Bucs fullback goes full-tilt
Naturally, they appreciate the skills Mike Alstott brings to a game. Running, receiving, blocking. The Bucs' rookie fullback is looking more and more like a complete package. But his teammates also enjoy the fringe benefits Alstott provides. Like the limping defenders in his wake.

Alstott had just run over Oakland safety Eddie Anderson on a 20-yard reception in overtime that set up Tampa Bay's winning field goal Sunday. On the sideline, the Bucs were celebrating the gain and laughing at Anderson's pain. "Hey, man," rookie defensive end Regan Upshaw shouted as a woozy Anderson was being led off the field, "did you get the number on that truck?"

Ten games into his NFL career, Alstott quickly is gaining stature as a punishing fullback. In more ways than one. He leads the Bucs in receptions (37) and receiving yards (313) and is third in rushing yards (170). The exact number of flattened linebackers has not been tabulated, but Alstott figures to lead that category as well. "He's everything you dream of in a fullback," tailback Errict Rhett said. "He's everything you want a fullback to be."

At least Sunday, Alstott was the prototype fullback. While his main duty is blocking for Rhett, Alstott figured prominently in the passing game as Tampa Bay receivers continued to drop from sight. Alstott was there for quarterback Trent Dilfer on short flare routes to the sideline, catching eight passes for 67 yards, including his first receiving touchdown. He finished with 121 rushing and receiving yards, a lofty figure for a fullback.

"Mike's a load to bring down. I've rarely seen the first guy bring him down, he always gets those extra yards," guard Ian Beckles said. "Right now as a rookie, he's one of the better fullbacks in the league."

Coming into the NFL as Purdue's all-time leading rusher, Alstott was a bit concerned about the role of the fullback in professional ball. Specifically, he did not want to become a blocking grunt. "It was a little scary seeing fullbacks who never got an opportunity. It makes you wonder how you're going to fit in," Alstott said. "But this offense has been perfect for me. We set up the pass with the run and when they're both working, I'm going to get plenty of work."

The Bucs drafted Alstott in the second round, knowing he could run the ball and hoping he could develop into a blocker. He is not a devastating blocker, but he brought enough offense to the huddle to win the starting job from veteran Tracy Johnson in the preseason. "He really has two duties here," Dilfer said. "One, he is doing fantastic on, and that's going out and catching the ball and running with it. The other is blocking, and he'll tell you it is an experience. Once he becomes a dominating blocker, he'll be far and away the best fullback in the league."

Two possessions in Sunday's game illustrate the faith coach Tony Dungy and offensive coordinator Mike Shula have in Alstott. With the Bucs inside Oakland's 30 and trailing 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Alstott was given the ball on three straight plays. He eventually scored on a 2-yard pass. In overtime, the Bucs went to Alstott on two of their final four plays from scrimmage; he picked up first downs on both. "When you're in a big game like this and they have confidence in a rookie carrying and catching the ball, it gives me tremendous confidence," Alstott said.

John Romano, The St.Petersburg Times 1996