The status of RB Warrick Dunn's back will determine not only if he plays on Sunday but how big of a role he'll be able to fill
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers left the practice field a little after noon on Friday, about 48 hours before they will kick off against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. The Buccaneers will use those two days to travel, hold meetings, tweak the game plan and study tape.
Oh, and to heal.
As Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden noted on Friday, while once again deferring a number of lineup decisions to game day, two days – or even 24 hours – can make a big difference in a player's recovery from a minor injury. And the Bucs currently have a lot of players who could use a little more recovery time.
Sometimes a player's prognosis gets better as soon as he steps into the stadium on the morning of the game.
"I think when they see the cheerleaders and they feel that atmosphere, a lot of these guys, they get fired up," said Gruden. "It's an electric atmosphere there and usually it brings out the best in the veteran players, particularly."
It's mostly veterans who are drawing the attention of the Bucs' training staff as the weekend approaches. The state of the receiving corps on game day is up in the air with both Ike Hilliard and Joey Galloway questionable as of Friday (and third-year man Maurice Stovall almost surely out with a hamstring injury). And the running game won't take shape until the Bucs know what to expect from tailback Warrick Dunn.
Both Hilliard and Dunn did see some improvement in their respective situations when both went from limited participation in practice on Thursday to full participation on Friday. Still, that "questionable" designation is from the more detailed injury report that was released late Friday afternoon, and it seems like the perfect description of the weekend that lies ahead for those two.
Hilliard and Dunn face different obstacles. The receiver probably wouldn't hesitate to play in Dallas just a week after being sent to the hospital by a frightening collision with Seattle linebacker LeRoy Hill. However, NFL teams have become increasingly cautious in dealing with players who have incurred concussions, and rightfully so.
Dunn's issue, on the other hand, is simply one of mobility. How well will he be removing around on Sunday morning after working this week to overcome a back injury suffered against the Seahawks? In Dunn's case, there are two questions to be answered: Will he play, and if so, just how much?
"Honestly, it's going to be a game-time decision and his role obviously, if he does play, we'll be decided here on how he feels [in the next two days]," said Gruden. "Some of these guys need an extra day, and 24 hours – I've seen it with these guys – makes a big difference."
Unlike those two, who are dealing with new ailments, Galloway is trying to end a lengthy recovery period from a foot injury suffered in the second week of the season. In recent weeks, he has looked stronger on the practice field and in pregame warmups, but he hasn't quite been able to get clearance to suit up again on game day. Maybe this will be the week.
"It's a game-time decision," said Gruden. "He'll be out there early throwing balls. We hope to have him, but I've said it before. Again, we'll do the best we can to see who's up and out here in the next 24 hours."
The Bucs have a fourth player listed as questionable on Friday's report, as quarterback Brian Griese is still recovering from the elbow injury he sustained at Denver in Week Five and has still been limited on the practice field. In addition, two Buccaneers are considered doubtful for the game: Stovall and fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring).
Four other players are on Tampa Bay's injury report heading into the weekend – kicker Matt Bryant (right hamstring), long snapper Andrew Economos (shoulder), guard Arron Sears (back) and linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee) – but all are considered probable to play.
There is less mystery but as much pain, if not more, in the Cowboys' Friday injury report. All five players who missed practice this week have been ruled out for the game, and that includes starting quarterback Tony Romo, who will miss his second consecutive game with a broken pinkie finger on his throwing hand. Former Buccaneer Brad Johnson will get the start.
The other four players who will be sidelined Sunday are noteworthy, too. The list includes two more starters in left guard Kyle Kosier (foot) and left cornerback Terence Newman (abdomen), as well as fleet rookie running back Felix Jones (hamstring). Linebacker Anthony Spencer (hamstring) is not currently a starter but he opened six games as a rookie in 2007 and contributed three sacks.