With the weather and his players cooperating, Head Coach Jon Gruden could smile at times during Wednesday's practice
As he discussed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' slightly altered practice on Wednesday afternoon, Jon Gruden repeatedly cocked his head at an angle, glancing over the amassed cameras and, behind that, the team's enormous new facility.
Perhaps he was looking for dark clouds to come rolling over the building. After all, a rather ominous weather report a few hours earlier had prodded Gruden into an on-the-spot decision to move the all-important Wednesday practice up a few hours on the day's schedule. The team finished its two-hour field session about where it normally would have started it, a bit after 1:00 p.m., and didn't suffer a drop of rain.
As it turned out, the rain didn't arrive until after 4:30, so the original practice schedule would have worked, too. But luck favors the bold, and this was definitely a case in which the team was better safe than sorry.
"We adjusted practice today from a schedule standpoint because there was rain in the forecast and I didn't want to lose another practice," said Gruden. "We practiced in a luxury suite last week; I didn't want to do that this week."
Last Thursday, while preparing for the opener against the Ravens, the Bucs were given less notice on the storm that rolled and started hurling lightning all around the facility. The team had to move its workout to the club lounge at the nearby Raymond James Stadium, and while they made the best of it, a walk-through is rarely as beneficial as a full-speed, full-pads workout. The Bucs usually install their offensive and defensive game plans on Wednesday and Thursday before reviewing that information on Friday, so it's difficult to catch up if one of those first two days is lost.
The Bucs were buffeted by swirling winds throughout Wednesday's practice, but they put together a good workout nonetheless and left pleased with the way the week had begun.
"Today I felt like we had a real good practice, to be honest with you, a spirited practice," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "Guys were really putting in the work, getting ready to take on a tough rival and playing in the Georgia Dome. We're looking forward to the challenge."
The Bucs have had a few days to stew over their season-opening results against Baltimore. Most players claim to have moved on mentally from any result by the time they report to work on Wednesday morning, but it undoubtedly helps to get back on the field and begin focusing on the next task. Perhaps the Bucs' desire to prove their opener was not representative of their actual strength helped produce the good practice on Wednesday.
"I think that one week can be vindicated this up-and-coming week," said defensive end Simeon Rice. "If we linger and allow that last week to linger for the up-and-coming week, and you're dragging your feet and crying about it, then it becomes a factor. It's only as big as you allow it to be, but if we can address it this week through our effort, I think that we'll set a tone for the rest of the year because [last week] wasn't obviously our tone-setting game."
Gruden saw what he needed to see on Wednesday, both from the accommodating sky and the players on the field.
"[We had a] good demeanor," he said. "It's a long season. We lost a game last year by 28 points. It's not about what you did last week, it's about what you're doing now and what you're going to do in this game. We realize that we got beat pretty soundly but I don't want to talk about that anymore. We've got a very strong nucleus of men that I think is eager to put that week behind us and move on."
The one issue that by its nature can linger from game to game is the injury report, and indeed the Bucs have some health issues that continue to affect the team's preparations. Tampa Bay's first official injury report of the week features four players – three starters plus the long-snapper – considered questionable or worse.
The list begins with rookie Davin Joseph, the starter at right guard, who may not return from his practice-field knee injury until after the bye week. He has already been ruled out for this Sunday's contest, and his fellow starting guard, Dan Buenning, is once again considered questionable. The Bucs had neither player for their opener and filled the void with Sean Mahan at left guard and Jeb Terry at right guard.
Even though Mahan played the entire season at right guard in 2005, the Bucs may stick with that same alignment if Buenning has to miss another game.
"I'm thinking about all kinds of [options]," said Gruden. "But when you have guys who have been ruled out of the game that take just about all the reps at right guard and guys who are questionable at left guard all you can do is ask yourself questions. So we'll have to see the health and the status of Buenning. If he doesn't improve greatly, it will be very similar to last week."
Starting middle linebacker Shelton Quarles is also questionable due to his lingering groin injury; if he can't play, the Bucs would once again turn to second-year man Barrett Ruud to fill the middle. After predicting last Friday that he would play in the opener, only to end up on the inactive list, Quarles is taking a more cautious approach this week.
I wouldn't say that physically I'm ready to go, but we'll see where we are come Sunday," he said. "I'm feeling a little bit better. Last week I thought I was going to definitely play and it didn't work out for me, so this week we'll just say hopefully I'm able to play."
Quarles had a front-row view for Ruud's efforts in his first career start, and he delivered a sound review of his younger teammate.
"I thought he played great," said Quarles. "I don't think he did anything wrong that hurt our defense and kept us from winning the game, so I thought he stepped up and played well as a young guy."
Ruud wouldn't necessarily disagree with that assessment, but that doesn't mean he was thrilled with his first full outing. The 2005 second-round pick expected to be more than just error-free.
"I guess individually it was one of those where I didn't really make any mistakes but I also didn't make anything real great," said Ruud. "It was kind of just an average game, really."
The fourth player on the Bucs' injury report is tight end Dave Moore, who suffered a rib injury during Sunday's game. He is considered questionable, and on Wednesday the Bucs lined up a little insurance by signing first-year long-snapper to the practice squad.
Second-year running back Cadillac Williams is not on the injury report but was still a hot topic on Wednesday after back spasms – along with game situations – limited him to eight carries and five receptions in the opener. Gruden expects his workhorse back to be on the field Sunday in Atlanta. Last year, Williams ran for 266 yards in two games against the Falcons.
"I can say he's getting better," said Gruden of Williams' minor back issue. "He's not, I don't think, a hundred percent, but knowing him he'll find a way to get through it. But he is making progress."
The Falcons' injury report debuted with five players on the list, including two starters who are questionable. Defensive end John Abraham sustained a groin injury in the Falcons' opener and middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell is dealing with a knee ailment. After those two questionable starters, the Falcons list defensive end Patrick Kerney (triceps), running back Fred McCrary (foot) and wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring) as probable.