K Matt Bryant has made good progress with his injured hamstring this week
Jon Gruden believes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done their due diligence on the state of Matt Bryant's right hamstring. Now all that's left is waiting to see how the kicker's kicking leg feels on Sunday morning.
"He's been through more tests than one of those laboratory rats," said Gruden of Bryant, who first hurt his hamstring against Chicago on November 27. "He's feeling good, he's made progress, he banged away five 43-yarders in a row yesterday and we feel good about that. If he's ready to kick, we'll kick him."
Bryant made all of his kicks on Thursday but didn't do much more on Friday. That wasn't a precautionary move, it was a nod to Bryant's usual routine. He generally kicks heavily on Thursday than takes it easy on the last day of practice. He was no worse for the wear after his heavy practice, though, so that qualified as good Friday news.
"We'll pick it up Sunday in Carolina, see how it is," said Gruden. "We're confident that he's made great progress and there's a good chance he could be our kicker."
On the other hand, second-year linebacker Marquis Cooper has been downgraded to questionable. He suffered a chest injury against Chicago and missed last Sunday's game in Baton Rouge. When the week began, the Bucs were optimistic that Cooper would be able to return for the Carolina game, but he did not respond well to increased practice time.
Though Cooper is a reserve in the linebacking corps and has played a few defensive snaps this year, he is one of the Bucs' more valuable special teams players. His injury will probably mean another chance for Wesly Mallard to play, as it did last Sunday against the Saints. Mallard, who signed with the Buccaneers on November 2, is a former Giant and Patriot who has also proved to be a standout in the kicking game.
The Bucs will need to bring strong special teams play to Charlotte, because the Panthers are quite efficient in several kicking categories and field position is going to be at a premium. Carolina ranks second in the NFL in punt return average, sixth in net punting and ninth in covering both punts and kickoffs.
"Oh, they're very good," said Gruden of the Panthers' special teams. "They have skill and speed and they're well-coached. And they have dangerous return men. They're very good."
Carolina, in fact, has not one frightening punt returner but two. Before he became one of the NFL's best receivers, Steve Smith used his speed and elusiveness to hurt opponents on punts. He's still providing that service, recording 23 of the Panthers' 31 punt returns this year and averaging 9.3 yards per runback. However, Carolina has also put second-year cornerback Chris Gamble back there enough times for him to get eight returns at an average of 15.1 yards per.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Smith and Gamble combined for three returns for 46 yards, 28 of them coming on one runback by Smith.
Community QBs Honored
On Friday, December 9, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recognized 10 outstanding volunteers at One Buccaneer Place. The volunteers, known as Community Quarterbacks for their commitment to serving others, were selected from nominations received on Buccaneers.com.
The NFL Community Quarterback program recognizes outstanding volunteers in several of the NFL markets. This program honors individuals who exemplify leadership, dedication and a commitment to improving the communities in which they live through volunteerism.
The 2005 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Community Quarterbacks represented a variety of charitable organizations throughout the Bay area. This year's outstanding volunteers were Connie Brooks from the SPCA Tampa Bay, Ralph Caputo from the Westchase Community Foundation, Julia Costa from the Suncoast Center, Grace Evans from the United Food Bank of Plant City, Jenny Hasbun from PARC, Jeanette Mack from Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Manitia Moultrie from the Youth Development Foundation of Pinellas, Inc., Christine Petersen from the Children's Cancer Center, Osie Sailes from the Palmetto Youth Center and Shelley Ulmer from the United Way.
The 10 Community Quarterbacks enjoyed lunch on the field during Friday's practice. Afterwards, each of the 10 finalists received a t-shirt and customized football presented to them by Buccaneers QB Chris Simms.
Barber on the Verge
Cornerback Ronde Barber's huge day in Baton Rouge last Sunday put him on the edge of several milestones in the Buccaneers' all-time record book.
Barber tied his own team record with three interceptions against the Saints, and also pitched in with nine tackles. He will soon be moving up the team's career charts in both categories.
Barber didn't move up a rung on the interception ladder despite his big day, because he was already alone in fourth place with 24 career picks. However, the trio of interceptions did push him to within one of former cornerback Mike Washington (28 interceptions from 1976-84). Considering his penchant for three-pick games, Barber is even within striking distance of the top two spots: Donnie Abraham (31) and Cedric Brown (29).
Barber is already the most accomplished tackler among cornerbacks in franchise history. He has 735 tackles since joining the team in 1997, which is good for seventh place on the all-time list. Eight more stops will move him past Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon (742) into sixth place.
The two-time Pro Bowler has also been sitting on another impressive note for weeks, one that could come to pass on any given Sunday. With 19 career sacks to go with his 27 interceptions, Barber is one sack away from being the first cornerback in NFL history to join the 20-sack/20-interception club. There are only six players overall in that club right now, and only two other defensive backs: safeties LeRoy Butler and Rodney Harrison.