Rookie G Davin Joseph is excited about his first regular season game, but a Wednesday injury now has him questionable to play against the Ravens
The National Football League will burst from the gate Thursday night, as Miami travels to Pittsburgh for the first game of the 2006 regular season. On Friday night in Tampa, players, coaches and fans will gather together for an official kickoff party for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' own season. On Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET, the Bucs and Ravens will meet for the respective beginnings of two highly-anticipated campaigns.
No wonder Buccaneer players were revved up for some real action on Wednesday morning, shortly before their first full-scale practice of the week. Four weeks of unfulfilling preseason action has Tampa Bay starters fully ready for the real thing on Sunday, to which team leader Derrick Brooks says…
Not so fast.
Think the Buccaneers were happy when Brooks reworked his contract in order to stay in Tampa for the rest of his career this past February? Forget the nine Pro Bowls and the Defensive Player of the Year award and the bust they're already carving in Canton. On this team, Brooks is equally valuable for his leadership, for knowing the proper way for the team to approach various situations and doing so himself, thus setting a visible example for his many young teammates.
And, as far as the Ravens go, Brooks wants his team preparing as if the game was on Wednesday.
"I think it's very important for the football team to get that mindset right now, especially as young as we are," said Brooks on Wednesday at 12:30, shortly before the start of the afternoon's two-hour session. "A lot of these guys are going to play a lot who haven't been in this situation – playing this good of a football team in game one. We've got to go out there and try to get a mental head start, with seeing us playing the game today. Learn from these mistakes today and go back at it tomorrow."
Brooks has seen this situation before. In 1997, his third year, the Bucs opened with a visit from the powerful San Francisco 49ers. In the coming-out party for what is now a legendary Tampa Bay defense, the Bucs won 13-6 and held San Fran without a touchdown for the first time in six years. In 2003, coming off their Super Bowl XXXVII victory, the Bucs had to go to Philadelphia to play their NFC Championship Game opponent on opening day, in a brand-new ballpark crackling with energy. Tampa Bay dominated, 17-0.
The key to being ready for such day-one challenges, says Brooks, is to take it one day, one practice, at a time. That's an NFL cliché, of course, but it's usually applied to teams tempted to look past one game to the next. In this case, Brooks is trying to make it clear that games are won on Wednesdays and Thursdays, that good Sunday performances don't come without very serious-minded preparation.
That's why, when asked if he was ready for Sunday's opener, Brooks refused to look even that far down the road.
"I'm ready for today's practice, Wednesday," he said. "Right now, let's go out here today, implement our game plan, get back in the pads a little bit and start knocking each other around. Go out there today with the mindset that we're playing the Ravens today, get our momentum, get our mindset going. Every time we're taking a rep, we're seeing ourselves do it on Sunday."
The young players have certainly taken notice of the shift in tone this week. Every game week of the preseason had the rather large subtext of players fighting for jobs, to the point that game-planning was almost a secondary concern. With the roster decided, those who remain must now focus on only one thing. These outcomes do count, and a home opener is always a critical game.
"Guys are a lot more serious, more tuned-in, but at the same time everybody is getting ready," said rookie receiver Maurice Stovall. "We're all getting prepared."
Rookie guard Davin Joseph won a starting job at right guard during the preseason and may or may not have a tough task ahead this weekend (see below). He's excited about his first real NFL game, but his desire not to let his veteran teammates down has kept him focused this week.
"You try not to get too excited," said Joseph. "You've got to recognize your looks. You've got to pay attention. You can't just go out there and try to hit guys. You've really got to pay attention. Right now we're in the process, we're about to go out here and have a really intense practice, really get after each other for the next two days and then calm down and then try to go out there and beat up on the Ravens."
The Bucs went on to conduct a sharp afternoon practice on a rather hot afternoon, followed by a round of meetings. That brought the team one day closer to that much-awaited opening game. As far as Derrick Brooks is concerned, however, the only thing on the schedule is Thursday's practice.
Joseph 'Tweaks' Knee
The Buccaneers started practice without one of their starting offensive guards in action and ended it with both of them on the sideline.
Guards Dan Buenning and Davin Joseph make up two-thirds of the team's first injury report of the year. Both are questionable for Sunday's game, as is linebacker Shelton Quarles.
Buenning, the starting left guard, suffered an ankle injury last Thursday in the preseason finale at Houston. He has not yet practiced but he is currently making excellent progress in his efforts to return. Head Coach Jon Gruden has not yet ruled the second-year player out for the opener.
"He is making very, very much improvement," said Gruden. "There's a chance that he might play in the game."
Joseph, the starting right guard, hurt his knee on the practice field and did not finish the workout. Gruden, who was awaiting the word from further examinations on Wednesday, said the rookie first-rounder had 'tweaked' his knee and that it was too early to make a concrete prediction on his availability for Sunday's game.
If either of those two, or both, are sidelined for the opener, the Bucs do have several very viable options at the guard positions.
"[Sean] Mahan started every game last year at guard," said Gruden. "Jeb Terry's been around here. We do have some candidates here who can play guard. The show goes on. Obviously, we would like to have a healthy team, but everybody has questionable players at this time, and there's a chance these guys might play."
Joseph's injury is the first real bump in the road for the impressive rookie.
"He's a guy who has really been phenomenal in terms of his development," said Gruden. "He's a smart guy, he's a physical player. He might have graded out as our top lineman at camp. We hope he's okay, but he's a special, special prospect. If he's not ready this week, hopefully he is soon."
Quarles is questionable due to a knee injury. The starting middle linebacker, he is backed up by second-year man Barrett Ruud.
The Ravens have five players on their first official injury report, all listed as questionable. Most notably, starting running back Jamal Lewis is suffering from a hip injury. The other four players on the list all have thigh injuries: cornerback Chris McAlister, wide receiver Derrick Mason, running back P.J. Daniels and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.