Sapp attack Gruden plans to use defensive tackle on offense in 2002

Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
By FRED GOODALL The Associated Press Lake Buena Vista Warren Sapp's signature cornrow braids are gone, replaced by a closely cropped haircut symbolizing a new start.
The All-Pro defensive tackle had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff during the offseason and showed up for Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp this week looking and - in some ways - feeling like an exuberant rookie.
"Surgery will do that for you," Sapp said. "The first surgery in your life. The first time in your life you've never been able to use your hand. I cut my hair off, put myself in a different frame of mind, and I'm going to enjoy this ride."
The ride might also include a trip on offense. Coach Jon Gruden is so impressed with the 6-foot-2, 303-pound tackle's athleticism that he has plans to use Sapp on offense in some situations this season.
The coach declined to discuss specifics, but Sapp said there is a chance he could be used at several positions on offense. As a rookie, he lined up as a blocking back for Errict Rhett five times, and Tampa Bay scored three touchdowns.
"It was just something (Gruden) kind of asked me and I was like, 'No problem,"' Sapp said. "It was fun after I looked at a couple of those routes and blocking assignments. I said, 'Oh yeah, in a heartbeat. Just call me up. Say, '99, get in there.' I'm going."
Aside from dabbling on offense, Sapp hopes to return to the form that made him one of the league's best defensive players.
Sapp was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and may have had an even better season two years ago when he finished with a career-high 16 sacks.
Last season, a left shoulder injury that was not revealed until after the Bucs' exit from the playoffs hindered Sapp. His sack total slipped to six in 2001 - his least productive season since he had three as a rookie.
Sapp said he injured the shoulder when he hit New England's Drew Bledsoe during a preseason game last August. He never complained about the injury because he didn't want to give opponents an advantage.
"That's the way I was groomed," Sapp said. "No excuses, no explanations. I'm on the field, get it done."
Sapp has worn his hair in cornrows for much of his career, but decided to cut them off shortly before undergoing surgery in February. The result is a look very similar to the one he sported when he entered the league in 1995.
"The day I found out I was going under the knife, I told my wife, 'I'm going to cut my hair off,"' Sapp said. "I said, 'I'm going to go into the laboratory and build a bigger, better Sapp. I've got to start over."'
The five-time Pro Bowl selection said Wednesday the shoulder has completely healed, and he's determined to rebound with a dominating season.
He is 14 sacks shy of Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's team career sack record of 78 and feels the Bucs will have a shot at reaching the Super Bowl if he can break it this year.
"Not many people can say they came into a ballclub, stayed on the same team for their whole career and ended on top of the list," Sapp said. "If I can do that, we can do something - all 53 of us. If I'm on my game, we're awfully hard to beat."
NYT Regional Newspapers Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden, above, declined to discuss specifics on Warren Sapp's availability on offense.

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