Q & A
Bucs start over with third off. coordinator in three years
After five years as a Bucs assistant coach under Tony Dungy, Clyde Christensen was elevated to offensive coordinator in January following the dismissal of Les Steckel. Christensen, 43, becomes the third Bucs offensive coordinator in three seasons, along with Mike Shula and Steckel. He takes over a talented but underachieving unit that has not carried its weight during the Dungy era in Tampa Bay. On Monday, the first day of Bucs training camp, Christensen sat down and discussed the challenges he faces and the plans he has for the job with SI's Don Banks:
Banks: Much has been written and said about how you have scaled back but not overhauled the Bucs offense. How similar will the offense seem compared to the conservative style of play that has been seen in Tampa Bay in recent years?
Christensen: I think they will be some of the same looks. I would hope what people see is an offense that's more aggressive and more attacking. We want to be a little bit more willing to be balanced, but we're going to take our shots.
Banks: You have been quoted saying you intend to heighten the roles of both running back Warrick Dunn and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Are those the top two priorities?
Christensen: Yes. They're our top two playmakers and then I'd add to that Mike Alstott. We have to keep Mike on the field. We felt like the substitution for a second tight end for Mike Alstott was a bad substitution, so we've got to creatively find some ways to keep him on the field for more snaps. The more snaps he plays, the more touches he'll get and the better off we'll be. That would be our third priority.
I think the thing we learned last year when Mike went down (with a knee injury) was that Warrick can go. That the more times he has the ball in his hands the better chance he has of breaking one. Sooner or later, he's going to break one. But he needs his numbers. He needs his quantity of carries and opportunities.
Banks: You say you want to go for the jugular more this season on offense. Bucs fans have heard a version of that before. Why should they believe that this will be a more attacking offense?
Christensen: I think last year we made a step in that direction, toward being more explosive. We scored more points than we have in their history here. I just think we can take another step towards that with Brad Johnson at quarterback and the young left tackle, Kenyatta Walker. We've got more pieces in place and we are better.
Banks: You had some explosive games last season, like the Monday night win against the Rams, but you couldn't do anything consistently could you?
Christensen: We've done everything offensively well at times. But we just don't do it well week in and week out. We've thrown the ball well at times. We've been explosive at times and we've been able to pound it at times. But we haven't done them all consistently.
And I think there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do that now. If we can, we're going to be tough to defend. Because we'll be able to run, throw, play-action and we can pound you. That's what we'll looking for, to be able to do what we've done in isolated times as a regular package.
Banks: How much does Brad Johnson's accuracy as a passer help this offense? Is it huge to be going from low to mid-50 percent type passing accuracy to a guy who has a career 61.8 percentage?
Christensen: I think the difference is way more than just less than 10 percent or so. Especially on our team, because of Warrick and Mike. All of sudden the thing that jumps out about Brad when we evaluated him was throwing the deep crosses, which are Keyshawn's strength, and his accuracy on check downs.
If he throws the ball accurately to our two backs on checking the ball down and the dumpoffs, where they can really run with it, I think there's a lot of yards to be had just because of how good of receivers and runners after they get the ball that Mike and Warrick are.
Banks: You have never called plays or been a coordinator at the NFL level before. How much stock do you put in those who question whether Tampa Bay should have gotten a more experienced coordinator for a supposed Super Bowl contender?
Christensen: Well, I think certainly I've done it a bunch of years at the collegiate level. So there's a lot of people who come into the league and haven't done it at all and get their first chance, so I would certainly be ahead of those guys. I also think coming up through the ranks here, being on staff since 1996, has been a help.
I've been a tight ends coach, been a quarterbacks coach and I've been on the phones with the quarterbacks. Any time you coach quarterbacks you're awfully involved with the game plans and the play calling and the communication. So I don't worry about the doubters. I don't know if I could have prepared any more for this job. Is it a big job? Sure it's a big job. Did I come up the slow, long, hard way? Sure I did.
Banks: You can't focus on the fact that the last two Bucs offensive coordinators have both been fired, but that has to create some pressure on you peripherally, doesn't it?
Christensen: I think it's just one of those things that you can't worry about. It can consume you if you do. But I just think the thing that's happened now in this league is this: even getting your job done to some degree doesn't necessarily ensure you stay employed. There's some guys who do great jobs and get fired. That's just kind of built into our profession and you learn to deal with it.
Banks: In the hours after the playoff loss at Philadelphia, if I could have told you the Bucs would acquire Brad Johnson and Kenyatta Walker in the offseason, would you have thought that addressed your offensive weaknesses?
Christensen: I think so. And especially Kenyatta. We didn't think we had any chance as a playoff team of picking up a really quality left tackle. And you just don't get a chance in this league to get deep at quarterback in this league with the salary cap. So for us to get a shot at a quality guy and not have to disrupt our whole franchise cap-wise, I think was a huge lift.
Banks: It's early, but is Ryan Leaf still feeling his way? He has not looked too sharp so far in camp?
Christensen: Yeah, I think he's still feeling his way. But I think this is what the doctor ordered. He doesn't have pressure on him. He just has a chance to work on his game. I don't know if he's had a chance to work on his game since he's been in this league. Just to relax and work on his game. Hopefully he won't have to carry us this year. He doesn't have the whole town riding on his shoulders like he did there in San Diego.
I think he's in a good situation here. I do think we have time to be patient with him and take a great look at him and evaluate him and see if he's a fit.