The Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcomed left tackle back to the practice field on Monday morning, but Penn's return wasn't the only piece of good news on the team's injury front. Still working with a 90-man camp roster (the first round of cuts doesn't come until next Monday), the Bucs had well over 80 players on the field to start the third week of the preseason. That means the team will be very nearly at full strength when the New England Patriots arrive on Wednesday.
Running back LeGarrette Blount practiced on Monday, just three days after taking a frightening hit to his leg in the Buccaneers' preseason game against Tennessee. Blount was standing on the sideline with his teammates by the end of Fridays' game, but he admits that even he was a little worried when he found himself on the ground. The hit reminded him of the one he absorbed in San Francisco last year, which cost him roughly a month of playing time.
"I took that hit last year, so that scared me a lot," said Blount. "But I was lucky enough not to get the same injury. The groin was the only part that got hurt, so I'm feeling good about it."
Tight end Luke Stocker, who missed several days of practice last week and was held out of the Tennessee game, also returned to practice Monday. Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring and safety Mark Barron (toe) returned from minor ailments to see their first preseason action on Friday. Wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (foot) are likely looking at September returns, but otherwise the training room is mostly dealing with just a few small aches and pains.
That means the One Buccaneer Place backyard is going to be pretty crowded on Wednesday and Thursday when the Patriots visit, though the three full-length fields offer more than enough room to get all the necessary work in. The Buccaneers and Patriots aren't going to scrimmage or have any live tackling – they can save the hitting for their game against each other at Raymond James Stadium on Friday night – but they'll offer each other plenty of valuable competition.
"I know it's going to be a benefit for us," said Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano. "I don't think [Patriots Head] Coach [Bill] Belichick would bring them down if he didn't think it was going to be a benefit for them. They've done it more. I've done it, you know, 15 to 20 years ago when I was with the Bears. We did it a couple years. I really enjoyed it. I like watching other teams, seeing how they practice, watching our players in relation to theirs. In a game, it's one thing, but practice is a little different."
The Buccaneers have one more full-speed practice by themselves on Tuesday morning before the Patriots arrive. The joint practice on Wednesday will be structured similarly to the Monday and Tuesday workouts, but with the Bucs' offense facing the Patriots' defense, and so on. And though the Thursday session is due to be a shorter and less intense workout, as is always the case the day before a game, Schiano said it will still be worthwhile having the Patriots on hand to share the field.
"We're just going to kind of jog through things," said Schiano. "But rather than do it against ourselves, we'll just do it against New England. We'll do the same for them. Rather than have scout teams, we'll be each other's scout teams."