Good practices are essential this week, says Head Coach Jon Gruden, if the Buccaneers hope to upend the Bears in Chicago on Sunday
Jon Gruden got a smile on his face and excitement in his voice when talk turned to the cross-town Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday afternoon. Truth be told, though, he was already in a pretty good mood before the conversation began.
The first-place Rays? Gruden is a big fan (see below).
But his own team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just finished a stellar practice, and that as the genesis of Gruden's contentment as the weekend, and a tough game in Chicago, approaches.
"We had a good practice. I was very pleased with it," said Gruden immediately after walking off the field at 3:00 p.m. "I just liked the way we executed. We worked hard at fundamentals and execution, understanding our opponent."
Attention to detail is important every week in the NFL. The Bucs worked hard to prepare for New Orleans' wide-open passing attack in Week One, then quickly shifted gears and devised ways to stop new Atlanta running back Michael Turner. This week, the Bucs will be battling the Chicago Bears' often punishing defense as well as a Soldier Field crowd primed to give its team a boost.
"They're a very physical team and that's the best way I can describe them," said Gruden. "They're well-coached and they're coming off a very difficult defeat. They had a 17-3 lead. I'm sure their home opener is going to be a riled-up atmosphere much like it was our first game on the road. We've got a lot of things we've got to get straight here before we go down there."
Those were Gruden's thoughts after the team's first practice of the week on Wednesday. Apparently, the Buccaneers took a big step in that direction on Thursday.
"This is a tough game to prepare for, and the concentration was good and our execution in terms of what we're asking was very good today," said Gruden. "It was a very good practice and we need to practice well to have a chance in this game."
Those preparations continued on without the involvement of wide receiver Joey Galloway or guard Davin Joseph, two key starters dealing with foot injuries. However, linebacker Derrick Brooks did participate in a limited fashion after sitting out Wednesday's workout. Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib, suffering from a hamstring strain like Brooks, was also limited for the second straight day, though Thursday's practice was another reason for optimism.
"They were limited [but] we are encouraged by what we saw," said Gruden. "We are encouraged by their participation today."
The Bucs must prepare for the possible absence of both Talib and Elbert Mack, the rookie corners who have combined to fill the nickel back position during the first two weeks of the season. The NFL hit Mack with a one-game suspension earlier in the week due to a pair of flagrant-foul hits in the Bucs' last three games. The Buccaneers have since spoken to the league about the decision and are awaiting word on whether the suspension will be upheld.
"We're hoping to have him," said Gruden of Mack. "We also understand that the league will serve justice the best way that they see fit. We hope to find out soon. The guy's a good kid. This will be dealt with by the NFL league office and hopefully it works out for him where he can play because he's a great kid and he deserves to play."
The Chicago Cubs will be in town when the Buccaneers get to the Windy City on Saturday, in the midst of a three-game set with their arch-rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Gruden said on Thursday that he hopes to find a way to catch up with Cubs Manager Lou Piniella, a long-time friend and a former Rays manager.
In fact, Gruden's rooting interests in both the Rays and Cubs has him hoping the two teams meet in this year's World Series.
Both teams are in first place in their respective decisions and are very strong bets to make the playoffs. Gruden's dream matchup would be potentially historic; the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and the Rays are just now enjoying their first winning season.
Gruden is enjoying the pennant race with the rest of Tampa.
"I just get excited with the crowd," he said, mentioning that he watched the last few innings of the Rays' Wednesday night win over second-place Boston. "It's starting to really get the fever for the Rays. I hope it's really packed and really a hard place for the other team to play down the stretch. We've got such a great team, and Coach [Joe] Maddon has done a heck of a job."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his fondness for the quarterback position in football, Gruden is most impressed with the men who throw the ball for the Rays.
"Every night they send a horse out there and he's got the ball," said the Bucs' coach. "Whether it's [Matt] Garza, whoever it is, they've got a horse out there on the mound. They've got a couple guys in the bullpen that just throw bullets. They're going to be hard to get on base against; they're going to be hard to score against; they all can run; they take the extra base; they run plays out; they can hit with power; and they're clutch. I'm just thrilled to see [Rocco] Baldelli and I hope [Carl] Crawford comes back for the playoffs. I hope it all works out for them."