LB Derrick Brooks has never missed a game in his NFL career and misses very few practices
In need of a winning streak, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope to put their best foot forward on Sunday in Nashville.
First, though, they had to try out their bad ones.
Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks, two players central to the Bucs' efforts on offense and defense, respectively, have similar foot sprains that have threatened to keep them on the sideline for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Neither had practiced with the team on Wednesday and Thursday, beyond some light running.
On Friday, both came back into the huddle for what the training department and coaching staff considered a key indicator of their chances to play on Sunday. Had either left the practice early due to the pain, his status probably would have been downgraded to questionable.
Both Dunn and Brooks made it through. Afterward, each sounded hopeful if not completely sold on their chances to suit up against the Titans. For both, the reaction of their sprained feet (Brooks' left, Dunn's right) on Saturday to Friday's work will be critical, which means these are ultimately gameday decisions.
"I got out there and moved around a little bit," said Brooks. "Today was the first time I was able to move on it. We'll look at it now, see what happens tomorrow and make a decision on Sunday.
"I wasn't able to walk Monday, and here I am now, so I've made improvement."
Dunn's comments were similar.
"Actually, I ran and felt okay," he said. "It's just like anything else – you play with pain a little bit. In this business at this level, you have to. Guys around the league, guys on this team, play with pain. Dave Moore has an ankle injury and he's going to play. I just happen to have a (foot sprain).
"The main thing is, we don't want to do anything to regress. We'll see how it goes tomorrow and just go from there."
Dunn, who on Wednesday referred to his chances of playing as 'fair to partly cloudy,' offered no forecast on Friday but did seem outwardly confident. Of course, Dunn's own assessment will have to be shared by the training staff before he'll be asked to suit up.
"If (Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) feels like he can go without risking any further injury, and if he can be effective with it, and if he can run full speed and cut, that's probably going to be the determining factor," said Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy generally likes to see his players in practice for at least the Friday session to feel good about their chances to play over the weekend. That's why the week-ending, 100-minute workout was an important step for Brooks and Dunn.
"(Dunn) did fine today," said Dungy. "Basically, with he and Derrick, what (Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) wants to do is see how they made it through. They both made it through fine and now, tomorrow when they come in, if there's no negative reaction there's a good shot both of them will play."
Both Brooks and Dunn have worked hard to be every-down players in the NFL and are not interested in returning to a limited role while waiting to heal completely. The Bucs' Pro Bowl linebacker, who is renowned for making plays sideline to sideline, hopes to have his full range of motion back before stepping back onto the playing field.
"I want to be able to move," said Brooks, simply. "If I'm able to move, I'm fine."
Dunn could conceivably be kept active but not used as fully in the offense as he was pre-injury, giving his obvious talents as a third-down back. That is not an appealing thought to the Pro Bowl running back.
"I don't want to go in and just be used on third downs," he said. "If I'm playing, I want to play. That's the only way you're going to get comfortable, get back into it and get in a groove. My foot may hurt me for the rest of the year, so one day you just have to decide to play through it and make the most of it. Every once in awhile, I may take a step or do something that will tweak it a little bit, but you play with that.
"I think it's just a matter of getting comfortable with it. Once you reach your limit of knowing how to deal with it, you can adjust your game to it. I don't really think I'm going to change much."
Said Dungy of Dunn's role: "If we play him, we're going to use him. We're not going to play him and just have him be an emergency guy."
Brooks indicated that the natural grass surface at Tennessee's Adelphia Coliseum makes him more optimistic about his return, a thought with which Dunn agreed. That's a fortunate bit of scheduling for the Bucs, who will play on artificial turf on four of their eight road trips this year.
Brooks' history is also encouraging, as he has yet to miss a single game in his six-plus years in the NFL despite making nearly 1,000 tackles. In fact, he happens to be sitting on exactly 99 consecutive games and is probably looking forward to making it an even 100 in Tennessee.
Dunn has missed only one game, late in 1999, and has proven to all doubters that his toughness far outdistances his size. In addition, he appears to be somewhat of a fast healer.
"What I try to do is take care of my body," said Dunn. "I think because of my history, my body recovers fast. When I get injured, if I have bumps and bruises, they tend to heal quickly. I'm fortunate to have a body that does that. It's weird."
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp was added to the injured report on Friday after not practicing during the afternoon. Sapp has a slight hamstring strain and has been added as a 'probable.' He is not expected to miss the game.