WR Keyshawn Johnson and the Bucs' offense looked sharp in practice on Friday
As rough and rugged as the sport of football is, NFL head coaches sometimes need a delicate touch in September. That is, conducting a practice three quarters of the way down the schedule can be as much a matter of rehabilitation as preparation.
Dungy spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday running his team through full-speed practices in order to prepare for a visit from the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. After leaving the field at approximately 1:00 p.m. on Friday, the team was finished save for a brief walk-through Saturday morning and meetings in the evening.
By Friday, then, Dungy needs to have a good feel for both how well his team grasped the game plan and who's going to be available to execute it.
And the main concerns on that latter point during the week were defensive ends Steve White and Chidi Ahanotu, cornerback Brian Kelly and running back Stecker. The early verdict is good: Other than Stecker, everyone was on the field participating in Friday's session.
"They did (practice), and seemed to do okay," said Dungy of Kelly and Ahanotu, who missed Thursday's practice in somewhat of a surprise development. "We think we're going to have their services. Steve White made it through okay. We'll see how they are tomorrow. If there are no residuals than they should be in good shape to play."
All three appeared to move about without problems on Friday, and the same could be said of the team's offense. As usual, it was crisper at the end of the week than on Wednesday, and it operated to Dungy's satisfaction on Friday.
"We've been pretty good," he said. "We had a real physical game last week, so it was a matter of getting guys back and getting them healthy. But I think our focus was there. We realize it's an NFC game against a very tough opponent, and we've had a good week."
Very few of his players have ever lined up against Dallas, but Dungy certainly has seen his share of action against the Cowboys.
Dungy played defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977 and '78, and there may not have been a better rivalry in the NFL in the '70s than Steelers-Cowboys.
The two teams met once in Dungy's rookie season of 1977, with Pittsburgh topping the Cowboys, 28-13, at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers went 9-5 during that regular season but lost in the first round of the playoffs, while Dallas went on to win the Super Bowl.
The following season, Pittsburgh didn't play Dallas during the regular season, but the two squads matched up in Super Bowl XIII and Dungy's team won, 35-31.
"We always had fun playing Dallas," said Dungy. "In those days, they were always big games. I've played against them a few times since as an assistant coach and haven't had quite as much success. I'd like to get back on the winning side against them."
FB Mike Alstott continued to head up the team's Friday inactive list as, for the first time in his five-year NFL career, he will miss consecutive games. Alstott, who sprained his left knee in Chicago on November 19, had played in and started 74 of the team's 75 regular season games since 1996 before missing last week's win over Buffalo.
Joining Alstott on the team's inactive list were Stecker, T DeMarcus Curry and S Eric Vance. Like Alstott, Stecker has a knee sprain, this one suffered against Buffalo on the opening kickoff return (Stecker was blocking for WR Karl Williams). After Stecker left the game on Sunday, Williams and Anthony handled the kickoff returns the rest of the way.