The Buccaneers worked hard early on Thursday but left plenty of time to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families
Head Coach Jon Gruden set a painfully early start to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice and meeting schedule on Thursday: 7:00 a.m.
Make that 6:00 a.m. if you needed treatment from the trainers.
Complaints? Not one. Starting early meant finishing early, and that was a bonus for the Buccaneer players on this Thanksgiving Day.
"Nobody was late," said Gruden with a laugh. "They all agreed [with the schedule]. We didn't go in and have lunch, either. We tried to work our appetites into a frenzy."
If you believe in the effects of tryptophan in turkey (urban myth?), then the Bucs couldn't very well practice later in the day, after the players had enjoyed their various Thanksgiving feasts at home. Besides, it wasn't difficult for Gruden to see that, despite the importance of preparing for the game against Chicago on Sunday, there was more to this particular Thursday than football.
"We've got a lot to be thankful for," said the Bucs' coach, who has seen his team rebound from two tough seasons to a 7-3 record this fall. "Whether you've won a game or not you have a lot to be thankful for and hopefully everybody reflects on that a little bit today."
Start with the weather. The Bucs could hardly have asked for a more beautiful day on which to hold practice. After a chilly night, the day had warmed up nicely by 11:30 a.m., when the team took the field, and a gentle breeze and partly cloudy sky kept anyone from getting overheated.
The Bucs often pay for their locale during the summer and even a month or two into the fall season. Learning how to practice adequately without overdoing it under stifling heat and humidity is difficult. In November and December, however, the Bucs can practice comfortably outside on the grass while many teams have to retreat indoors.
"I think it helps from a practice standpoint," said Gruden of the weather. "You don't wear your team out on a Wednesday and Thursday. We've been researching that, how to practice better. We don't have an indoor facility to accommodate that. That's quite a challenge, it always will be a challenge if you practice in this part of the country. But we're taking advantage of it. You can see the practices were crisper and livelier because of the weather."
Truth be told, the weather on Thursday was perfect for just about any activity, including reuniting with one's family and watching a little football on television.
The Buccaneers' injury situation didn't change much on Thursday, though tackle Anthony Davis did get in some limited action on the practice field.
Davis is one of four Buccaneers who are considered questionable for Sunday's game on the official injury report. He had not practiced at all on Wednesday due to an ankle injury sustained last Sunday in Atlanta, so he took a step forward on Thursday even if he didn't participate in the full-team portions of practice.
Safety Dexter Jackson, another of the four questionable players, practiced without restrictions for the second straight day. He is recovering from a hamstring injury that cost him the last four games.
The other two Bucs on the report – tight end Anthony Becht and safety Will Allen – have knee injuries and have not practiced yet this week. Becht has played in and started 82 consecutive games and has not missed a contest since his 2000 rookie season with the New York Jets. Becht hurt his knee Sunday against the Falcons; Allen was injured in the win over Washington two weekends ago and did not play in Atlanta.
It's worth noting that even though the Bucs have just four players on their injury report heading into the season's 12th weekend – and the Bears have only six – there are many more players in the locker room who are playing through various bumps and bruises. That's true in every locker room around the NFL, particularly this deep into the season. Gruden, though, has been particularly impressed with his team's toughness this year and feels it has been an important part of their success.
"It says a lot about them," said Gruden of men playing through pain and limitations. "There are other guys too who you don't even know about, that the players might not really want you to know. They don't even go in to see the trainer. We've got some guys who are really tough guys, tough. That's one of the reasons why we're still alive in the race. We want to try to build our team around guys like that."