The Bucs' last trip to the Superdome was a victory in 2004, but a reenergized Saints crowd will make it more difficult to duplicate that feat
The speakers may not be enough this week.
Practicing under the high-decibel blare of piped-in crowd noise is a common exercise for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in advance of a game on the road, particularly one to be played in a dome. The Bucs head to New Orleans and the resurrected Superdome this weekend, so the speakers will almost certainly be in place on the sidelines Wednesday and Thursday.
That should help the Bucs work on their communication under adverse conditions, but it's not likely to completely simulate the conditions the visitors will find in the Superdome on Sunday. The nation got a taste of those conditions a week ago when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons in front of a very emotional Monday night crowd. Fervent Saints fans surely played a part in taking the Falcons out of their game. Witness: Atlanta's out-of-control rushing attack has crossed 250 yards in each of the Falcons' other three games, all wins, but got "just" 117 against the Saints.
Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Gruden will use some quieter words along with the speakers to prepare his players for that atmosphere, but there may not be much he can say.
"I tried to say that to these guys," said Gruden. "You don't know what you're going into. You're not going into another domed stadium on the road. You're going into an atmosphere that we'll try to simulate, but we're going to have a hard time doing that."
That's a worrisome issue for the Buccaneers' offense, but on a larger scale it is a welcome development for the NFL and for the nation as a whole.
"These people are very excited about the return of football in the Superdome, and they should be," said Gruden. "This is a great story in society, in America, if you ask me. It's the reemergence of one of our great cities, and the Saints are helping them gain momentum in bringing that city back. It's quite a story."
The Bucs have prepared well for dome games in recent years. Even after its Week Two loss at Atlanta's Georgia Dome this season, Tampa Bay is 7-4 in games played in domes under Gruden. That includes wins in each of their last two trips to the Superdome, in 2003 and 2004 (the Bucs played the Saints at Louisiana State University last season).
This trip, however, is about more than roofed-in noise.
"It's a very enthusiastic place right now and for good reason," said Gruden. "They've got a good football team and New Orleans is on it's way back, which is exciting."
Joseph Improving, But Ill
Injured guard Davin Joseph might have hit the practice field on Monday – Gruden acknowledged a "rumor" to that effect – but the rookie's return was delayed by a new problem unrelated to his sprained knee.
"He got sick today," said Gruden ruefully. "He's doing much better [with his knee]. We're disappointed he wasn't able to give it a go today, but he has an illness, a virus. Hopefully he'll be ready to go in some capacity Wednesday. I won't rule him out of the game but I won't say he's going either."
Joseph suffered an injury to his right knee on September 6, during the Wednesday practice before the team's September 10 season opener. The injury did not require surgery but Joseph hasn't practiced or played since. He might return to the field in two days, though, and move closer to regaining the starting right guard spot he had earned before his practice-field mishap.
The Bucs won't quantify Joseph's chances of playing in Sunday's game at New Orleans until Wednesday, when the first official injury report is due. Even if the first-rounder out of Oklahoma isn't cleared for the Saints contest, there seems to be general optimism that he'll be on the field soon. Monday's battle with the virus simply delayed the Bucs' chances to gauge the extent of his recovery.
"You can only evaluate practice performance when you're out there," said Gruden. "He's made great strides in his recovery and he is getting close on coming back to play."
Quarterback Added to Practice Squad
Whether or not the Buccaneers spend any significant length of time with only two quarterbacks on the roster, they definitely needed another arm for the practice field. That need prompted a switch on the practice squad on Monday.
In is quarterback Bryan Randall, a first-year player out of Virginia Tech who spent portions of his 2005 rookie season on Atlanta's practice squad. To make room for Randall on the eight-man practice crew, the Bucs released TE Keith Heinrich.
The 6-0, 222-pound Randall first joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in April of 2005. He made it to Atlanta's final cut as a rookie then was signed for two separate stints on the practice squad before going back to camp with the Falcons this summer. Atlanta released Randall in late August after he fought a tough battle with seventh-round draft pick D.J. Shockley in training camp.
As a senior with the Hokies, Randall won ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors after passing for 2,264 yards and adding 511 rushing yards. He hails from Williamsburg, Virginia.
Heinrich spent three weeks on the Buccaneers' practice squad after being signed on September 13. He previously played for Cleveland and Carolina, seeing action in 17 regular-season games, and went to training camp with Miami this summer.