DE Dewayne White and the Buccaneers had to stay hydrated during a very hot and muggy week of practice
The first week of regular season practice is unlike any of the rest.
After the games have begun, a team has hard evidence of its strengths and weaknesses, a list of deficiencies to correct and an idea of what it does best.
The first week is all speculation, confidence blended with the uncertainty of the unknown. Add in the target Florida has had on its back this hurricane season, and the resulting schedule changes and family concerns, and it has certainly been a week full of white noise.
Fortunately, Head Coach Jon Gruden thinks his team has been able to drown out the static and put together a good week. After the Bucs completed their final full-scale workout on Friday afternoon, Gruden gave his overall assessment to a six-day span that has included player cuts, bonus practices, a hurricane day and a pleasing return to health by the squad overall.
"It was pretty good, I thought," said Gruden. "The guys worked hard. You've got to meet some new players on your practice squad, get them acclimated to how we're practicing and what their role is. You've got some players who really haven't played much in some of the preseason games, overcoming injuries. Obviously now they're taking more and more reps. It was a good week of practice and it was an informative one for a lot of people."
At first glance, the Bucs looked like they had taken the field with half a team on Tuesday. Just over a week ago, the team had nearly 90 men on the practice field, and there almost weren't enough snaps to go around. Now the ranks are thinned to 60, counting the practice squad, and players must get used to being on the field for more snaps every afternoon.
"It's just like every season," said Gruden. "You cut the roster down and your rotation's aren't three deep, they're two deep and in some cases you're getting a lot of reps on both sides, the service squad and the style that you play."
And, while the destruction and potential destructions of hurricanes past and future have been the main topic of weather discussion, the Bucs had more struggles with the heat and humidity this week, in the lull between Frances and Ivan.
More reps plus soupier air led some players to feel the heat a little more this week than in awhile. Still, as the team has discovered many times over in nearly 30 summers on the West Florida coast, difficult practice conditions can be an advantage in the long run.
"It's a problem," Gruden conceded. "You've got to try to do the best you can to stay on top of that, be creative in terms of how you practice, yet you still have to get your work done. It's a tough obstacle, the heat down here, and it's good practice in some ways for these guys to get ready to play in the fourth quarter of a game when they're tired."
Fortunately, the Bucs were at full strength for this battle against the elements. Though they never put their intended starting 22 on the field together during the preseason, it looks as if the team will do just that Sunday in Washington. The starters who were held out of the preseason finale in Houston last Thursday – Brian Kelly, Charlie Garner, Shelton Quarles, Tim Brown, Joey Galloway and Anthony McFarland – are all back on the practice field and ready to go against the Redskins. The Bucs put out a blank injury report this week (that does not include PUP-listers Joe Jurevicius and Matt O'Dwyer, of course).
"As far as I know," said Gruden, "everybody's ready to go."