Sam Bradford and Gerald McCoy, fellow Oklahoma Sooners who went first and third, respectively, in the 2010 draft, talked by telephone on Tuesday night. The conversation rarely turned to football.
It certainly could have. The two players are getting trial-by-fire introductions to the National Football League, and each is at the center of what could be a revival season for their franchises. McCoy has started at defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since Day One; Bradford has done the same for the St. Louis Rams. The Buccaneers have already matched their win total from the entire 2009 season; the Rams have already tripled theirs.
So much to talk about. There have some extremely good days on the gridiron for both players since the beginning of September, and some tough ones. The Bucs have already won two road games. The Rams have prevailed in three of their last four. And then, of course, there's the matter of the impending showdown between McCoy and Bradford, the first time the two friends will ever meet as opponents.
Those are interesting topics, to be sure. They just weren't the topics McCoy and Bradford wished to chat about.
"We just talked about life," said the Buccaneers defender, though he acknowledged that the two were excited abut this weekend's meeting. "The thing about this is, this game can be so overwhelming that when you get a chance to not talk about football you take that opportunity. He's feeling good. It's going to be fun to face him, seeing him living his dream and I'm living mine and we're playing against each other. It's going to be fun."
McCoy and Bradford were both born and raised in Oklahoma City, and they've known each other for a long time. Their athletic circles just missed overlapping on several occasions – Little League baseball, high school football – before they became teammates in Norman. There they grew close, taking a handful of classes together and helping the Sooners chase national titles.
"It was awesome playing with Gerald," said Bradford. "Gerald was definitely one of my favorite teammates. We had a great relationship just from the fact that we kind of knew each other before we got to Oklahoma. We did some things together before we got to OU, and Gerald's just such a great guy. He's got a great personality, he can make you laugh at any time and he's a tremendous football player as well."
On Sunday, however, their purposes will be at odds. The Bucs are trying to rebound from a tough loss to the Saints and stay close in a competitive NFC South race. The Rams are trying to continue their long-awaited turnaround and make their own move in the NFC West. Both teams are just a half-game out of first place in their divisions. It's serious stuff, but McCoy can't help but smile about the thought of chasing Bradford around the backfield.
"Never played against Sam, ever," said McCoy. "This will be my first time. It's going to be fun. We played together in college but this is a little different. He can't duck and dodge us this time because it's on the schedule. It's too late."
And make no mistake: McCoy knows it will be a challenge. Bradford may have just six NFL starts under his belt, and thus could be expected to be prone to some rookie mistakes, but McCoy says his former teammate is enormously talented.
"He's playing well," said McCoy. "Of course he makes those everyday rookie mistakes, but who doesn't? He's really good. Once he gets it, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with. It's going to be scary because Sam is one of the most accurate quarterbacks I've ever seen. He just is, and that's what makes him so good."
Bradford has taken every snap for the Rams this season and has completed 133 of 234 passes for 1,357 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. That rookie unpredictability is probably best reflected in his interception total, second only to San Francisco's Alex Smith (9) in the NFL, and his so-far pedestrian completion rate of 56.8%. But Bradford has also had to deal with serious injury issues in his receiving corps, with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton are already out for the year. Last weekend, he also dealt rather effectively with the NFL's top-ranked defense, beating San Diego by completing 18 of 31 passes for 198 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Bradford has also been sacked 14 times but has had no trouble getting up after each takedown. If there were any reservations about Bradford before the Rams took the plunge and spent the top pick on him in April, it was that he had twice lost seasons at Oklahoma to shoulder injuries. McCoy, who obviously had a close-up view of those events, said the Rams were right not to be concerned.
"He's a fighter," said McCoy. "The knock on Sam was that he can't take a hit. If anybody's been watching football this year, you've seen that he's been hit pretty hard. His helmet got off this last game, but he keeps coming back and fighting. That's just the type of guy Sam is. He just fell on his shoulder wrong. He falls on his shoulder wrong and now he can't take a hit. No, Sam's a tough guy, and he's really smart."
Bradford may be able to take a hit, but he certainly will try to avoid absorbing one from his former teammate.
"I know he's licking his chops to get a shot on me," said the Rams' passer. "He's already told me that. I'm sure that something that he's looking forward to on Sunday."
Eager for a Chance
The Green Bay Packers signed rookie running back Dmitri Nance off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad on September 14 and Nance has given the Pack some backfield depth after the season-ending injury to Ryan Grant.
That could have been Kregg Lumpkin's opportunity.
The Buccaneers found a brief spark in their struggling rushing attack in a Week Three loss to Pittsburgh, giving a handful of carries to rookie running back LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 27 yards and a touchdown on six totes.
That could have been Kregg Lumpkin's opportunity.
