Lightning and heavy rain forced the Bucs to hold their Thursday afternoon practice in the Club Lounge at Raymond James Stadium
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the same five starting offensive linemen on the field for all 16 regular-season games, marking the first time that had happened in franchise history.
This year, they won't even have their anticipated starting five on the field for the season opener.
That became official Thursday afternoon when rookie guard Davin Joseph was downgraded from questionable to out on the injury report. Joseph suffered a right knee injury in practice on Wednesday and was immediately added to the official list. By Thursday, an MRI had both confirmed his lack of availability for Sunday's game against Baltimore and quieted the team's larger fears over the rookie's knee.
"We don't believe it's a serious injury but we're going to look at him week to week," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We hope to get him back sooner than later, but he's out Sunday. We are somewhat pleased to find out its not more serious than maybe we feared."
Just one year removed from an injury-plagued training camp that worked over the offensive line particularly hard, the Bucs enjoyed a smooth 2006 camp, with very few injuries of note. It has only been in these last days before the regular season that tide has turned again, particularly along the line. Despite playing only five starters in the preseason finale, and only letting those five see one series of action, the Bucs suffered a blow with the ankle injury incurred by starting left guard Dan Buenning. Buenning hasn't practiced since, and it's thus possible that the Bucs will open the season without either of their starting guards in place.
"We're going to start Jeb Terry at right guard and Sean Mahan will start at left guard if Dan Buenning can't go," said Gruden. "We'll adjust based on Dan's status here in the next couple of days."
Buenning got hurt in a game and Joseph in practice, but they both fell victim to that sometimes unavoidable fluke: A defensive linemen landing on the backs of their legs.
"It was just a basic play," said Gruden of Joseph's mishap. "We had a collision and a defender landed on his extended leg. Sometimes those things happen. They're rare, but usually when you see a lineman get hurt that's the case. Unfortunately, that happened yesterday."
The accident was unfortunately timed for Joseph, who had won a starting job in training camp and was preparing for his first NFL regular season game. The gregarious Oklahoma product was clearly looking forward to his debut.
"He's taking it hard," Gruden admitted. "Oh man, he's so excited to play. At the same time, I think he's such a great kid. He's going to have great resolve here and he's going to support the guys who go in and play. A lot of guys are truly excited for Jeb Terry should he get a chance to start a game. He's been here awhile and worked hard."
That, of course, is the silver lining for the Buccaneers. While the injuries could leave the Bucs thin at guard and center – Mahan is the primary backup at center – the new starters would be anything but green. Mahan started the final eight games of 2004 at center and all 16 contests last fall at right guard. Terry, a third-year player, hasn't started yet but he opened each of the last two training camps as the starter at right guard. Injuries derailed him in 2004 and Joseph's rapid development put him back in a reserve role this August.
"We feel like we've got some really good players here," said Gruden of the O-line corps. "Sean Mahan started 24 straight games. If he needs to start he'll play well, he'll play very well. We're encouraged by what we see in our offensive line but very disappointed in Davin's injury because he's an outstanding player. Fortunately, he'll be back soon."
If it's Ravens week, that means bad weather is on the way.
In Week Two of 2002, the Bucs were scheduled to travel to Baltimore for a September 15 game. On the Thursday of the week leading up to that contest, inclement weather caused by Tropical Storm Hannah forced the Bucs to spend half of their afternoon practice time walking through the paces inside a nearby parking garage.
Just another one of One Buccaneer Place's charms.
Now several weeks into work at their new, state-of-the-art facility near Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs were again chased by rain and lightning on the Thursday before the Baltimore game.
The Bucs tried to take the field at about 12:45 but quickly fled nearby lightning. After trying to wait out the storm, the team eventually took their practice indoors. This time the location was a little nicer – the Club Lounge at Raymond James Stadium.
"We did have to adjust practice today given the weather," said Gruden. "We did get our work in. Fortunately, the people at the stadium were good enough to clear a tremendous area [inside] where we had a good practice."
Obviously, practice is important or teams wouldn't bother with it. And obviously a full-speed outdoor workout is superior to a slowed-down indoor session. Still, the Bucs have overcome this situation quite often in the past – they beat Baltimore, 25-0, in 2002 – and part of that is making the most of the situation.
"We had a huge area cleared out," said Gruden. "We actually had a very good practice. We would like to be outside, no question about it, but given the weather and the lightning we had to force ourselves to go inside today."
More Injury Updates
While Joseph was downgraded on Thursday, Buenning and linebacker Shelton Quarles (groin) remained questionable for the game. Gruden, however, said he was encouraged by the swift progress being made by both Buenning and Quarles.
Neither practiced on Thursday.
"We obviously don't want to have a setback at this time," said Gruden of Buenning in particular. "He's making progress. We'll see where he is certainly tomorrow and Saturday morning and go from there."
Quarles has been recovering from his groin injury for about 10 days. The Bucs are preparing for the possibility of his absence, with second-year man Barrett Ruud running with the first team, but also know that Quarles is one of their toughest players.
"I don't want to sit around and be a dreamer here, I'm just telling you he's questionable," said Gruden. "Knowing Shelton, if it's close he'll play and play good. But if he can't go he'll be the first to let me know and we'll adjust our plans."
The Ravens' injury report was unchanged on Thursday, with all five players remaining questionable. None of those five – running back Jamal Lewis, wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Chris McAlister, running back P.J. Daniels and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin – practiced on Wednesday or Thursday.