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Completing Double Play

Sapp, Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl defensive lineman, shows his versatility by catching a pass while playing tight end

September 14, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Warren Sapp, the roundest player in Tampa Bay's locker room, is now undeniably the most well rounded.

Not only is he a Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, but a 303-pound reserve tight end who reeled in the first pass of his NFL career Monday in a 17-0 thrashing of Philadelphia. He's proof that secret weapons don't always come in discreet packages.

"I'm just bringing the two-way player into the new millennium," said Sapp, a standout linebacker, tight end and -- get this -- punter at Apopka (Fla.) High. "I'm making sure the kids don't forget that players used to go both ways."

Anyone who watched Buffalo offensive tackle Mike Williams last Sunday got a similar reminder. Williams, drafted fourth overall in 2002, made a notable contribution on defense in the Bills' 31-0 victory over New England. He came in for two plays of goal-line defense, and, although he didn't make a tackle, he was part of a unit that stopped running back Antowain Smith shy of the end zone on consecutive plays from the two.

"You're talking about one big dude," Buffalo defensive tackle Pat Williams said of Mike Williams, who played on the defensive front at Texas before switching to the offensive line midway through his college career. "You don't have to do any coaching with Mike. Just put him in there. You can't coach big. That's 360, 370 pounds of man right there, man. Who's going to move him?"

Inserting Williams in that situation wasn't an impulsive move. The Bills had been considering the idea for several weeks.

"That was one of the things we talked about," Buffalo Coach Gregg Williams said. "If we got nicked with injuries, we'd be able to use [guard] Ruben Brown or Mike Williams. We practiced all training camp long with them as defensive linemen."

The double duty performed by Sapp and Williams isn't necessarily a league-wide trend, but it sure gives the Buccaneers and Bills some flexibility in an era when teams can activate only 46 players on game day.

Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden has used defensive players on offense before, throwing an occasional wrinkle into his Oakland Raider game plans by inserting cornerback Charles Woodson at receiver. Sometimes, the mere thought of Woodson assuming that role kept defensive coordinators up nights.

Sapp lined up at tight end about 20 times last season, although he was used only as a blocker, and he crushed just about everyone who crossed his path. In fact, he threw a key block on a one-yard touchdown run by Mike Alstott in the NFC championship game at Philadelphia.

Against the Eagles on Monday, he pulled in a pass in the second half and rumbled for a 14-yard gain. Then, he celebrated with a wide-legged waddle to the sideline and taunted the booing Philadelphia crowd by dramatically motioning first down. It was reminiscent of Chicago's William "Refrigerator" Perry's bursting into the end zone and doing a touchdown dance. Ungainly but highly amusing.

"It just added to the legacy of Warren Sapp," Gruden said. "It's just one more thing he's done in this league as a player. You'll never hear a negative word from me about what he's all about as a football player. Forget about the catch, he made some big impact blocks at the point of attack to help us."

Gruden has tinkered with some other role-switching possibilities for the Buccaneers, who play Carolina today. Cornerback Ronde Barber lined up at running back and receiver at various times during training camp, and defensive end Simeon Rice has flirted with the idea of playing tight end. But Sapp feels at home playing the position, and it shows.

"I'm just one of those extra bodies that can help move the line and get us a first down and keep me off the field," said Sapp, conceding the Eagle game did feel a bit different. "It felt like old high school, when Brad [Johnson] gives you that funny look in his eye that tells you, 'I might be looking for you!' "

Will it happen again this season? Sapp hopes so, although he bristled at the suggestion he has lobbied Gruden for more chances as a receiver.

"Who's the person that's saying I'm lobbying on offense?" he said. "If Jon came to you and asked you to stick your head in the hole and you just won the Super Bowl, you'd stick your head in the hole."

If Philadelphia defensive lineman Corey Simon was impressed by Sapp's versatility, he certainly wasn't going to say so after the game.

"He caught a pass," Simon said flatly. "Did he score? No. Did it have any bearing on the game? No, he caught a pass."

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