A second-year back who first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Green Bay in 2008, Lumpkin is still waiting for his first carry as a Buccaneer in 2010, and his first rush overall since the lone 19-yard run he had with the Packers as a rookie. He was waived by Green Bay this year in the final cutdown; had he stuck, he might have proved to be the depth the Packers needed. He was claimed off waivers by the Bucs immediately, but the next day Tampa Bay also snatched Blount from the Titans' waiver wire.
But Lumpkin has been patient, and that may be about to pay off.
"I'm eager," said the compact 5-11 and 228-pound back who averaged nearly five yards a carry at the University of Georgia. "I've been waiting for a long time for a chance to get out there and play. But everybody has their time. I've been waiting patiently and when my number calls I'll be ready."
On Wednesday morning, before the Buccaneers held their first on-field work in preparation for the Rams' visit, Lumpkin wasn't sure what if anything he would be asked to do this coming Sunday. Time will tell, he said, what his role in Tampa Bay's offense will be. But with Kareem Huggins now on injured reserve and Earnest Graham battling a nagging hamstring injury, there seems to be at least a greater possibility that Lumpkin will find his way into the Buccaneers' backfield.
So far, he has been active for two games (Weeks Two and Three) but has not taken a handoff or caught a pass. It's possible he could factor into the Bucs' backfield solution this week, or at some time soon, without getting his hands on the football. The Buccaneers believe Lumpkin has the same sort of versatile skill set that has made Graham so valuable, and among his capabilities is the fullback position.
"I had gotten out of the fullback mode but I still took on the physical aspects of being a good blocker," said Lumpkin. "I'm just a versatile back, like Earnest Graham himself – can play halfback, tailback, can catch out of the backfield, can block. I'm just, I guess, a taller version of him."
Both Blount and Lumpkin were inactive for the Bucs' Week Six game against New Orleans, but that was due in part to a balky foot that had made number-one wideout Mike Williams something of a question mark. Williams did play, but the Bucs kept fifth receiver Preston Parker active as insurance, and to test Parker out in the return game. The plan was to use Huggins to spell Williams, with Graham available as insurance while also starting at fullback. Unfortunately, both Huggins and Graham left the game with injuries and Williams was left playing almost every snap, repeatedly throwing himself in the way of Saints blitzers.
Only once have Lumpkin and Blount been active for the same game, and that was in Week Three against Pittsburgh. It's possible they'll both have helmets on against the Rams this weekend, and with Blount most likely to play a pure tailback role Lumpkin knows he needs to be ready if called upon to play fullback.
He has been studying hard to get the nuances of that position down.
"I just take the playbook home and look over it and any questions I have I ask Earnest Graham or Chris Pressley," said Lumpkin. "Cadillac helps out a lot too. And then you just go to the coaches. But on the field, you can only get out there and experience it yourself. A lot of players have different [views] of what's going on in a game."
Lumpkin would like his view of the game to be from the backfield instead of the sideline. His time may be at hand.
Injury List Grows but New Player Arrives
It's official: The Buccaneers' 2010 bye week fell a little too early for maximum effectiveness.
Pleasantly healthy throughout the preseason and in the weeks leading up to their Week Four bye, the Buccaneers have now stumbled into a rash of injuries. It's certainly no worse than what many other teams in the league face each week, but it's a significant change from the first quarter of the campaign.
In addition to placing running back Kareem Huggins on injured reserve on Tuesday, the Buccaneers held six players out of practice on Wednesday. Five of those six are starters.
Center Jeff Faine has already been ruled out for Sunday's game, the second in a row he will miss after suffering a quad injury in Cincinnati in Week Five. Also sidelined at the start of the week were fullback Earnest Graham (hamstring), guard Davin Joseph (knee), defensive tackle Brian Price (pelvis), linebacker Barrett Ruud (toe) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee).
Price is the only one of those six who is not listed as a starter on the Bucs' depth chart, but he also may be the most likely to miss Sunday's game against the Rams.
"He'll be week-to-week," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "It's possible [Price could miss the game]. "We're looking into it. He's with [Head Trainer] Todd Toriscelli and our directors and he'll be a week-to-week guy."
Graham left last Sunday's game against New Orleans early after aggravating the hamstring injury that had limited him on the practice field last week. However, Morris expressed confidence that the versatile back would be able to play against the Rams; Graham may even return to the practice field on Thursday.
Morris said Joseph, the team's starting right guard, has some swelling in his knee. Winslow is often given the first practice of the week off to manage his own knee issues. The Bucs hope both will be able to get back on the field during the week of practice.
Tampa Bay did have a new player on the field Wednesday, as newly-acquired defensive end Alex Magee arrived in time for the afternoon workout. Magee, who came over in a deadline-deal trade with Kansas City on Tuesday, has been slotted at left defensive end on the Bucs' depth chart but can also play inside.
"We're excited to get him," said Morris. "He's a guy we targeted in the draft a couple years ago. We talked about him and liked him a lot. He was one of those guys we eye-balled for a third or fourth-round slot back in those days. Now we've got a chance to acquire him via a trade and we're happy to have him. We're excited to add even more young talent to our roster."