Rookie S John Howell, who missed last week's game due to the effects of a concussion, was one of several players to return to practice Wednesday
Talk about an unfair advantage for the offense.
Warrick Dunn was in pads and looking as spry as he's been for a month in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' afternoon practice on Wednesday. Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland, the starting defensive tackles who usually clog the middle for the Bucs, were not.
How much the team missed Sapp, who has a shoulder strain but will likely return in a day or two, and McFarland, who has already been ruled out of Sunday's game with a knee injury, was difficult to gauge at practice, but it was easy to see that Dunn was running more fluidly than he has in awhile.
"I'm almost back," said Dunn earlier on Wednesday. "I have a little pain that's probably going to be there with me until the end of the season, just because of the type of injury that I have. It's just something that I have to overcome, but I'll be fine. Right now, I'm just trying to get back in shape so I can get back out there and help the team."
After practice, Head Coach Tony agreed that Dunn looked fresh and gave a good overall grade to the days work.
"We got some guys back to practice, which always helps," he said, also noting that WR Jacquez Green practiced for the first time in three weeks. "I thought we had a good day; overall, it was pleasing."
Other than McFarland, Green is the only player listed any worse than 'probable' on the Bucs' midweek injury report. The lightning-quick wideout, who usually starts opposite Keyshawn Johnson, is still trying to overcome a groin and abdomen strain and is not yet at full speed.
"He's still not ready to go," said Dungy. "Hopefully, getting out there and being able to do some running will loosen him up and he'll be better tomorrow. He's still not 100 percent, but he was able to do some things and that was encouraging."
Cornerbacks Donnie Abraham (back contusion) and Ronde Barber (hamstring strain) were also spectators on Wednesday but, like Sapp, are still considered probable to play on Sunday. Dungy indicated that all three of those players have a chance to return on Thursday and will almost surely join practice by Friday. Only McFarland has been definitely ruled out for Sunday.
Even without those four key defenders, the overall mood of practice was positive, as other returning players like safeties John Howell and Eric Vance helped pick up the tempo.
"You can tell just how the focus is in practice," said Dungy. "I thought we went hard and went at it with a purpose."
One reason for the intensity of practice could be the players' dissatisfaction with their own game performances as the team has struggled to a 3-4 start.
Dungy has had nothing negative to say about any player in particular, but did concede on Monday that his defense seems to be playing a little 'soft' as compared to the last four seasons.
That comment was taken to heart in the Bucs' locker room.
"That's very tough (to swallow), especially when the head coach says that," said safety Dexter Jackson on Wednesday. "As a defensive unit, we need to take that into perspective and say, 'Guys, let's do something.' It's time to do it. We're 3-4 and we always start at 3-4 until it's time to come back. Well, it's time to come back now. Let's keep our heads up and start dominating offenses."
Jackson didn't disagree with Dungy's assessment, either.
"If Coach Dungy made that statement – he's the head coach and evidently he sees something that's not there from last year," said the first-year starter. "The thing is, we have to take it upon ourselves. Coach Dungy can't do anything about it. It's us as a unit, and players, to say, 'Okay, we need to start playing how we know how to play football and physically dominate people.' That's normally how we play on defense, just dominate people and make them quit."