In seasons past, the rap on Green Bay linebacker Bryce Paup was jack-of-all-trades, master of none. A sixth-round pick from Northern Iowa in 1990, Paup has played just about every linebacker and defensive-line position since signing with the Packers four years ago. Suddenly, however, Paup's maneuverability has earned him respect. He's now recognized as one of the most complete linebackers in the game—an explosive pass rusher and a strong run stuffer who is still capable of dropping back into pass coverage.
"To be honest, getting to be so versatile has been a very frustrating process," says Paup, who plays primarily at outside linebacker but moves to defensive end in most passing situations. "It took a lot of maturing as a player and a person. I worried that I'd never master one position. I never bitched—well, not to my coaches anyway. Now, though, I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Most of the complaining took place in 1992, Mike Holmgren's first year as coach. Paup held out during training camp in a contract dispute and then floundered. He started six games at outside linebacker but was so ineffective in pass coverage that he was replaced by George Koonce. "I had no clue," Paup admits.
But that didn't last long. After the season, Paup enrolled in martial-arts classes to enhance his pass-rush moves. And he made it a point to prepare for every position by recording in a notebook each offensive play he faced, particularly the pass routes he saw. He also studied as much videotape as he could.
All that work paid off this past July. Paup was battling Fred Strickland for the middle linebacker spot when suddenly he was moved to outside linebacker to replace the injured Wayne Simmons. This time Paup aced the job. Even though Simmons is now healthy, Paup's fine play has kept him on the bench.
"Bryce is very valuable," says defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur. "Opponents have to find him on the field. Is he a linebacker or a defensive lineman? Is he pass rushing or is he dropping back? They have to figure out what he is."
A Bright Spot in Tampa
For the past 12 months Tampa Bay wide receiver Lawrence Dawsey has been struggling through an arduous rehabilitation following surgery on his left knee to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The hard work finally paid off on Oct. 23 when he returned for his first game action against the 49ers. In the second quarter, quarterback Trent Dilfer faded back and fired a short pass to Dawsey, and...Dawsey dropped it. With his team driving just before halftime, Dawsey got another chance, and...he dropped the ball again.
All of that physical therapy had not prepared him for the battle of nerves an injured player sometimes has to fight. "I was worrying about the knee, and I dropped those two balls because of it," says Dawsey. "I kept waiting for the hit, but it never did come."