LB Derrick Brooks may need hand signals to communicate with his defensive teammates on Sunday
Had the Air Force jets on the nearby Tampa International Airport runway been taking off more consistently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wouldn't have needed their practice-field speaker set-up on Thursday afternoon. Those jet engines produced decibels that made last Sunday's Metrodome crowd seem tame.
But they weren't reliable enough, so the Bucs used their own system, drowning out certain periods of practice with about 120 decibels of fuzzy crowd noise.
But wait, you say. Aren't the Buccaneers playing at home this weekend?
Why, yes, they play host to the Buffalo Bills in their home opener. And part of the homefield advantage the team is counting on is deafening noise when Buffalo's offense is on the field. Obviously, that also means the Tampa Bay defense will be operating under vocal restraints. The blaring speakers give the Buc defenders practice in communicating pre-snap changes in the scheme without the benefit of voice commands.
"We use them for the defense in some key third-down situations, in the two-minute drill, in goal-line situations, short-yardage," said Head Coach Jon Gruden of the speakers. "The fans get really excited and loud and the defense does have some checks and communication that needs to take place. So we need to practice those in the noise just like an offensive team would on the road."
If you're planning on attending Sunday's game, please don't take this as a complaint. The Bucs could do without the nearby jet liftoffs, but they will happily accept 120 decibels from the Raymond James stands when the opposing offense is on the field. It is simply best to be prepared.
"Last week it was just reversed; our offense practiced crowd noise," said Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. "The thing you have to do is use it to your advantage. We talk a lot about communication, and that's why we practice with crowd noise, because we have to communicate. We can't hear all the time, but we like it that way. The louder it is, the better. If we're having a hard time hearing I know those offensive guys are having a hard time."
In the past, Buccaneer defenders have sworn that the crowd noise has gotten so loud that they couldn't hear the teammates standing right next to them. But, while the cheering forces the defense into using hand signals, it also gives them an extra boost of energy. In their efforts to reestablish a real homefield advantage this fall, the Bucs are hoping to have the type of afternoon where the fans and the defense work together to form an intimidating presence.
"Oh, yeah, I can sense [when the crowd noise energizes the defense], and I can sense when the offense is also at the mercy of the crowd and a really good active defense," said Gruden. "That's what we're trying to get back to. We've got a lot of respect for Buffalo. They didn't win eight out of 10 last year at the end of the season by just being an average team; they're for real. But the crowd and a good solid defense obviously can make things tough on any offense."
The Bucs practiced without two veterans on Thursday afternoon, but their official injury report is still pleasantly slim.
The two players who didn't practice Thursday – defensive end Simeon Rice and guard Matt Stinchcomb – are the only two on the Bucs' injury list for Sunday's game. Stinchcomb is questionable with a lower back injury, one that made him inactive for last Sunday's season opener, and Rice has a very minor elbow ailment.
Rice was added to the injury report on Thursday as probable, but Gruden is not worried about his star pass-rusher missing the Buffalo game.
"He's just got a little soreness in his elbow," said the coach. "He's had a lot of at-bats here in the last week or so. He's going to play in the game; we wanted to rest him today."
Buffalo's injury report isn't much worse. Two reserves, tight end Tim Euhus (shoulder) and wide receiver Roscoe Parrish (wrist) have already been ruled out for the game but they are the only two Bills who didn't practice on Thursday. Linebacker Angelo Crowell, wide receiver Eric Moulds and running back Shaud Williams, the three players listed as probable on Buffalo's injury report, all were able to participate in practice.
You may not want to hear this, but your Tampa Bay Buccaneers are, well…average.
New statistics provided by the NFL made this point on Thursday. Don't worry, though. We're not talking about performance.
The NFL has conducted its usual survey of the opening-day rosters of all 32 teams and reported on the shape of the league…that is, it's average heights and weights, not to mention age, NFL experience and a few other related pieces of information.
And if you think of the Buccaneers' roster as particularly tall or short, big or small, young or old, think again. Tampa Bay's roster averages are actually remarkably close to the NFC and NFL averages in almost every category. Here's a look at some of those numbers.
|**Category**||**Buc Avg.**||**NFC Avg.**||**NFL Avg.**|
|Height (ft., inches)||6.14||6.16||6.16|
|NFL Experience (seasons)||4.47||4.44||4.43|
|No. of Rookies||10||9.8||9.6|
About the only category in which the Bucs deviate substantially from the league average is number of players over age 30. The Bucs, despite having 10 rookies, also have 14 players over 30. The conference average is 11.3 per team and the NFL average is 10.7 per team. Obviously, when Gruden refers to the Bucs' working mixture of proven veterans and up-and-coming contributors, he means it quite literally.
These numbers can give one the picture of the typical NFL football player. Though there are obviously wide variances on both sides of the numbers, the average NFL player stands somewhere between 6-1 and 6-2, weighs a bit under 250 pounds, is close to celebrating his 27th birthday and has been in the league four-and-a-half years.
Safe to say the league's average weight has changed the most over the last few decades. The average NFL player is now about the size of Mike Alstott, thanks to many more 300-pounders than in the past. On opening day this year, there were 338 players on the 32 teams, or roughly 10 per team, who weighed over 300 pounds. The Bucs have 11. The team with the most 300-pounders is Houston, with 16. The teams with the fewest are Indianapolis and Denver, with five each.