Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle and current NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp bumped into Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera this week and admitted he doesn’t know much about Rivera’s Panthers’ team.
But Sapp knows plenty about Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who ran the Buccaneers’ offense when Sapp played in Tampa Bay.
Heard of the “Mike & Mike Show” on ESPN Radio? Well, Sapp said Tampa Bay’s players referred to the Bucs’ attack under Shula as the “Mike & Mike” offense because of Shula’s reliance on fullback Mike Alstott.
“That’s all we had. Mike calling it, faking it to Mike, throwing it to Mike,” Sapp said. “Mike Shula to Mike Alstott, that’s what we called it – the Mike and Mike offense.”
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The Bucs never finished higher than 22nd in total offense during Shula’s four years as coordinator. But Sapp, in Charlotte for Bobcats president Fred Whitfield’s annual golf tournament, believes Shula will be successful with more offensive weapons with Carolina.
“He’s been dreaming up some stuff, I promise you. Mike will get it going,” Sapp said. “He’s going to find a way to get this offense moving. That’s just what he does. He’s a good offensive coordinator. I like Mike.”
Hall of Fame inductee Sapp and Rivera were among two dozen former and current athletes participating in Whitfield’s 11th annual celebrity golf tournament. The event serves as the primary fundraiser for Whitfield’s HoopTee Charities, which supports youth-based charitable activities.
As for Shula, the son of Hall-of-Fame coach Don Shula did not have a franchise quarterback to work with in Tampa.
During his stint as the Bucs’ coordinator from 1996 to 1999, Shula’s quarterbacks were Trent Dilfer and Shaun King, the starter when Tampa Bay advanced to the NFC championship game in 1999. Those Bucs’ teams won with a strong, Sapp-led defense and a traditional running game spearheaded by Alstott and Warrick Dunn.
While Sapp sees the Panthers’ Cam Newton as an accomplished, all-around quarterback, he said Carolina needs to establish its ground game with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to be a more effective offense.
“The thing (Newton) has to do is get himself back in a situation where he’s making positive plays for his team. That’s it,” Sapp said. “Once you get the positive plays and get that run game going where the quarterback ain’t out-running the two $75 million running backs in the backfield, then you’ve got something cooking.
“Let’s do that. Let’s get the run game going, and then Cam will throw it around. We’re sure of that. We’ve seen that happen.”
Newton, the offensive rookie of the year in 2011, has passed for more yards in his first two seasons than any NFL quarterback. Last season he ran for 741 yards, becoming the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.
Shula, the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons, and Rivera have indicated they will continue to utilize the read option – a staple under former coordinator and first-year Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski – albeit with less frequency.
Even before Chudzinski left, the Panthers had gone to a more traditional ground game near the end of last season, with Williams getting the bulk of the carries in place of the injured Stewart.
Stewart, who signed a $36.5 million extension before last season, had offseason surgery on both ankles after missing seven games in 2012. Rivera said Stewart is progressing well, but stopped short of saying Stewart would be ready for the start of training camp in two weeks.
The Panthers report to Wofford on July 25.
“We’ll see,” Rivera said. “He’s been rehabbing and working with our trainers. We’ll see once we get to the 25th.”
Stewart was scheduled to participate in Whitfield’s golf event before withdrawing because of his ankle issues, according to a tournament official.
But Rivera said he noticed Stewart working out at Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday, and was pleased with what he saw.
“He’s been very diligent about that. So I’m pretty excited about it,” Rivera said. “I’m pretty excited about getting him back full throttle and ready to go.”