- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

A year after taking the ax to the roster that made him the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden recently took a ceremonial wrecking ball to the former shopping center that will house the team’s new complex in 2006.

Meanwhile, Gruden continues to dismantle a once star-studded lineup. The release of quarterback Brad Johnson means just 12 of 22 players who started the Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland remain in Tampa Bay.

Though Gruden has a believer in the front office in fellow ex-Raider Bruce Allen, pass rusher supreme Simeon Rice questioned the coach’s “accountability” when he wouldn’t bench Michael Pittman after the running back lost a couple of costly fumbles last season.

Gruden’s hard-driving manner was critical in reviving the laggard Raiders from 1998 to 2001 and probably was the element that finally turned the Bucs from the contenders they had been under nice guy Tony Dungy into champions.

However, that same fierce competitiveness seems like abrasiveness with Tampa Bay having gone just 12-20 the last two seasons. What’s more, the Bucs only have about $1 million in salary cap room even after restructuring six starters and cutting four veterans.

The Bucs have six starters who are unrestricted free agents, so they’re going to need cap relief from Rice or perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks — who account for more than $18 million of the $85.5 million payroll — if they’re going to re-sign a free agent, let alone sign someone else’s.

Since second-year receiver Michael Clayton is the only one of the Bucs’ top six players (the others being Brooks, Rice, Pittman, cornerback Ronde Barber and quarterback Brian Griese) who will be under 30 this season, Gruden needs to turn the team around now. That won’t be easy in a division with NFC runner-up Atlanta, 2003 NFC champion Carolina (which won six of its last eight games last year despite myriad injuries) and New Orleans (which won its last four games and like Carolina, just missed the playoffs).

Honest man — Chicago has said injured quarterback Rex Grossman, who missed almost all of last season, will be ready for minicamp May 21. However, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo isn’t counting on Grossman, who only has even less experienced Chad Hutchinson and Craig Krenzel behind him.

“Since I’ve been here [2001], we have gotten to our third quarterback every season and our fourth [well-traveled veteran Jeff George] last year, so a veteran should look at us and see an opportunity,” Angelo said.

The Bears are hoping to sign former Super Bowl-winning passers Kurt Warner and Brad Johnson or ex-Miami starter Jay Fiedler to compete for the job but figure they won’t be a first or even second option with former No. 1 draft pick Grossman destined to start.

“It might be musical chairs and who’s left standing,” Angelo said. “We’ll have an open competition. You’re running No. 3, and you have to work to No. 1. And if you’re as good as you think you are, if you feel like you can handle that competition, then we’re a good place. If you don’t like that, then we’re not.”

Warner visits Chicago today. Johnson and Fiedler are expected next week.

One headache to another — Days after ridding himself of chief headache and superstar receiver Randy Moss, Minnesota coach Mike Tice didn’t need his No. 3 receiver getting in trouble. But that’s exactly what happened when Kelly Campbell was arrested on weapons and drug charges in Atlanta last week.

“Kelly has his version of the story that he has told me, and he will get his chance to tell it in court,” Tice said. “Let him have his day in court. But if there is something to this, I may have to re-evaluate my options with Kelly Campbell. Absolutely.”

Campbell was charged with marijuana possession and theft by receiving a stolen handgun. The restricted free agent, who is due in court today, could face an NFL suspension if he’s found guilty. Campbell previously was arrested in Cobb County, Ga., but the misdemeanor marijuana possession charges were dropped.


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