After practicing Wednesday and Thursday, RB Warrick Dunn sat out Friday's session but is expected to play Sunday in Detroit
Each week during the early minutes of Friday's practice, Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterbacks enjoy a little precision-passing contest. A two-foot by four-foot laundry bin is placed in the left back corner of the end zone, behind a 10-foot screen, and the passers take turns trying to throw a ball over the obstacle and into the receptacle from varying distances.
On this Friday as usual, defensive tackle Warren Sapp joined in the competition, taking his own throws on the side and providing commentary for the game between the quarterbacks. However, as the special teams practice broke up on the other field and the team prepared for one-on-one drills, Sapp had to leave the quarterbacks; that's because, after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday's practices, he was set to return to action on Friday.
Sapp had taken a few days to rest a strained left (non-throwing) shoulder, but there was never too much doubt that he would be available to play on Sunday in Detroit. The predictions for cornerback Donnie Abraham (low back contusion) and tight end Todd Yoder (concussion) weren't quite as solid, but after a good Friday practice for those two, it appears all three will be available on Sunday.
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and running back Warrick Dunn were held out of practice on Friday, but that was by design and shouldn't endanger their active status on Sunday. Johnson has recovered from his rib cage sprain but still feels soreness in the right knee that was hurt against Minnesota. Dunn is taking precautions with a strained hamstring.
"We actually are sitting pretty good right now," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "I don't think Jacquez Green is going to play, and (Anthony) McFarland won't play, but other than that we should be fine. Donnie Abraham practiced today and did better. It looks like he's got a shot to play."
Abraham had a little difficulty with pain in his back on Thursday, caused by a violent if unintentional 'clothesline' tackle put on him Sunday by Green Bay guard Mike Wahle. However, he had less pain on Friday and is not suffering from stiffness due to inflammation. The team is reserving final judgment, however, until Abraham arrives on Saturday morning for the week's final walk-through.
"He's got soreness in his lower back," said Dungy. "Yesterday, he wasn't able to do too much, today he did a little bit more and hopefully it's better tomorrow. If it is, he should be in good shape."
The same is true of Yoder, who has not missed a practice but has been under scrutiny after suffering a concussion on Sunday in Green Bay. Yoder's work was also encouraging on Friday, but there is still the possibility of returning symptoms on Saturday.
Drawing First Blood
The Bucs will board their team plane on Saturday afternoon with the same goal as a week before: Get a road win in the division.
The Bucs nearly did so last Sunday, taking a 10-point, second-half lead in Lambeau Field before falling, 21-20, to the Green Bay Packers. The Bucs other division road game, at Minnesota on September 30, a 20-16 defeat, was also lost in the waning minutes.
But away games at Detroit and Chicago remain, and so far nobody has cracked the division seal on road wins. This week, as the Bucs head to the Pontiac Silverdome, Green Bay will give it a go in Chicago's Soldier Field.
This is the first division home game for the Lions, who have gotten off to a surprising 0-7 start. Tampa Bay can't finish the weekend any closer than two games out of first in the Central, but they could stay alive in the race with a victory. That won't be easy, even against a winless team.
"It's not easy to win on the road – though road teams are doing better this year – especially within the division, where teams know each other and are so familiar," said Dungy. "It's a little bit harder. You have to go up with a special effort. We've been close twice, but it wasn't enough."
The Bucs have just two victories at NFC Central road destinations in the past two seasons, including last year's 31-10 pounding of the Lions in September. The other road win, however, was critical, as the season-ending, 20-6 decision in Chicago in the 1999 season finale gave the Bucs their first division crown in 20 years.
Division road wins are seemingly worth their weight in gold, and none of the Central's five teams has garnered more than two of them in the last two seasons.
"They haven't been (easy to get) in a couple of years," said Dungy. "The team that's been able to get a few, that's who has usually won the division. In '99, we had to go to Chicago and win, and that really won the division for us. You play teams twice a year and you're evenly matched. Nobody has one yet, so we have a chance to be the first."
Giving Wilder the Boot
Depending on whether he kicks a field goal or an extra point first, one of Martin Gramatica's next two scoring plays will push him past former Buccaneer running back James Wilder into third place on the team's all-time scoring list.
With eight points against Green Bay on Sunday, Gramatica raised his two-and-a-half year career total to 275 points, one less than the 276 recorded by Wilder from 1981 to 1989. Wilder is the top-scoring non-kicker in Tampa Bay history; Gramatica stands third among kickers, behind Michael Husted's 502 points and Donald Igwebuike's 416.
Gramatica has risen rapidly into the top four on the strength of 64 successful field goals in 77 tries and a perfect 83-83 record on extra point attempts. Two weeks ago against Minnesota, the former Kansas State standout broke Husted's record of 78 consecutive extra points made.
Gramatica leads the team with 43 points scored and is on pace for 98 by season's end. That would be his lowest total in three years, after twice breaking the Bucs' single-season record with 106 points in 1999 and 126 last year. The reduced rate is hardly Gramatica's own fault, however. He has hit on all 16 of his PATs and nine of 11 field goal tries, missing only from 52 and 53 yards out.