck last season to earn the starting job next season.
He has looked quite unlike the Dilfer who often made poor decisions, threw interceptions and showed little pocket presence with the Bucs.
"I think by his own admission he has grown up a lot," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting. "I think he was immature. I think in the early days he was unwilling to accept the responsibility of playing that position. By that I mean, saying to yourself, "If something goes wrong on the field, it's me. It's not the receiver, it's me. I play quarterback, so I take the heat.'
"He has become a much better player over the years, and that happens as a quarterback. I think being drafted No. 1 put a certain amount of pressure on him. I think he takes the game more seriously now than he used to. These are things he told me, and I believe him."
WAITING, WAITING, WAITING . . .: Bucs player personnel director Tim Ruskell, a candidate in Atlanta's search for a general manager, said he's waiting to hear from the Falcons.
Ruskell had dinner with Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Tuesday after the leading candidate, Ron Wolf of Green Bay, withdrew from consideration.
Ruskell said he had no more meetings scheduled with Blank.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Asked if the rival Cowboys were going to be his new Florida State, Redskins coach Steve Spurrier quipped: "Hopefully our Georgia."
Spurrier's Gators were 11-1 against Georgia.
THE EARLY PICK: Carolina's new coach, John Fox, said the new NFC South division is full of teams in transition, but one team stands out as the favorite: Tampa Bay.
"There's been a lot of changes in Atlanta, and there's been some changes system-wise in New Orleans and obviously there's been a lot of changes in Carolina," he said. "But I think most people would probably have Tampa leading it right now even though they've lost some players, lost some draft picks."
ON SECOND THOUGHT: It's been nearly two months since the Rams' Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, but Rams coach Mike Martz can't stop thinking about what he could have done better. For one thing, he wishes he had gone to a hurry-up offense as soon as his team fell behind 17-3.
"I just feel like it takes them out of some of the things they like to do, and the personnel matchups were pretty substantial," he said. "That's where we missed the boat a little bit."
GETTING IT DUNN IN ATLANTA: Falcons coach Dan Reeves said he's excited to have acquired running back Warrick Dunn from the Bucs but warned not to expect Dunn to be a considerably better runner than he was with Tampa Bay.
"I don't think you're going to look at five years of coaches (with Tampa Bay) and say, "Boy, they didn't know what they were doing,' and all of a sudden we're going to invent something that they hadn't looked at and tried to do, because I think that's a good coaching staff (in Tampa)," he said.
Dunn wants 20-25 carries a game, but that likely will dependon how quickly starting running back Jamal Anderson recovers from his second knee surgery.
"I don't think he's going to be a guy who's going to be in there every single down. At 180 pounds, you'll wear him out before the season is over," Reeves said of Dunn. "I think if you do get it in his hands 20 times, then you've got a chance for something exciting to happen. He definitely gives us a threat we didn't have. He has the speed to where he can touch the football and go the distance."
DE Spires headed to Bucs
The Bucs reached an agreement in principle on a three-year, $2.4-million contract with free-agent defensive end Greg Spires.
The former Patriot was mostly a backup last season with the Browns and had four sacks.
Spires is expected to fill the backup role vacated by Steve White, who signed as a free agent with the Jets.
TROUBLED PAST Cardinals free-agent running back Michael Pittman is the Bucs' leading choice to replace Dunn. But Pittman has had problems off the field: He was suspended for a game last season after twice being arrested in 2001 on domestic abuse charges stemming from an altercation in Tempe, Ariz., with his estranged wife.
But Bucs coach Jon Gruden is willing to give Pittman a chance.
"Any time there's off-the-field issues, you're always concerned," Gruden said. "I'd be a liar if I didn't say so. But at the same time, there are people who do make mistakes.
"What can you say about Michael Pittman? He's a 26-year-old back, he's 220 pounds. He ran for 850 yards. He catches the ball. He's a versatile back, he's young and he's a punishing style of runner. Yeah, I like him."
KEY PLAYER: One goal for the Bucs is to get receiver Keyshawn Johnson more receptions in the end zone.
"Obviously he can be a force. He's proven in his career that he can dominate a game," Gruden said. "We've got to get him in the end zone. He can catch (112) passes and get in there one time, that's something that's intolerable. I try to tell them we've got to go big game fishing. We've got to make some bigger plays."
_ DARRELL FRY, RICK STROUD