Tampa Bay took the field to conduct its first organized team activity of the year at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday.
Some of Tampa Bay's new players may take some time getting used to suiting up in red and pewter. One of those players is running back Warrick Dunn, who returned to the Bucs last month after spending the last six years of his career in Atlanta.
"I never thought I'd be back," said Dunn, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Bucs on Mar. 10. "I always would come back to the area because I have a place here, but I never thought I'd be playing in Tampa again. When it first happened I still didn't believe it, but as we get closer to the season it will sink in more."
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Dunn rushed for 4,200 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 259 passes for 2,374 yards and nine touchdowns before ending his five-year tenure in Tampa Bay to sign with Atlanta during the 2002 offseason.
Dunn originally joined Tampa Bay as a first-round pick out of Florida State in 1997. He wound up being part of a Buccaneer team that made the playoffs that year and went on to appear in the 1999 NFC Championship Game.
But so much has changed since Dunn played for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has won three division titles and a Super Bowl since his departure, and gone are most of the players Dunn grew up with in the Bucs organization, including fullback Mike Alstott, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch.
"It's been weird a little bit because when I left it was old One Buc Place and now we're in this beautiful building," Dunn said referring to the team's state-of-the-art facility. "A lot of the players have changed. I played with two guys that are still on this team in [linebacker Derrick] Brooks and [cornerback Ronde] Barber. It's a big change, but it's an adjustment that I'm happy to make and it's going well."
One thing that hasn't changed is Dunn's jersey number. When he initially signed with Tampa Bay last month No. 28 belonged to safety Tanard Jackson, who performed well as a rookie in 2007.
However, Dunn and Jackson negotiated a deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, that allowed Dunn to sport No. 28 again while Jackson switched to jersey No. 36, which he wore briefly as a rookie.
So what did it take for Dunn to convince Jackson to give up No. 28?
"It didn't take much," Dunn said smiling. "I played against [Tanard] last year when he was a rookie. I think it's respect. I think he respects my game and respects me enough, so it didn't cost me much.
"I might have to buy him breakfast or something, but it's not a lot. When I called him and talked to him he said, ‘Listen, I'm not going to try to hit you across the head for anything, so we'll work it out.' We'll work it out. I've had that number since college and I think everyone really knows me from that number, so it would be a little strange being on the same team I was on and not having 28."
Dunn has rushed 2,483 times for 10,181 yards (4.1 avg.) and 47 touchdowns during his 11-year career.
But last season was a struggle for Dunn and the Falcons, who went 4-12. He rushed 227 times for 720 yards (3.2 avg.) and four touchdowns while catching just 37 passes for 238 yards.
At 33, some wonder how much gas Dunn has left in the tank. However, he insists that coming back to Tampa Bay and having critics question his skills just gives him added motivation.
"This team can definitely make a [Super Bowl] run," said Dunn. "You have enough leaders, but you also have a lot of young guys who are hungry and work hard. They have great relationships. This is a relationship business, so if you can have those they can only help you and the team.
"This is a challenge. Over the years I've accomplished a lot, and now of course you're going to have doubters. I just use that as motivation. I'm going to go out and have fun and play well. Last year was last year. I can't worry about it. I've moved on and I'm in a better place."
Dunn had several teams interested in signing him, but he ultimately decided to re-join the Buccaneers, especially after head coach Jon Gruden's aggressive approach in recruiting him.
While he might not be the starter, Dunn likely will have a significant role in Gruden's offense, particularly in the passing game as a pass-catcher and blocker.
Dunn has established himself as a dangerous receiver in the NFL, catching 463 career passes for 4,009 yards (8.7 avg.) and 15 touchdowns.
Catching the football is something Dunn hasn't been able to do as much in recent years, though. After hauling in a career-high 68 passes as a Buc in 2001, Dunn has produced reception totals of 37, 29, 29, 22 and 37 over the past five seasons, respectively.
Needless to say, Dunn looks forward to being more involved in Tampa Bay's passing game, but he must first get a better feel for Gruden's version of the West Coast offense.
"I'm just going to go out and play," said Dunn. "I have to pick up the offense first and get comfortable. We'll see what happens. Today they threw the book at us and I tried to do it well. In this offense I'm going to catch some more balls. I haven't caught too many balls over the last few years. I'll be used more in the passing game here and hopefully that helps us.
"Coach Gruden is going to utilize my talents and give me the ball and put me in positions to be successful and make plays. I look forward to doing that."
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