S John Lynch, right, felt fine in practice on Friday and is confident he'll play in Chicago on Sunday
Five Pro Bowls worth of defensive players watched Thursday's practice from the sideline, which could have been uncomfortable for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy, however, was confident that two-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch and three-time all-star linebacker Derrick Brooks would be back in the mix on Friday afternoon. They were.
Lynch, who suffered several deep thigh bruises against Green Bay last Sunday, sat out both Wednesday and Thursday but, as hoped, practiced fully on Friday. Brooks was on the field Wednesday and for the early portion of Thursday's session, but sat out most of the heavy work on the latter day with a sore back. He joined Lynch on the starting unit on Friday.
"They got their work in on Friday," said Dungy after the final full-scale work of the week. "It's not quite the same as the live work on Wednesday and Thursday, but those two guys generally play well when they know what's going on. I think they're into it and on board. If they can stay healthy, they'll be fine."
There was never much concern about Brooks, but Buccaneer trainers have been working on Lynch's left leg for most of the week in an effort to keep it from becoming stiff. That's an issue Lynch will continue to monitor over the weekend, but he doesn't expect a setback.
"It's going to be tight and sore regardless of what happens, but I have to deal with that," said Lynch. "Maybe the cold weather will make everything so numb that I can't feel anything."
Lynch added that last bit with a laugh, but he clearly isn't worried about his chances of playing on Sunday.
"I'm fine," he said. "I practiced today and I should be fine on Sunday. I'm going in with the attitude I do every week – play every snap."
A seasoned, eight-year veteran, Lynch has started 32 consecutive games and is clearly one of the team's defensive leaders, but he still sees the value in practicing as often as his health allows.
"It's always good to get out there," he said. "The game plan adjusts a little from week to week. You can see it on the board and on the film, but you have to get those repetitions for it to really click in. Even at this stage of my career, it's important to practice and to get that one day of work."
If Lynch does indeed need a little down time on Sunday, second-year man Dexter Jackson, who took over Lynch's spot in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, is ready to step in.
"Dexter Jackson's been going," said Dungy. "We hope that John's 100%, but if he's not, Dexter finished the game last week and did a good job, so I think we'll be okay."
None of the six players on the team's injury report have been ruled out for Sunday's game in Chicago, but the various minor ailments did play a part in the selection of Friday's inactives.
For instance, first-year tackle DeMarcus Curry, who has generally been included on Friday's list, was not this week, perhaps as a hedge against the condition of T George Hegamin. Hegamin sprained his left ankle during Wednesday's workout and has not practiced since. Hegamin is considered 'probable' for the Bears game, however, and Dungy was optimistic about his condition on Friday.
The Bucs' four Friday inactives were S David Gibson, WR Andre Hastings, DE John McLaughlin and TE Todd Yoder.
Three weeks of strong practices, three wins. That's no coincidence in Dungy's mind. The Bucs head coach doesn't hesitate to reveal when a practice hasn't met his expectations, and he admitted to some subpar efforts by his team on recent Wednesdays. However, each time the team has rebounded to put in sharp work on Thursday and Friday, and that has translated into good results on the last three Sundays.
"I always feel better when I think we're practicing well, and I thought we had that this week," said Dungy. "So I think we'll go up there and play well. It was a good week. I think our guys understand what the challenge is going to be. We did practice well.
"We had some guys nicked up early in the week – Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, George Hegamin, some guys that didn't practice. But that gave us a chance to get some other guys in there. I think we have a good idea of what we're in store for up there, and our concentration was good."
The Bucs will be leaving Florida on Saturday afternoon, but much of the nation will be turning their eyes to the Sunshine State that evening, whether or not the presidential election has been resolved by then.
Florida meets Florida State in what is annually one of the biggest, if not the most anticipated games on the fall schedule. As is often the case, this year's game carries national title implications, and the presence of five former Seminoles or Gators on the Buccaneers' roster (not to mention a pair of Miami alums) guarantees that it will be a hot topic at the team's hotel in Chicago.
Even Dungy was talking about the big game on Friday.
Well, maybe not that big game.
"I've been a little more focused in on the big game…Iowa-Minnesota," said Dungy, when asked about his thoughts on the Florida rivalry. "I think in Florida-Florida State, their probably won't be quite as much hitting as in the Iowa-Minnesota game, but I think their will be more scoring and it will probably be a big game."
Dungy wouldn't take sides on the Gators-Noles issue, citing locker room considerations, but he remembers the days when a battle between Iowa and Minnesota was just as critical. Even now, he's rooting hard for his alma mater to gain possession of the traveling trophy awarded to the winner of the Hawkeyes-Gophers contest.
"The Floyd of Rosedale Trophy!" said Dungy. "It's a bronzed pig, four feet high and about six feet wide. The Governors (of Iowa and Minnesota) way back a long time ago came up with it. I guess they bet a pig, or whatever, then they bronzed one and now it's a traveling trophy. It's a big game. You can't appreciate fully unless you're there."
Besides the chance for his alma mater to gain possession of a metallic swine, Dungy has another reason to root for the Gophers to finish the season with a win.
"We've got to win this one to be bowl eligible, so it's huge from that standpoint," said the dedicated alumnus.
DT Warren Sapp is a man of many talents, and that's becoming more obvious by the day. On Thursday, Sapp confirmed that Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano considers him the team's emergency kicker (he says he's a straight-ahead kicker, "Tom Dempsey-style"). On Friday, he made a pitch to serve as the third-string quarterback.
While other portions of the team went through individual drills early in Friday's workout, the team's four quarterbacks (Shaun King, Eric Zeier, Joe Hamilton and practice squad member Ted White) retired to the far right corner of the backfield complex for one of their favorite drills.
From about the 40-yard line, the four QBs took turns trying to loft a touch pass downfield, over a 12-foot high net and into a laundry basket just on the other side of the net. Since it's a difficult task, only a few passes actually went into the bucket. Hamilton, who had done well in this diversion during training camp, didn't get any of his throws to fall.
When the defensive line finished their drills earlier than the quarterbacks, Sapp wandered over to join in the competition. Sapp took one throw…and dropped it dead in the bucket. After that, a jubilant Sapp told Hamilton he was coming after his job