LB Derrick Brooks and the rest of the Bucs expect a serious challenge in Atlanta
Knee inflammations are a common occurrence in the National Football League. When the inflamed knee is on the leg of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, this common problem becomes a hot topic.
And so it was treated as very good, if not surprising, news that Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive tackle Warren Sapp returned to practice on Friday. Sapp had missed the previous two days of workouts due to what was referred to as a knee inflammation on the team's midweek injury report.
Specifically, that terminology meant that fluid had built up around Sapp's left knee. He was never in any significant pain, but the fluid buildup restricted the movement in that joint. The challenge of the Bucs' training staff was to remove that fluid from the knee, using anti-inflammatory medicine and treatment to force the fluid up or down.
It worked. The fluid is gone and Sapp participated fully in Friday's two-hour field session. He remains probable for Sunday's game in Atlanta, and Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated his belief that Sapp would play. In fact, Dungy was optimistic about the team's health as a whole.
"We actually did pretty well," said Dungy. "Shelton Quarles is probably the biggest question mark right now. Don Davis came back today. I think we're starting to get there."
There are nine names on the Bucs' injury report, but only Quarles' is accompanied with a 'questionable' rating, an indication that he has a 50-50 chance of playing. All the others are probable, including WR Karl Williams, who has missed three games since suffering a knee sprain in Washington on October 1. The team's primary punt returner when he's healthy, Williams might be back in that role in the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
"Karl's doing well and I think he'll be back this week," said Dungy.
Williams' injury is one of the few suffered by a Buccaneer since the season started that has been serious enough to keep a player out of the lineup for more than a week. There is an element of luck involved in avoiding injuries, but Dungy also believes his team prepared itself to stay healthy for the long run.
"I think our guys came in in good condition, number one," said Dungy. "I think they worked at it and had a real good training camp. You have to be fortunate to stay away from those catastrophic injuries, but I think because of how they worked in the offseason, that helps you not have the minor things, or you recover from them a little faster."
After a boisterous outing on Thursday afternoon, the Bucs' Friday practice was more quiet, with a business-like feel. "There were a lot of mental things to work on today, so I think our guys were concentrating on that," said Dungy.
Prior to last week, Dungy stressed the point that good game performances are built on good practices, that Wednesday efforts translate into Sunday success. He then watched his team put together an excellent week of workouts, building to their best performance of the season against Minnesota.
Fortunately, the Bucs had another round of practices that pleased Dungy this week.
"We did," said the head coach. "I thought last week we were exceptionally sharp. We maybe weren't quite as sharp (this week), but they were very good and I think our guys know, coming into the second half of the year, this is where we have to get started."
Dungy was pleased not only with his team's effort but with its overall state of mind. The Bucs' confidence was certainly restored by the Vikings game, but it hasn't been blown out of proportion. The team is expecting a very tough contest from the 3-6 Falcons and isn't likely to take the game lightly.
"No, I don't think so," said Dungy. "Many of our guys were here last year and it was a very tough game (against Atlanta) here, in our place. Atlanta…we just watched the tape and they play very physical. They play smart and their well-coached, so we know what we're in for."
The Bucs' offense, in particular, made great strides last Sunday, but a backslide is looming if Tampa Bay can't thwart the Falcons' high-pressure game plan.
"They put a lot of pressure on you, they're bringing people," said Dungy. "They're sending their linebackers a lot, and you have to be sharp on your pass-protection pickup. You have to be sharp on your run-blocking. They try to create negative plays, and when they do they're really tough."
The Buccaneers named their four Friday inactives late in the afternoon, and at least one injury situation has been clarified. LB Shelton Quarles was among the four inactives, so he will miss his second game in the last three weeks due to a groin strain. The other three inactives were: FB Charles Kirby, T DeMarcus Curry and TE Todd Yoder. The Bucs will have to name four more inactives 90 minutes before Sunday's game.