Despite stripping off some of the pads, S John Lynch and the Buccaneers hit each other aggressively on Wednesday
Monday and Tuesday may not be the favorite part of the week for most, but those days have certainly treated Shaun King well recently.
For the second straight week, King was considered a question mark for Wednesday's practice due to Sunday injuries. And, for the second week in a row, King has progressed well enough in his recovery on Monday and Tuesday to take the field with the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This time it was a groin injury, suffered during warmups on Sunday before the team's 27-7 win over Dallas. King was visibly hampered by the injury during the game and felt poorly afterwards, but he was already in better shape by Monday morning, according to the team's training staff. The previous week, he had made an equally kick recovery from a very sore lower back.
Whether King will still feel the effects of his injuries on Sunday in Miami is still to be determined, but he won't miss the practice time that Head Coach Tony Dungy considers so valuable.
"Shaun did fine," said Dungy. "He didn't seem to have any problems."
Not exactly an excitable guy in the first place, King was positively low-key about the injury after a successful Wednesday test of it, not to mention the lingering soreness in his back.
"Oh, I'm fine," said King. "I'll still get treatment everyday, and this is one of those things that we'll probably have to treat the rest of the year – just precautionary.
"It's just one of those things. It's late in the season, and sometimes you just have little nicks. We'll start stretching it a little more or maybe change the routine a little bit to get some extra flexibility in there and do some preventive things to keep it from recurring."
King confirmed Dungy's assessment that the groin injury did not slow him down during Wednesday's two-hour afternoon workout. "No, I was fine," said King. "We'll just take it a little light to make sure I don't aggravate anything and I'm ready on Sunday."
A few other Buccaneers weren't so lucky. Perhaps most notably, WR Keyshawn Johnson didn't practice on Wednesday thanks to a brutal catch on Sunday on which he landed on the back of his neck but held on for a 19-yard gain in the fourth quarter. That has led to a sore neck and upper back this week.
"I think Keyshawn's going to be okay," said Dungy. "He could have practiced today but is still a little bit sore and we didn't want to take a chance on having a setback. There's a good chance he'll go tomorrow and we're pretty sure he's going to play on Sunday."
CB Donnie Abraham, who played just over one quarter on Sunday thanks to a mixture of a hip flexor strain, a very mild concussion and a shoulder bruise, was in the same boat as Johnson. Abraham could have played had the game been on Wednesday, but the best approach was to give him a little more recovery time.
"We felt a day of rest on his legs would help him," said Dungy. "Al Singleton was out, of course…Mike Alstott…Aaron Stecker did some light running didn't participate in the full-scale drills, and Frank Middleton we rested today, too."
Middleton, in fact, wasn't even on the field with the team during the afternoon, as he was off site undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam on his right shoulder. The shoulder has been causing Middleton discomfort for weeks, but an X-ray performed earlier on Wednesday showed nothing of concern. The Buccaneers' training staff does not expect to find anything serious in the MRI, either, but felt it was necessary to take every precaution. While an X-ray shows just the status of the bones, an MRI can reveal muscle or ligament tears.
One other player not mentioned above, Warren Sapp, was on the Bucs' Wednesday injury report due to a lower back strain. However, Sapp participated fully in practice in the afternoon.
For the second straight week, the Bucs came out on Wednesday afternoon without a full set of pads, as had previously been there early-week mode. Dungy likes to keep his team fully into hitting late in the season, but has bowed somewhat to the wishes of his team after two very rough games against Buffalo and Dallas.
"We went without the (uniform) pants again," said Dungy. "They seem to think it lightens them, makes their legs a little fresher. I don't know if it makes all that much difference, but we still got the same work done.
"It's more probably psychological than anything."
Surprisingly, however, that didn't seem to lighten up the hitting during the half-hour of full-team drills that finished practice. S John Lynch, in particular, lowered his shoulder into several hits, something that, considering his left shoulder injury, could set the tone for a defense that believes it needs to be very aggressive in Miami.
"No, we know what we're going to be in store for," said Dungy. "It's going to be a physical game against a real tough running football team and a tough, physical defense, so we've got to be ready."
The Bucs aren't poring over extra game film this week trying to unlock the mystery of the Dolphins' offense or defense. By all accounts, Sunday's game is going to be a physical, no-frills game in which the victor will simply execute better. The Dolphins have had tremendous success this season by doing what they do well rather than attempting to fool their opponents.
Furthermore, much of what Miami does is similar to what the Buccaneers saw just a few days ago against Dallas.
"I think that does help us a little bit," said Dungy. "The defenses are similar in philosophy. Dallas doesn't have the personnel, especially in the secondary, that Miami does, but the philosophy is the same. We had some plays that we'll run again this week."
That should also give the scout team a little extra edge in practice, as it has done much of the same thing for two weeks now. One prominent aspect of the Dolphins' defense is difficult to emulate, however, as cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain employ very tight bump coverage at the line of scrimmage. Those two have helped the Dolphins rank fifth against the pass this season and lead the league in interceptions, with 25. Buccaneer defensive backs such as Floyd Young and Dexter Jackson were charged with giving Tampa Bay receivers that look in practice.
"They did pretty well," said Dungy. "They simulated them as well as we could."
While the majority of the Bucs were participating in seven-on-seven drills on the far field midway through practice, K Martin Gramatica, P Mark Royals, C Morris Unutoa and Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano were using the near field for a rapid-fire field goal drill.
As he does every week on Wednesday, Marciano put Gramatica through a total of 12 kicks in quick succession, six pairs from each hash mark from the 10 yard line through the 35. That's six distances ranging from 27 to 52 yards, and Gramatica was true on 11 of his 12 tries this time around.
Of course, Gramatica's on a bit of a roll, having tied the team record with 16 consecutive successful three-pointers through last Sunday's win over Dallas.
Coach Marciano often ratchets up the pressure by standing close to Gramatica and yelling at him to break his concentration. Maybe he should try using DE Marcus Jones.
Jones managed to pad his stats on Wednesday without even playing a game. The Elias Sports Bureau, which compiles and maintains the NFL's statistical database, phoned the Buccaneers on Wednesday to inform them that Jones had been credited, retroactively, with a blocked field goal against the Cowboys. Jones got a hand on Tim Seder's 34-yard try at the end of the first half, causing the ball to flutter to the right and strike the right upright.
Jones now has two blocked field goals on the season (he also victimized Detroit on October 19), and the Bucs have a franchise-record total of seven blocked kicks (four field goals, three punts).