QB Shaun King believes the Bucs' turnaround lies in the details
No more Mondays that are really Thursdays, five a.m. plane flights or long weekends of forced rest. After nearly a month of upheaval, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back on their normal schedule, even if the end of Daylight Savings is coming along to throw a wrinkle in the week.
The Bucs have had strange off-days and trumped-up practice schedules in recent weeks thanks to a Monday night game (on the road!), a Thursday night game and a bye week. On Wednesday, they resumed their normal of habit of beginning preparations for the coming foe with a two-hour afternoon practice.
It wasn't quite as precise an effort as the Bucs have seen on other Wednesdays this year, but Head Coach Tony Dungy thinks that is a matter of getting back into the usual routine.
"We did okay," said Dungy after the workout. "I think we'll sharpen up as the week goes on. It seems like we just haven't gotten in that rhythm of having (practice) every Wednesday, every Thursday, every Friday. I think when we get back to that, we'll be a little sharper."
It will help, potentially, that there might be less ground to cover. The Buccaneers are facing the same team on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings, as they did two weeks ago on Monday Night Football. "We've played these guys so much that there's not a whole lot new," said Dungy, "even though it's just two weeks apart."
"I think we'll be familiar with them, but we're familiar with Detroit, too," said QB Shaun King. "We still have to come out and play."
In addition, the Buccaneers are in the midst of a scaling back of their offense, as opposed to an expansion of the game plan. Dungy has hinted that the key to pulling Tampa Bay out of its up-and-down tendencies on offense might be to simplify what they are trying to do in Les Steckel's new offense. QB Shaun King believes that will help his group perform more consistently from week to week.
"Hopefully, it will," said King. "Hopefully we'll be a little bit more into the details, and we'll stop doing the little things that are hurting us now. If we can do that, I think our chances of capitalizing on opportunities goes up. That's one of the things we're doing – we get opportunities and then we kind of self-destruct. If we can get over that hump, I think we'll be a lot better.
"It's not even about winning right now. I think we understand the importance of playing four quarters, being on our assignments, being sharp. Then whatever happens, happens. That's where we've got to get to right now."
A few Bucs will have to wait another day or two to get back into the routine. Five players are on the Bucs' midweek injury report, and four missed all or part of Wednesday's practice. Those five players are:
· LB Shelton Quarles. Quarles returned to practice after missing last week's game with a groin strain and had no problem making it through the two hours. · LB Jeff Gooch. Gooch, suffering from a shoulder sprain, suffered in practice before last week's game, did not practice. However, Gooch did play against Detroit despite the injury. · G Randall McDaniel. McDaniel, who has not missed a game or a start since 1989, sat out due to the quad strain he incurred against the Lions, but that was basically a precautionary measure by Bucs' head trainer Todd Toriscelli. · WR Karl Williams. Williams followed the pre-practice plan laid out by Toriscelli, practicing for the first hour during individual work then taking it easy when the team drills began. · DE Steve White. White is in a similar situation to Williams. He started the practice and worked for about an hour but was pulled out by Toriscelli when White began to limp on his right ankle sprain.
Dungy summed up his team's health after practice and was understandably satisfied with the overall state of his squad.
"Todd's very hopeful that Randall will be able to go," said Dungy. "Steve should be able to. Karl, will see how he progresses as we go. The thing for him is going to be the conditioning factor, getting ready to play. Our thought is he probably…well, we'll see by the end of the week how he is. My sense is, it will probably be one more week, but we'll make that determination on Friday."
Dungy remained confident McDaniel would line up at left guard as usual, and he's not sure exactly what would be able to keep the stalwart veteran on the sideline. "We haven't found that out yet, so we'll see," said Dungy. "I presume he's going to play."
If McDaniel is sidelined, "Cosey would go," said Dungy. "He's doing okay. He hasn't had much of a chance to play because Randall and Frank have been pretty durable. He played a little bit in some of the short-yardage stuff, then he played about 10 plays for Randall the other day. He's doing fine, he just hasn't gotten much of an opportunity to play."
The occasional rustiness of the Bucs' offense in practice on Wednesday can, of course, be looked at from the other side in a positive manner. The Bucs' defense, even the second-stringers, continues to bring heat on the quarterback, and that was evident even in practice. As a team, Tampa Bay has 35 sacks through seven games, already just nine shy of the franchise's single-season record of 44.
"That's the one thing that we're doing right now well enough to win out of any element of our defense, rushing the passer, and blocking kicks," said Dungy. "Those two things, we're happy about, and a lot of it is the defensive line and the penetration they're getting.
"Usually, when you're in those situations, you're winning, but we haven't been able to transfer that into winning recently."