Follow The Bucs' Blueprint

The Steelers can take plenty from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' unlikely rise to the top of the football world this season, and not all of it has to do with the obvious. <br><br> The secondary, of course, ruled the day for the Bucs in their 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Free safety Dexter Jackson picked off two passes to win the MVP award over nickel back Dwight Smith, who returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns. Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly made future Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown suddenly look and act their age.

So, sure, the Steelers would love to have as many ballhawks in their dilapidated secondary but that's not news to them. The Bucs showed, or at least reminded, the Steelers of a couple other points.

One, you don't have to build the world's most expensive offensive line.

After drafting guard Kendall Simmons in the first round last April, the Steelers went into the season with four No. 1 draft picks and a No. 2 pick on their line. But after watching the Bucs play Sunday, the Steelers may want to change their way of thinking.

The Bucs beat the Raiders with only one No. 1 pick on their offensive line, and he, Kenyatta Walker, is -- or was -- considered their weak link. Right guard Cosey Coleman was a second-round pick and the rest – Roman Oben, Kerry Jenkins, and Jeff Christy -- were journeyman/free-agent acquisitions, which brings us to the third important point the Steelers should take from the Super Bowl: Salary cap-strapped teams can still add valuable pieces to their puzzle.

Of course, the Steelers understand this economic concept but had the notion reinforced two years ago by the New England Patriots and this year by the Bucs. Adding cheap veterans, and lots of 'em, seems to be the way to go these days.

Prior to this season, the Bucs were in a situation similar to that of the Steelers -- two consecutive early playoff losses followed their loss in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. Instead of giving it one more college try, the Bucs hired a new coach and added players who today look a lot more expensive than they were. The Bucs added Oben, Jenkins, Ken Dilger, Keenan McCardell, Greg Spires, Joe Jurevicius, Tom Tupa, and Michael Pittman, and signed most of them very late in the free-agency season.

While defensive end Simeon Rice, middle linebacker Derrick Brooks, and the secondary led the way, McCardell scored two touchdowns; Spires had five tackles, a sack, and two pass deflections; Pittman led all rushers with 124 yards; Jurevicius led all receivers with 78 yards; and Oben and Jenkins helped keep quarterback Brad Johnson from being sacked.

As for the new coach, Jon Gruden obviously made a big difference with the Bucs, but Bill Cowher probably has another year before the unrest in Pittsburgh becomes full-blown dissatisfaction.   The Steelers, though, don't have to wait another year and hire another coach to follow the Bucs' blueprint. It's already there.

 --Jim Wexell      

 

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