Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano discusses kick coverage principles with Chris Daniels (16) and others
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy said his team was going to improve its kickoff return game in 2000, he wasn't just whistling Dixie.
Training camp is just 10 days old, and the Bucs have already devoted three one-hour afternoon practices to returning (and covering) kickoffs. Wednesday afternoon was the third of those sessions.
As usual, the team auditioned a variety of returners, including running backs Warrick Dunn, Aaron Stecker and Rabih Abdullah and receivers Yo Murphy, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green. All of this emphasis is part of an effort to lock in on one specific person to handle the job in order to avoid the return-by-committee approach used over the past few seasons.
Dungy was no closer to committing to who that person would be after Wednesday's practice, but he reiterated his desire to whittle down the field. "We hope to narrow it down to one or two guys by the time we get done with training camp," said Dungy.
Of course, while practice effort is important, Dungy has admitted that what occurs during the four preseason games will be the best indicator of who is taking the lead. To defuse any conjecture based on what order the players get their opportunities, Dungy indicated that there will be no preference shown this Friday in the preseason opener against Washington.
"I don't think it's any indication who's back there first or second as to where we are," he said. "But, yes, if someone does well…that's where Yo Murphy caught our eye last year, really hitting it hard and eventually, against New England, breaking one."
Those who get their chances on Friday will not be helped out by any fancy schemes or tricks, either. "We're going to try to do some basic fundamental stuff," said Dungy, "get our blockers so they know who to block and then see who's got a knack for finding the holes."
The only other news coming out of Wednesday afternoon's practice was an updated injury report, supplied by head trainer Todd Toriscelli. While injuries are always a top shelf topic during training camp, they become more urgently discussed when a game is approaching. Dungy knows he has 48 hours to determine who will suit up in Raymond James Stadium on Friday evening.
"I'm going to have a meeting with Todd tonight, and we'll have a better idea which of our guys will be back tomorrow, but I think we're going to be okay," said Dungy. "We had several guys we were trying to give a rest to their legs, hoping that, with a short practice tomorrow, they'd be better in 48 hours."
Five players have been definitively ruled out for Friday's game: FB Mike Alstott (hamstring), S Ashley Cooper (knee), T Jason Odom (back), S Damien Robinson (hamstring) and TE James Whalen (hamstring).
There is also a lengthy list of players considered questionable for the game: G Cosey Coleman (foot), S David Gibson (back), WR Jacquez Green (hip), WR Tavarus Hogans (hamstring), CB Tarig Holman (hamstring), DE Marcus Jones (groin), TE Henry Lusk (hand), CB Terrance Parrish (ankle), T Pete Pierson (hamstring), DT Warren Sapp (groin) and DE Mawuko Tugbenyoh (ankle).
The Buccaneers will practice twice more on Thursday, in shorts both times.