This could be a make-it-or-break-it year for Trent Dilfer. Head coach Tony Dungy has studied the quarterbacks in the upcoming April draft more so than in past years. Dilfer completed a career-low 52.4 percent of his passes and Dungy would like to see that number closer to 60. Backup Steve Walsh had a terrible season in a limited reserve role. No. 3 Scott Milanovich was taken by Cleveland in the expansion draft, leaving ex-Niner Jeff Brohm to battle with other contenders in training camp.
Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott joined forces to lead the Bucs to the fourth-ranked rushing offense. Dunn's numbers dipped a bit last season but remains the perfect compliment to Alstott's bruising style. Alstott made his second consecutive Pro Bowl after notching the first two 100-yard games of his career but look for those numbers to suffer next season due to the loss of lead-back Lorenzo Neal. Rahim Abdullah, a rookie last season, is an intriguing player waiting for his chance.
Starters Reidel Anthony and Bert Emmanuel headed in opposite directions last season. While Anthony developed into a fine complementary receiver, Emmanuel did not hold up his end of the bargain as the team's go-to guy. The majority of Emmanuel's problems can be linked to an early-season ankle injury that never fully healed. Last year's No. 1 pick, Jacquez Green, will be expected to raise his level of play in his second season. Free agent Tony Bland, formerly of the division-rival Vikings, was signed to add depth.
Starter Dave Moore is not a dominating player but he is good enough to help move the chains on the ground and contribute a couple of catches per game. Backup Patrick Hape is versatile but he made plenty of costly mistakes last season. No. 3 John Davis is a reliable goal-line blocker but doesn't contribute much in the passing game.
This unit struggled for the majority of the season in pass protection but did help the Bucs rank fourth in the league in rushing. LOT Paul Gruber is really beginning to show signs of slowing down and ROT Jason Odom gets pushed around too easily. LOG Jorge Diaz finished among lead leaders with six holding calls and, like ROG Frank Middleton, needs to start elevating his level of play. Center Tony Mayberry is the one player in this group that continues to show yearly improvement. The team could grab a quality tackle as late as the third round.
The Bucs got surprising production, both good and bad, from this unit in '98. NT Brad Culpepper stepped up and led the front four in both tackles (52) and sacks (9). Warren Sapp made his second-straight Pro Bowl despite recording a disappointing 7 sacks. Chidi Ahanotu was sidelined after a Week 4 shoulder injury but should return 100 percent by training camp. Ahanotu's vacancy allowed Tyoka Jackson to prove his considerable worth as a backup. With Jackson and Steve White, the Bucs boast one of the top all-around fronts in the league.
WLB Derrick Brooks remains the team's finest player after leading the Bucs in tackles. MLB Hardy Nickerson was having a decent season before missing the final six games with a heart condition. Nickerson participated in the Pro Bowl as a replacement player and the team is confident he will be ready for training camp in late July. SLB Jeff Gooch is stout against the run and cover 'backers Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton are capable against the pass. Rookie speedster Jamie Duncan filled in admirably in Nickerson's absence, as the Bucs won four of the five games that he started.
This unit didn't make many big plays last season and two of its more steady performers, Charles Mincy and Anthony Parker, were cut subsequent to the season for cap reasons. SS John Lynch is a big-time run defender and intimidator in the secondary. LCB Donnie Abraham showed great courage last season by playing through tremendous lower-back pain and the team is hoping his condition will completely mend before training camp. RCB Ronde Barber came on strong in the second half of the season and became the unit's most versatile play-maker. Brian Kelly is a valuable nickel back against the Central's bigger receivers.
PK Michael Husted had an off year and was understandably cut after the season. With Husted now with the Oakland Raiders, the Bucs must find a competent replacement to put points on the board. Veteran P Tommy Barnhardt netted only 35.3 yards on his punts-nearly four yards shy of the league average. KOR Reidel Anthony and PR Jacquez Green give Tampa the NFL's most productive, yet underrated return games.