Rookie DT Roy Miller got a little extra work on the practice field Friday and he should see plenty of snaps on Sunday against Dallas
Raheem Morris has experienced the heat of coaching on an NFL sideline for years. He's felt the intensity ratchet up from the preseason to the regular season six previous times. And he's had eight months to become comfortable with the role of head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But he's never experienced all of that at once. On Sunday, roughly 48 hours after his team finished up its week of practice at One Buccaneer Place, Morris will stand on the sidelines as an NFL head coach for a regular season game for the first time. Surprisingly, that fact was causing him no anxiety on Friday.
"A prepared person doesn't have to worry about pressure," said Morris. "I feel prepared, I feel my team's prepared, I feel my coaches are prepared, I feel my plan is prepared. I've got them going in the right direction, now we've just got to go do it, got to go play. I'm just ready."
What's more, he considers his milestone to be nothing more than a footnote, at least at this point. There is much more to occupy his mind than how he might feel about his regular-season debut.
"This thing is not about me," he said. "It's not my moment, it's our moment. It's our team's moment. If I'm worried about me and my moment, the Dallas Cowboys are probably going to beat my butt. I can't worry about that. I've got to get myself prepared to play a really good team in Dallas, maybe a great team. It's yet to be determined. I've got to get ready play this talented team, this football team coached by a talented guy, that's been in this league for a long time, that doesn't care about Raheem's moment. And neither do I, at this point."
Among the things more likely to occupy his attention in the last 48 hours before kickoff is the health of his team. That issue always gets a more focused appraisal on Fridays, when teams are required to release an injury report with game designations. The Buccaneers did so early in the afternoon, and it included three players who are unlikely to suit up for the season opener.
Rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers, in fact, has been ruled out for Sunday's game due to his shoulder injury. Tight end John Gilmore and linebacker Adam Hayward, both of whom are dealing with ankle injuries, have a small chance to play but are considered doubtful. Players listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report almost never play on Sunday unless they are officially upgraded on Saturday.
Rookie defensive end Kyle Moore, who is expected to be a valuable part of the Bucs' very active defensive line rotation, is considered questionable due to a mild groin strain. He did not practice on Friday for the second straight day.
Another rookie lineman who will be part of that rotation, third-round pick Roy Miller, got a little extra practice time on Friday when the team held veteran defensive tackle Ryan Sims. Sims has no injury; he was simply getting an extra day of rest. Both players are expected to see plenty of playing time on Sunday, along with fellow starting defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
"Roy's going to work with the first team no matter what; we've got that constant roll [of substitutions] in there," said Morris. "We just held Ryan Sims today because we had an extra day. Yesterday we held [Michael] Clayton and A.B. [Antonio Bryant]; today we held Ryan. We were going to work him in regardless."
Clayton and Bryant, the team's starting receivers, practiced fully on Friday after being given Thursday off. They are listed as probable to play against the Cowboys. Bryant missed all of the preseason and Clayton most of it with their knee and hamstring injuries, respectively, so their readiness for the opener is a valid question.
"They are going to have to fight through it to be ready to go," said Morris. "If they are not, they have to be ready to go as far as their backups, the Brian Clarks of the world, the Maurice Stovalls and Sammie Stroughters. All of those guys have to be ready to step in and play a major role."
The Cowboys have already ruled out three of their players, though none of them are starters. Reserve linebackers Curtis Johnson and Jason Williams have hamstring and ankle issues, respectively, and will not play. Cornerback Michael Hamlin will miss the game due to a wrist injury. Third-string quarterback Stephen McGee was added to Dallas' injury report on Friday due to a knee injury and is considered questionable for the game.
Morris might also be spending some pregame time wondering how well his new young starters at linebacker will perform. He definitely saw encouraging signs during the preseason from Quincy Black and Geno Hayes, but the two still must prove themselves as dynamic playmakers bracketing stalwart middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
Hayes was recently promoted to the starting 11 when Jermaine Phillips was moved back to safety after spending much of the offseason converting to weakside linebacker. Black, however, has been running with the first team for months and Morris can see the difference that has made in the third-year player out of New Mexico.
"Seeing Quincy grow, seeing Quincy become an older player, watching him fly around and gain more confidence…," said Morris. "He's always been a physical presence that you look at and say, 'Wow, when this guy gets it and the light comes on he's going to be pretty good.' I think the light's starting to come. He can't wait for these live-action bullets here to start flying. We'll get him out there in that realm and we'll judge him on that. But he's done everything we've asked him to do, he's been smart, he's been detailed, he's moved around a little bit for us. You talk about position flexibility. Special teams, he's been dominant. I'm fired up about Quincy this year and the year he's going to have."
Black replaces Cato June, who held the strongside position for two years before being released in February. Hayes takes over for the legendary Derrick Brooks, who never missed a game in his 14 seasons and started all but three of the last 224. It remains to be seen whether Black and Hayes are temporary placeholders, or if they can establish their own legacy for the next wave of young players to follow.
"You're talking about a guy who is hopefully going to be our starting 'backer for a long time," said Morris of Black. "Him, Barrett [Ruud], Geno [Hayes] giving us our foundation and hopefully they become the guys that take the torches and run with them. They're in constant communication with all our older guys. Once you're a Buc, I think you're always a Buc. We're fired up about these young guys taking this thing and running with it."
More from Coach Morris
The Bucs' head coach addressed several other relevant topics leading up to Sunday's opener:
On his comfort level with punter Dirk Johnson: "I'm feeling really good about Dirk. Dirk did everything we asked in the preseason. He's a very good directional punter. He's an older guy, he's been around the league, he's sharp, he's bright, he can do all the things we ask him to do. He's taken all the information well. He's savvy; the other day we had a misstep and he caught the ball and got it off quickly. Some of the things you see that you like about him, that you like about having a vet like Dirk in here, are pretty good. So I'm feeling comfortable with him."
On if he considers not using Clifton Smith on offense too much because of Smith's value as a kick returner: "You do, that's just a natural career move from being a young head coach. You don't want to get him out there and ruin your guy, but you have to use his talent. He is dynamic when he gets the ball in his hands, whether it is a kick return or a punt return, a halfback pass or a screen, whatever you can do with that guy. You can just do so many things. He is talented."
On if Sammie Stroughter can be an Ike Hilliard type who makes catches in traffic in the middle of the field: "I hope so. We have to see if he likes it. We had a guy around here that was doing that for a long time, Ike Hilliard. He got in there when it was 'sticky', what we called it around here and made those 'sticky' catches. He wasn't afraid to get his face peeled off like he did a couple times and he got up, from some of them. Some of them we carried them off. Antonio likes to say, 'sometimes we go in there and it's daytime and sometimes you come out and it's night.' You have to be ready to deal with that when you are a wide out. That's the nature of the beast and we're going to have some of our guys to do that."
On if Derrick Ward's familiarity with the Cowboys when he played for the Giants would help the Buccaneers: "You would think so. It's like us playing a divisional opponent. You know them so well, they know you so well. Nobody is trying to trick each other that week. You might as well call each other up and tell them what you are going to do because it really doesn't matter. He's done it for a while, I'm sure he is sharing it with his room, I'm sure he is sharing it with his coach. Anything that he has that might have worked for him, it has to help. It's a natural thing."