The field was only a little wet on Wednesday, not enough to slow down pass rushers like DE Marcus Jones (78)
Tony Dungy said on Wednesday that he truly enjoys football in December, but there's one aspect of late-season games of which neither he nor any other head coach around the NFL can be too fond: elongated injury lists.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their Sunday opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, released a pair of injury reports on Wednesday that held a combined 16 players, including such prominent names as Mike Alstott, Leon Lett, John Lynch, Mark Stepnoski, Shaun King, Emmitt Smith, Damien Robinson and Darren Woodson.
The Bucs have the longer report, at nine players, but Dallas' appears more serious, with three players – Lett, Stepnoski and DE Peppi Zellner – already ruled out and another – Woodson – considered doubtful.
Alstott will definitely miss the game for the Buccaneers, but Dungy gave a fairly positive review of the team's health status after Wednesday's practice. That report started with the condition of King, who raised some concern earlier in the week with fairly significant pain in his lower back. Rest and a considerable amount of treatment by the Bucs' training staff appear to have made a world of difference, however, as King practiced on Wednesday without difficulty.
"Shaun did fine," said Dungy. "He didn't seem to show any ill effects and I think he'll be fine."
S John Lynch, who is still aching from a left shoulder dislocation, also practiced without any problems on Wednesday. Three other Bucs, however, watched most of the practice from the sideline: CB Brian Kelly, who pulled a hamstring against Buffalo on Sunday, DE Steve White, who is trying to rehab an ankle sprain that kept him out of the Bills game, and RB Aaron Stecker, who sprained his ankle on Sunday's opening kickoff. Stecker appears the furthest from returning to action.
"Brian was going to try to go," said Dungy. "He went through the walk-through and we'll probably only wait another day or two. Steve White did some individual running on his own and did pretty well, and Aaron, we'll have to wait and see how he is later in the week. Right now, it looks kind of doubtful, but we're still hoping that he can improve.
"(White) feels like he'll be ready to go."
With Kelly sitting out, jack-of-all-trades Dexter Jackson took most of the snaps at nickel back with the first-team defense. Jackson has proved very valuable to the Buccaneers in a support role this year, already seeing time at free safety, strong safety and cornerback. Though primarily considered a safety, Jackson has strong enough cover skills to move to corner as well.
"Dexter can do a lot of things for us, and Floyd Young also can play there, so we'll be okay," said Dungy.
Even with the injury situation taking a turn for the better, there was a chance for a sloppy practice on Wednesday when a light rain began to fall around lunchtime. While the Bucs watched film from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., the team's practice fields were sprinkled and lingering clouds threatened more precipitation. However, the rain cleared up just before the team took the field and only a few isolated drops fell for the next two hours.
"The track was a little wet," conceded Dungy. "It must have rained while we were in the meetings, but it was good weather to practice in."
The Bucs made the most of the pleasant, cool afternoon, hustling through practice in closer to 105 minutes than the usual two hours. "We had good tempo and got through everything a couple of minutes early," said Dungy. "I thought our intensity was good, so it was a good day."
Perhaps the players were responding positively to Dungy's decision to conduct the practice in shorts and shoulder pads rather than the usual full dress of a Wednesday. In another concession to late-season action, Dungy gave his players a bit of a rest from the ruggedness of a usual Wednesday workout.
"It was a little compromise after a physical game," said Dungy, referring to the Bucs' 31-17 win over Buffalo on Sunday. "We're coming off a physical game and we anticipate a physical game coming up. We were still able to get our work in, just with a little less hitting. We just came off playing some big 350-pound guys, so we gave them a little rest."
Since entering the league in 1997, Buccaneer RB Warrick Dunn has broken off eight runs of 35 or more yards, including his season-long 39-yard TD scamper against the Bills on Sunday. That was just his second carry of 35 or more yards this season, but the team gets constant reminders of Dunn's ability to break a long one in practice.
Since all-out tackling is prohibited, most running plays in practice appear to work quite well. As is his custom, after breaking through the defense, Dunn runs each of his carries all the way to the end zone, so it appears as if he is getting breakaway after breakaway. That extra effort in practice may have something to do with his ability to both put up the long run and also grind out an entire game's worth of carries.
"First of all, he's in great physical condition, and you have to be that to carry the ball that many times in a game," said Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel. "It's amazing how the football attracts a lot of people.
"Then, secondly, he's fearless. And he just has great vision. He can see things in front, he can see things downfield. That's what made the play Sunday, that long run. He saw the linebacker overrun the hole where we'd been running all day. He saw that and, boy, he scooted right back. A lot of guys couldn't change directions that fast.
"His conditioning, his fearlessness and his vision, I think, really help him."
Steckel has no plans to take it easy on his 5-8, 180-pound workhorse.
"We're going to give it to him at least 20 times," said Steckel. "He and Mike were splitting that duty, and now the one ballcarrier will get over 100 yards. It's just like a quarterback getting rhythm in the passing game - a running back needs rhythm in the running game."