Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eye of the Storm

Inside the walls of One Buccaneer Place, LB Derrick Brooks hopes he and his teammates can set their weather concerns aside for a few hours and focus on the Redskins

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LB Derrick Brooks tries to forget any hurricane concerns while he's in meetings or on the practice field

The term 'business-as-usual' has little meaning for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers these days; or for any sports team in Florida; or for that matter, anyone living in the hurricane-battered state.

Still, Derrick Brooks would like to see a business-as-usual approach from his teammates in the hours they're within the confines of One Buccaneer Place. Even with the training-camp disruption of Hurricane Charley, the scheduling changes caused by Hurricane Frances and the impending arrival of Hurricane Ivan, the Bucs need to remain focused on the 2004 season opener, just five days away.

"We've just got to realize when we walk in the door, for four hours we need to concentrate on football," said Brooks. "Try to let it be your getaway."

After Charley caused widespread devastation down the coast south of Tampa, Brooks led a group of his teammates on a spirit-raising tour of the area, meeting victims and emergency workers and taking in the damage. After Frances, then a tropical storm, rolled through the Bay area on Sunday and Monday, Brooks saw similar if less drastic issues in his own community. That's a difficult thing to get out of one's mind.

"Obviously, there are things that weigh a lot more than football," said Brooks. "It's affecting a whole lot of people across Florida. It's just one way you come together, pool all your resources together and help your neighbor. We realize that. We're men first, and obviously these things are on our minds.

"At the same time, when I hit that door this morning, I wasn't thinking about Ivan, I was thinking about Joe Gibbs and those Redskins. Now that practice is over, I can go home and see what the latest is on this storm and hopefully start to clean up around my neighborhood."

The Bucs preseason opener was pushed back two days by Charley's arrival, but the team still got all four of its warmup games in. Brooks played in just two of those games as he rested a minor knee injury; other key veterans also saw limited action. That, and the uncertainty of the schedule during this all-important practice week means the starters have to be even more focused than usual in order to get ready for a dangerous opponent in the opener.

"The pace of the game, the tempo, all that is going to pick up on its own," said Brooks. "We've just got to continue to preach what we've been preaching since mini-camp: Details, finishing every play one at a time, cut back on the penalties. And the guys who are starting need to get mentally prepared. You're going to play a good amount more plays than what you've been playing in the preseason. So I think you just have to get right mentally; the physical part will take care of itself."

The Bucs had buses idling out in front of the building on Tuesday, ready to whisk the team off to an indoor location if the weather had once again ambushed practice, as it did on Monday. They weren't needed, but they might be back, just in case, on Wednesday. Ivan isn't yet close to Florida, but it has been unwise to underestimate the weather on any given day recently.

Brooks understands that Mother Nature could visit further distractions on the team in the coming days.

"You just personally respect what the natural weather is," said Brooks. "Respect it and don't take it lightly was the message that I got."

And, when weather permits and work is in session, treat the upcoming opponent with the same gravity.

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