Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Different Itineraries

Most of the Bucs will follow Thursday’s practice with an extended time of rest, but Coach Gruden and Tim Rattay will be hard at work…Plus, Pro Bowl balloting begins and more

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QB Tim Rattay had to make some new acquaintances quickly on Wednesday, such as that of Bucs Quarterbacks Coach Paul Hackett

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers practiced for an hour on Wednesday morning and will do so again on Thursday morning, but most of the bye week will be devoted to rest and recovery. Buccaneer players will be on their own from Thursday afternoon through Sunday, and surely some of them will get out of town in front of Hurricane Wilma.

Of course, Head Coach Jon Gruden, whose not much of a fan of taking a week off in the middle of the season, will be at team headquarters, putting in some extra work. He's even got a specific project on which to spend the extra time.

Asked what he planned to do with the bye weekend, Gruden had a two-word response: "Tim Rattay."

Rattay, of course, is Gruden's newest charge, the quarterback acquired from San Francisco on Tuesday in exchange for an undisclosed 2006 draft pick. Though the timing of the deal had more to do with Brian Griese's season-ending knee injury and the 2005 trading deadline, that it happened at the start of the Bucs' bye week was a fortuitous turn of events.

Rattay took a red-eye from one Bay area to the other and arrived at Bucs headquarters in the morning. He jogged out to the practice field a little after 10:00 a.m., in time to get in a few snaps with the team. He even called one play after quickly picking up a bit of terminology. He knows he has a lot of one-on-one time with Gruden and Quarterbacks Coach Paul Hackett in front of him.

"I'll be here studying," said Rattay of his weekend plans. "It kind of worked out better to have a bye week, obviously, so I could really crash-course it and get this stuff down, so when we come back to work next week I'll be hopefully up to speed as much as I can be."

The Bucs are getting in a little extra work on the 49ers, Rattay's old team and the Bucs' next opponent, during the additional time provided by the bye. Their two morning practices this week will be followed by a "bonus" practice next Monday, a day when the team usually keeps it light while recovering from the previous day's game.

Those who are trying to heal injuries less severe than Griese's are also finding the extra time useful in their respective recoveries. Rookie running back Carnell Williams, who has missed the last two-and-a-half games due to foot and hamstring issues, is targeting the San Francisco game as his return and is anxious to rekindle the magic from his first three games. He had a protective boot on his left foot on Wednesday, but that's a temporary measure the team has employed several different times over the last few weeks. Williams predicted he would be fine next week.

"I'm definitely excited," he said. "We'll find out what goes on this week, but it should be full go. I should be ready to go, back to playing some football. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Williams' weekend, then, will be mostly about rest and recovery. If only Tim Rattay were so lucky.

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Get Out the Vote

The Buccaneers hope to be playing through January and into the early days of February this season. And if the whole team can't be in action for the Super Bowl on February 5, hopefully a large group of Buccaneers will at least be playing in the 2006 AFC-NFC Pro Bowl a week later.

Balloting for the 2006 Pro Bowl began Friday on NFL.com, which means there is no time like the present to help your favorite Buccaneers make it to the league's all-star game. Fan voting makes up one-third of the selection process for the Pro Bowl, combining with players' and coaches' ballots to produce the roster for each conference.

To cast your Pro Bowl votes, please click here.

Fan voting will continue on NFL.com through Tuesday, December 13, and a link to the ballot will remain on Buccaneers.com in the left-hand column during that period. Coaches and players will cast their votes on the following weekend and the teams will be announced on the 2006 Pro Bowl Selection Show on ESPN on Wednesday, December 21.

Each conference is represented by a 43-man all-star squad, including one "need" player who is chosen by the head coach. The Bucs were represented by two players, CB Ronde Barber and LB Derrick Brooks, last year, representing their smallest Pro Bowl class in eight years. Four Bucs made the team after the 2003 season and seven after the 2002 season.

The NFL is the only professional sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its all-star teams. It was also the first league to offer online all-star voting in 1995.

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Greater Things Ahead

After another game in which his long, hanging punts proved to be a potent field-position weapon, Josh Bidwell was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday for the second time this season. The announcement came as no surprise to Gruden, who things Bidwell may be headed for an even greater honor.

"He's a guy who certainly looks Pro Bowl-bound to me," said Gruden, coincidentally timing this contention to the second day of two months of fan Pro Bowl balloting (see above).

It's obviously too early to start predicting Pro Bowl berths for any Buccaneers, no matter how well they're performing. Still, Bidwell is at the top of the NFC gross punting chart and is en route to rewriting the punting section in the Bucs' record book.

"He's clearly been a huge winning edge for us," said Gruden. "He's a phenomenal punter. If we can continue to give him a good cup, a good firm protection to punt from, he's a great directional kicker. He's hanging the ball high and our coverages are getting better because of that."

Bidwell has also played it smart, adjusting his kicks to the situation rather than just blasting away in every instance. In fact, he berated himself and apologized for out-kicking his coverage on a 61-yard shot early in the second quarter of the Miami game, a move he said helped lead to Wes Welker's 38-yard return to midfield. Five of his next six punts were downed inside Miami's 20.

Bidwell also shared the credit for his latest award with the rest of the punt team.

"That's where it starts," he said. "I'm going to punt the ball if I have a great snap and I have the people there protecting for me and also covering.

"It's been great. We're winning games because the whole package is coming together. We're punting the ball well, we're kicking off and the offense and defense are doing their jobs."

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