For the better part of 11 years, the sound of a locomotive train whistle could be heard from Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoons. That whistle has been the calling card for fullback Mike Alstott and lets the fans and opposing defenses know that the “A-Train” is on its way. Alstott has been a mainstay in the Buccaneers backfield during good and bad seasons and made a decision to return to the Bucs even after a 4-12 season in 2006.
Alstott understands his role on his team, no matter how small it might be, and realizes what is needed from him to help the Bucs rebound this season. Even though his role in the offense has diminished over the past couple of seasons, it didn’t stop Alstott from making a bold statement about this year’s Bucs squad on check-in day for the players.
“I really believe through some of the acquisitions that we acquired through free agency and some of the rookies, I think we addressed a lot of needs and I believe we have a contender for the Super Bowl right now,” Alstott said. “I’m glad to be here and I’m ready to play football. I have a lot of football left in me and I’m ready to win a World Championship with this team.”
While Joey Galloway and head coach Jon Gruden were rather light-hearted with their comments while meeting with the media on Thursday, Alstott was all business from the minute he took the podium in this, his 12th season with the Bucs. Alstott spoke with conviction and had a sense of confidence in his voice while answering many questions about this year’s offense. He talked about everything from his role in the offense to players on this team being professional and understanding the commitment needed to bring a second Super Bowl championship back to Tampa.
“Work ethic and getting your body in shape and going out and busting your butt when there are no fans around or reporters or coaches. Getting yourself in shape from when we broke camp on June 10 until right now,” Alstott said. “I’m sure some people took some time off. There is no time to take off and we addressed that as a ball club with a players meeting that, ‘Hey it’s time to stay in shape and we have something to achieve this year and you can take your break next February.’ If you want to be a professional player, it’s going to stand out tomorrow if you haven’t done any work from the time that we broke until now. You got to want it and you got to have the will and I think a lot of players here with the leadership and other players that we acquired that have been in the league a long time they know how to get it done.”
The sense of urgency in Alstott’s comments were apparent and he realizes that time is running out for him to hold the Vince Lombardi trophy one more time. Alstott has always been a hybrid type of back his entire career – big enough to play fullback but possessing agile feet and power to play running back. In Gruden’s offense, there are very few plays that fit the mold of what Alstott can do, which is pound the ball between the tackles. So Alstott has become the short-yardage back in Gruden’s offense over the past couple of seasons and he accepts that role.
Alstott made it a point on Thursday that he fits right in the offense in certain situations and just wants to help get the Bucs back to their winning ways. Whether that’s pounding the ball in from the 2-yard line for a touchdown or leading the way for Cadillac Williams, Alstott’s expectation for this season is to do whatever it takes to contribute in the offense.
“My expectation is to contribute and to help this ball club, to go out there every day and lead and contribute to W’s on Sunday,” Alstott said. “Everybody knows I’m a situational player and if we are down by 10, 14 or 21 points, my role changes a whole bunch and I’m pretty much on the sideline. If we go to a one-back, or four and five wide-receiver sets, there’s no room for me, but it’s been proven that if we pound the rock and we control the time of possession that I will be involved in the game, be able to contribute and make some plays that help us win on Sunday.”
During his tenure with the Bucs, Alstott has had to endure quite a merry-go-round at the quarterback position. From Trent Dilfer to Brad Johnson to Chris Simms and other quarterbacks in between, Alstott has seen the gamut of talent for the Bucs at quarterback. As Alstott lines up behind Jeff Garcia, who is the eighth quarterback to start for Jon Gruden since 2002, Alstott believes that Garcia will bring something special to table for the offense this season.
“Jeff is going to be a playmaker and he has that playmaking ability to be able to keep the ball alive and if it’s a passing situation and the pocket collapses, what we experienced in the offseason with him is if you are downfield running a route or in the flat you better keep alive because he’s going to keep the play alive and you never know what he’s going to do,” Alstott said. “He could throw it to you so now you have to be looking for him to throw it to you or he could run. He’s a playmaker and you can tell obviously in many years in the league he’s a playmaker, but when you actually get into the huddle with him and see him in the offseason, he’s going to bring another element to the game.”
Even though this could possibly be the last season for Alstott in a Bucs uniform, he will always cherish every moment that he has on the football field. He realizes that one day he won’t be able to put on a helmet and shoulder pads and doesn’t want to take that for granted. He’s enjoying reporting to camp once again and has no regrets with that decision.
“I enjoy every football season, especially after I hurt my neck in 2003 and you can’t take it for granted because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last play,” Alstott said. “You have to consume it all in and enjoy it and if you don’t enjoy it through the good and the bad times you will drive yourself nuts. It’s a long grind and I really sit back and enjoy because one day we are going to wake up as football players and be in a different occupation and never be able to put on a helmet or be in that locker room ever again.”
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