FB Jameel Cook was held out of Friday's practice due to a hip strain but is expected to play on Sunday in Chicago
It was hot enough to roast a pig Friday during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' late-morning practice, but the Cook wasn't on duty.
Actually, the Bucs' usual caterers were busy preparing the traditional Friday barbecue off to the side of the One Buccaneer Place practice fields, but rookie fullback Jameel Cook was one of the few players not working up an appetite. Cook sat out Friday's workout due to a slightly sprained right hip flexor.
Cook's injury is a mild one, just barely enough to get him on the official injury report for Sunday's game, but the rookie fullback has been at the center of attention all week. He appeared likely to take on a bigger role as the lead blocker for both Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn this weekend in Detroit, and his hip injury is not expected to affect those plans. Cook would not play in a limited role, however, if the injury restricts him on Sunday.
"We held Jameel Cook today with a little hip flexor, but he should be fine," said Head Coach Tony Dungy after practice. "He's had it before, but it's something he aggravated in Thursday's practice. I think he'll be ready. If he can't go, we'll go with the other guys."
Of course, that wouldn't exactly be new territory for the Buccaneers, who have played many a game with just Alstott and Dunn in the backfield. That combination hasn't produced impressive results in recent weeks but has been extremely productive at various times over the last five seasons.
"It would put us back to not having him up and just having Mike and Warrick and Rabih (Abdullah) and probably Aaron Stecker," said Dungy of the possibility of playing without Cook. "We'd work around it. We'd prefer not to have that (happen), but we'll see."
If Cook is cleared to play on Sunday, as expected, that would leave safety Eric Vance as the only injury concern for the weekend. After Vance missed his third practice of the week on Friday, Dungy indicated that the fourth-year safety is almost certain to sit out on Sunday. In contrast, center Jeff Christy, who has struggled with a sprained thumb on his snapping hand this week, practiced without trouble on Friday. He had taken only a handful of real snaps on Wednesday and Thursday but was not limited on Friday and is not a concern to Dungy.
The weather also hasn't concerned Dungy as much as it has the press. With Tampa encountering strangely oppressive weather this December and Chicago always a threat to provide nasty game-day conditions, it could be quite a transition for the team this weekend. However, forecasts for the Windy City indicate game-time temperatures in the 40s and the conditions at Friday's practice were at least slightly improved from the boiling afternoons of Wednesday and Thursday.
"It has been really hot," Dungy agreed. "We're concerned about our fluids and our dehydration, but once we get up there and get in the cool weather, I don't think it's going to be a problem. It's not going to be 20 degrees or 15, where you're going into bitter cold, so we just have to go up there and play."
The Bucs finished their Friday workout about 15 minutes early, a recent trend that is a concession to both the long season and the unusual temperatures.
"We've tried to cut back a little bit and not stay out in the heat as much, but it hasn't been a big factor," said Dungy.
Of course – and we don't mean to shake any of your core beliefs here – the meteorologists who provided that Chicago weekend forecast could be wrong. The Bucs have found surprising weather in Soldier Field before, such as in the 1999 regular-season finale.
One weather condition that rarely changes in Soldier Field, however, is the wind, a sometimes-bitter howl that comes off nearby Lake Michigan.
The wind almost always comes into the stadium from the lake, traveling from the south end zone to the north – 99% of the time, according to Dungy. It often has a significant impact on the game, limiting one team or the other for an entire quarter at a time.
"The wind is a factor up there," said Dungy. "You have to be able to control the clock in the two quarters where you don't have the wind. If you can't make first downs by throwing the ball short and being able to run it, then it's going to be a tough day. You're not going to have the ball much when the other team has the wind, and that will eventually get you. If you give them nine or 10 minutes in that quarter when they've got the wind, the field position ends up catching up with you.
It is in those quarters, then, that the onus will really be on Cook and the Bucs' up-and-down running game to provide a consistent push. If Dungy and company really are going to focus more on the running game in foul Chicago conditions, that strategy will probably show up more in those two disadvantaged quarters.
"All the games we've been up there it's been a factor," said Dungy, whose team ran for 165 yards in Chicago last November and 175 in that 1999 season finale. "It definitely affects your play-calling and affects what you want to do."
Would it affect strategy enough to make a team use a winning coin flip to take the wind instead of the ball? Dungy doubts it, though he has seen the strategy employed by the Bears, who should know the advantages better than any team.
"The wind would have to be pretty strong to elect to take the wind and kick off two times, but it's something that we've considered in the past up there," said Dungy. "I know (the Bears) have done it in the past when the wind is really strong. When I was in Minnesota and Coach (Mike) Ditka was (in Chicago), they used to take the wind a lot."
You're an All-Star!
A week after releasing a list of the top Pro Bowl vote-getters from fan balloting at each position in both conferences, the NFL put out an updated list this week. Several Buccaneers continue to do strong in the fan voting, which will continue on-line at NFL.com for a little less than one more month.
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, center Jeff Christy, guard Randall McDaniel, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, cornerback Ronde Barber and safety John Lynch all remain high enough in the voting to earn Pro Bowl spots. However, fan voting is only one third of the selection process; a composite fan ballot is combined in equal thirds with a composite coach ballot and composite player ballot. The fan voting results are also used as the tiebreaker.
Over the last week, linebacker Derrick Brooks has slipped from third in the voting at outside linebacker to fourth, trailing not only Washington's LaVar Arrington and Chicago's Rosevelt Colvin but also now Green Bay's Nate Wayne. Arrington has a sizeable lead on the other three, but Colvin (74,000 votes), Wayne (72,000) and Brooks (66,000) are all within 8,000 votes of each other. Brooks has been voted to the last four Pro Bowls and has been a starter in the last three.
Barber, on the other hand, appears to be cementing his place in the top three in the cornerback voting and could overtake Jason Sehorn of the New York Giants with a small push. Carolina's Doug Evans has a strong lead with 102,000 votes, but Sehorn (92,340) and Barber (90,666) are neck and neck for the second spot. Only three cornerbacks are taken to the Pro Bowl, the first two as starters.
Alstott continues to be not only the leading man at fullback but also the fourth-leading vote-getter among all players in both conferences. Only Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre (479,000 votes), St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk (399,000) and St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner (396,000) have more votes than Alstott's 386,000.
Below is the updated table indicating which Bucs are among the top 10 in the NFC fan voting at their respective positions:
|Pos.||Buccaneer||NFC Rank||NFC Selections|
(NOTE: Only the top five players were reported at free safety, fullback, special-teamer, kick returner, punter and kicker. All vote totals reported above were as of Wednesday, December 12.)