Head Coach Jon Gruden knows LB Derrick Brooks is working as hard as possible to be on the field Sunday
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach isn't one to overlook an opponent, especially an NFC South foe.
But many NFL pundits did just that throughout the offseason and preseason, writing the Atlanta Falcons off as little more than a rebuilding project after they struggled to a 4-12 record in 2007.
After a surprisingly dominant opening-day victory over the Detroit Lions, the Falcons raised some eyebrows around the league and may have begun to change some attitudes. Gruden, on the other hand, is ever-familiar with the division opponent his squad faces off against twice a year and knows first-hand the talent the Falcons possess on both sides of the ball.
With veteran leaders at each level of the Atlanta defensive unit – defensive line, linebackers and secondary – as well as some youthful talent mixed in, Gruden said his offense will have a tall task come Sunday afternoon.
"They have a marquee pass rusher in [defensive end John] Abraham," Gruden said. "They've got a top-10 pick on the other side, [Jamaal] Anderson. So they have two really good outside players. I've known [defensive tackle] Grady Jackson for years. He's as big as he's ever been and as strong as he's ever been. He's a problem running the ball inside. Their front four is excellent.
"[Linebacker] Keith Brooking has been a pain in my rear end for several years and Michael Boley is a fine young linebacker. As I said, [Head] Coach [Mike] Smith has installed a very disciplined, disguised scheme that has multiple looks. It looks the same a lot of the time, but it's not. They've got a lot of creativity that I'm sure they're waiting to throw upon us, so we've got to be ready. It's going to be a challenge."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Falcons 34-21 win over the Lions on Sunday, however, was the explosive offense they displayed. New free agent acquisition running back Michael Turner stole the show with his club-record 220 yards and two touchdowns, but rookie quarterback Matt Ryan also played well in his NFL debut. Ryan completed 9-of-13 passes for 161 and a touchdown.
"He's got great talent," Gruden said of the Falcons' 2008 first-round pick. "He was the third pick in the draft. He's got a great pedigree. He played in an NFL system in college for two different styles of NFL offense, really. He's got all the intangibles and all the skill, tremendous skill. He's got tremendous experience playing in an NFL-style offense. That has a lot to do with it."
Gruden has already indicated that Jeff Garcia will not start Sunday's game against the Falcons, but there was some encouraging news on the Garcia front on Thursday.
After sitting out of Wednesday's practice entirely, Garcia did participate Thursday, albeit in a limited fashion. As for the Bucs' other injured players with a chance of playing Sunday, little changed in their status.
"Derrick Brooks did not practice today," Gruden said. "His status is not going to change in terms of the game Sunday. We'll have to let you know when we get to the stadium. Jeff Garcia was limited and Maurice Stovall was also limited."
As for Brooks, whether or not he'll be able to build on his amazing streak of 209 consecutive games remains to be seen. But Brooks putting in the hard work necessary to make that happen goes without question.
"I would say that he's working harder than any guy I've ever seen," Gruden said. "He's day-to-day. If there's any way he can play, he'll play. But the best way I can put it right now is he didn't practice today for good reason. We need to get this hamstring right and we'll update you here in the next 48 hours."
The situation with Stovall also remains unclear. Stovall's excellent special teams play as well as his contributions on offense would make it tough to deactivate him Sunday, but Gruden is prepared to make the necessary moves.
"He's getting better," Gruden said. "He returned today. He was limited. We're going to do the best for our football team. We're going to try to play the guys that are the best at their position and allow us to win every Sunday. Right now Maurice is coming back from an injury that we don't think is serious, but he's not 100 percent yet. Hopefully he'll get there soon."
Gruden also took a moment to give some updates on two of the more-seriously injured Bucs. Gruden was asked first about starting right guard Davin Joseph, and the prognosis sounds good.
"He got the boot off," Gruden said. "It's really hard. You see some guys that are injured – Derrick Brooks, Cadillac [Williams], Davin Joseph and Jeff's situation as what it is. But that's football, and we're confident Davin will be back hopefully within the next week or two. I don't believe he'll play Sunday, but he should be back soon. He's got the boot off, he looks good and spirits are high."
Also asked about Williams, Gruden joked a bit, but did sound positive about his young back's chances of returning to the field and making an impact this season.
"We're anxious to take the car out of the shop and drive it," Gruden said with a smile. "He looks good. He's got a nice paint job on and looks good. On the other front, I can't really say until we put him out there in a football uniform and see him. But we're confident that he's rehabbing and all things are on the rise. We'll just have to let you know when we choose to bring him back out here."
He wasn't directly asked about it, but Gruden did feel the need Thursday afternoon to reflect on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks that occurred seven years ago.
"This is the anniversary of a horrific day here, 9/11," Gruden said. "It's a good day for our players to reflect on what happened and put everything, really, into perspective."
Much like any other American, Gruden can recall exactly what he was doing that day when he heard the news of the attacks.
"I was coaching at another place on West Coast time," Gruden said, referring to his previous job as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. "I was actually flipping through and I heard somebody tell me that there was a bombing. I never will forget that, just the fear and the shock and tremendous concern. But it's good to reflect on that because it wasn't that long ago and I think it's important that we keep that in mind. There's a lot of people still suffering from that.
"I was at the complex sitting inside. There's not much you can say and not much you can do, other than ask for information and see what exactly happened and what's going to happen."
To this day, Gruden said he still recalls the emotions he felt on September 11th. That was the reason he brought it up after practice – he, like most others, will never forget.
"I couldn't believe it," Gruden said. "My brother lived in New York City at the time. I had a lot of fear, concern, obviously, shock and disgust. It still is hard to deal with that. I thought I'd bring that up though. It's a big day."