K Todd France watched all seven of his field goal attempts split the uprights on Wednesday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began their week of preparations for the New Orleans Saints with a significant list of injury-related uncertainties. One question they won't try to answer until later in the week is the availability of kicker Matt Bryant.
Bryant injured his right hamstring in Sunday's loss to Chicago and the team responded by signing kicker Todd France to the practice squad on Tuesday. France will handle the kicking duties in practice for the next couple days while Bryant rests his ailing leg. Later in the week, a determination will be made on whether Bryant can kick in Baton Rouge on Sunday, and France would likely step in if he cannot.
"I'm just kind of an insurance policy that in case Matt can't go on Sunday I'll be ready for the team," said France, who was with the Buccaneers during the offseason and through training camp and the preseason. "Guys in my position just have to stay ready in case they get a call like what happened here last week. Matt unfortunately hurt himself, though I don't know the specifics of it. Things like that are going to happen and you just have to be ready for those opportunities.
France has already proved he can handle an NFL job this season. He was with the Philadelphia Eagles for most of October and he appeared in three games, attempting seven field goals and five extra points. The only kick he missed was a 40-yard field goal try that was blocked by Kansas City.
There was no rust on France on his first day back with the Buccaneers, either.
"He was seven-for-seven today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He kicked the ball right through the uprights. He's got a strong leg. His kickoffs are deep. He appears to be in very good kicking shape. His timing was good. He made six field goals for Philadelphia. We know him. Matt Bryant's status is questionable. We're not going to ask him to kick until later this week as he gets some rest."
Bryant is just one of five Buccaneers considered questionable as practice began on Wednesday. The other four are in similar situations; that is, each player's status for Sunday's game is currently hard to predict.
Safety Will Allen has missed the last two games with a knee injury suffered against Washington. The team had hoped to have him back on the practice field this week, but he did not take part in Wednesday's two-hour afternoon session.
Tight end Anthony Becht did participate in a small part of Wednesday's practice but he is also questionable with a knee injury. Becht was able to play through the same injury last Sunday against Chicago.
Linebacker Marquis Cooper suffered a chest strain against the Bears and was not ready to practice by Wednesday. He, too, is considered questionable, though he took part in the morning walk-through.
And defensive end Dewayne White was added to the official injury report on Wednesday after he tweaked a hamstring early in practice. White left the field after sustaining the injury and is now considered questionable for the game, though the team hopes to have a better feel for his status on Thursday.
"We think he'll be okay," said Gruden of White. "We'll know a little bit more later tomorrow."
The Saints have some injury issues as well, beginning with linebacker Courtney Watson, who was placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury. Watson was the team's starting middle linebacker for the first six games of the season, but he has been inactive each of the last two weeks.
Veteran tight end Ernie Conwell will miss his fourth straight game due to a knee injury; he has already been declared out. Three other Saints – safety Steve Gleason, wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim (back/ribs) and wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) – are all questionable for the game. Gleason practiced on Wednesday but Hakim and Moore did not.
Chris Simms figures he'll be on the receiving end of a few Dwight Smith taunts on Sunday. Hey, isn't that what friends are for?
Smith is New Orleans' starting free safety and, in less things have changed drastically in the nine months since he left the Buccaneers for the Saints, one of the most, uh, talkative players on its defense. A third-round draft pick in 2001, Smith spent his first four seasons in Tampa and became known for hard hits, Super Bowl heroics and a steady stream of on-field trash-talk he was more than happy to back up.
Smith also remains a close friend with many players in the Bucs' locker room, including Simms. Smith, who came in two seasons before Simms, made it a point to talk to the new players, and the two became fast friends over a series of basketball games.
The Bucs' new starting quarterback visited Smith at his Bay area house a few weeks ago when the safety returned to Tampa during the Saints' bye week. Several other Bucs visited with Smith during his time off, but it's Simms who will be doing direct battle with his former teammate on Sunday.
Through 11 games, Smith is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and he's broken up six passes to go with 56 tackles and a sack. The Saints have the league's sixth-ranked pass defense, just three spots below the Bucs.
"He's a great friend, a great player," said Simms. "I don't think either one of us needs to say a whole lot because I know we're both competitors. I'm sure he'll have a few choice words for me on the field come Sunday. I'm excited to be out there and playing against him."
Smith has not been surprised to see his friend thriving in the starting role since Brian Griese was lost for the season to a knee injury in Week Six. He knows his job at free safety includes trying to take away the deep ball that has been such a valuable component of Simms' game over the last month.
"One thing Chris Simms has never lacked is arm strength and, as he has gotten older, his decision-making is getting better," said Smith. "When you have weapons like Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, and you can run the ball with Cadillac [Williams], it makes the game a lot easier on the quarterback."
Whoever gets the best of Sunday's duel – and no matter how much trash-talking is involved – Simms and Smith will remain tight in the end.
"Chris Simms is one of my closest friends," said Smith. "When you play in this league and you are around each other as much as we are, you grow strong relationships with guys and that is something you can hold onto for the rest of your life."
Russell to the Practice Squad
Rookie wide receiver J.R. Russell lost his spot on the active roster Tuesday when the team signed running back Derek Watson off the practice squad, but the Tampa native will remain with the Buccaneers.
Late Wednesday afternoon, after Russell cleared waivers, the Bucs re-signed him to their practice squad. A spot had been created the day before when fullback Rick Razzano was waived from that eight-man unit.
Russell, the fourth of four seventh-round draft picks by the Buccaneers in April, made the team's opening-day roster and was on the 53-man squad for the first 12 weeks of the season. He was a game-day inactive for each of the first 11 games. At Louisville, Russell played in 50 games and caught 186 passes for 2,619 yards and 19 touchdowns.