New Bucs kicker Doug Brien has fared very well against the Bucs in the past but now may get the chance to help them Saturday night
After two days of making him rest his injured right hamstring, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally let Martin Gramatica kick late Friday morning.
Though Gramatica hit the ball well in his short trial near the beginning of Friday's workout, there is apparently a good chance he'll have another few days of rest this weekend. Eighth-year kicker Doug Brien, who was signed as insurance on Thursday evening, expects to be the man handling placekicks for the Bucs on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens.
"That's what I've been told, but you never know until the last second, I suppose," said Brien. I believe I am. I'm planning on kicking. I don't think he's officially out. I don't know much about Martin; I've just been told, plan on kicking."
Brien is on alert because the Bucs still wish to delay their decision on Gramatica until Saturday evening. One of the two will almost certainly placed on the eight-man inactive crew at 7:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the game.
"For all our injured guys, it's probably too early to tell," said Head Coach Tony Dungy at the end of Friday's shortened practice. "Martin did a little bit and seemed to do fine. We'll decide tomorrow on that."
Gramatica used the far field with its skinnier-than-normal goal posts to kick about a half dozen short field goals. He made them all and felt good in the process, but there is remaining tightness in his hamstring. Dungy has clearly left the door open for the possibility of the Bucs using Gramatica, but it would seem more likely that the team would take extra precautions with their Pro Bowl kicker.
It helps that the Bucs have confidence in Brien, who handled kickoffs and field goals during practice on Friday and looked quite sharp. Brien has had good days against the Bucs in the past, as well. In four career games versus Tampa Bay, one with San Francisco and three with New Orleans, he has succeeded on all eight of his field goal tries. On October 25, 1998, in the Superdome, Brien's field goals from 41, 46 and 50 yards out provided all of his team's scoring in a 9-3 victory.
"We've played against Doug before," said Dungy. "He's a very, very accurate guy. We have a lot of confidence that if he kicks for us, he'll kick well. He kicked well yesterday, so I think we're going to be fine if we need to go with him."
Brien has also put himself in position to help a playoff contender down the stretch by staying in excellent shape during the fall. He was surprised to be without a team heading into camp, given his excellent 80.1% career success rate, but tryouts with Buffalo and Seattle and a brief stint with Indianapolis earlier this month have helped keep him sharp.
"I've been doing quite a bit of kicking," he said. "I was in Indianapolis for a couple of weeks and got some real good work there. I feel a lot more prepared than when I went there. But I have been kicking regularly the entire offseason and I've been kicking pretty well. I've got a fresh leg."
He was used for just two kickoffs during the Colts' December 10 game at Miami and was released five days later, but San Francisco contacted him in the days that followed, prompting Brien to stay focused on kicking. Still, he has yet to try a field goal in a game situation this season.
"It will be strange," said Brien, of the possibility of handling field goal tries for a team in a tight playoff race. "It's like going out for my second preseason game. But what's going to help me a lot is the fact that I was in Indianapolis and got into the rhythm of things there. And Mark Royals was my holder in New Orleans. In my opinion, he's the best in the business and I'm comfortable with him. We know each other well, so that's going to help a lot."
Had the Bucs not called, Brien's most important athletic task of late December might have been the alumni soccer game he had planned to play in at Concord, California's De La Salle High School. He claims not to be overwhelmed by the pressure of the Bucs' situation, however.
"I haven't had the luxury of thinking about it that way because this was the only kind of team that was going to pick me up," said Brien. "It seemed like, because of the salary cap stuff and the salary that a veteran has, the only team that was going to pick me up was one that was in the playoff hunt and kicking was important (to them)."
Dungy, in fact, has stated his belief that field goal kicking could be a deciding factor in Saturday's game between two very stingy, defensive teams. Tampa Bay coasted through the fourth quarter against New Orleans without Gramatica because they had an enormous lead on the Saints. That's not likely to happen against the Ravens. Brien fits the bill as a kicker Dungy can put his confidence in at crunch time.
"Seeing him kick in pressure situations, seeing him kick against us and how accurate he was, then he came in here and kicked well in tryouts," said Dungy. "Really, we just thought he was the best guy."
Brien, in fact, hasn't missed a field goal in over a year.
"All I know is, I made my last 11 in a row last year and I plan on keeping that going," said Brien, who indeed hit his final nine regular season kicks and added two more in the playoffs. He's not expecting the job in Tampa to last long, however.
"This is not based on what anyone told me, but my sense is, it's week to week," said Brien. "It depends on how Martin's feeling. Obviously, he's done a great job here and he's the kicker. I'm subbing for him and trying to resurrect my career as long as they need me."
The Bucs finished about 30 minutes earlier than normal on Friday, which was a nod to both the shortened work week and a long list of injured players.
"We did a little bit more than we normally do on a Saturday but not as much as we normally do on a Friday," said Dungy. "We just touched up on some things from yesterday and got ourselves ready to play."
A few Bucs who missed Thursday's session returned to the field, including wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Reidel Anthony, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety David Gibson. However, safety John Lynch took another day off thanks to a strained shoulder and safety John Howell, who sprained his right ankle during Thursday's practice, also was shelved for the day. Defensive end Simeon Rice joined them on the sideline due to illness.
"David Gibson came out to practice and made it through," said Dungy. "Some other guys we held, but we feel like we'll be able to see how they run Saturday night. It's probably going to be a game-time decision on quite a few guys.
"We had a few guys that, really, we thought rest would be the best thing for them, like John. Warren Sapp did a little bit today but he rested a couple days. Keyshawn rested yesterday and came back. I think with 33 more hours, we'll have most of our guys ready."