Tony Dungy wants his players focused on the task at hand
DT Anthony McFarland has the unique experience of being eighth in the NFC in sacks, with 5.5, but only third on his own team. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses…McFarland trails DE Marcus Jones (10) and DT Warren Sapp (9.5) in a pitched battle to break Lee Roy Selmon's team single-season record of 13.
And it's possible that McFarland will lose a little more ground this weekend.
Before practice on Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers revealed that McFarland, the team's starting nose tackle, had been added to the injury report with a strained tricep in his left arm. He is considered 'questionable', and after Thursday's workout, in which McFarland did not participate, Head Coach Tony Dungy was unsure about his availability.
"It's still a little hard to say," said Dungy. "He's got a strained muscle, and I think it's going to just be how it feels and how it recovers. He's hopeful of playing. Right now, I'd say it's probably 50-50."
That is the exact definition of the 'questionable' category on the injury report, and a player in this group often do not have his status determined until the day of the game. Dungy indicated that would likely be the case with McFarland. According to the team's training staff, McFarland was improved on Thursday morning but was still seeking a full return of the strength in that arm.
McFarland originally suffered the injury at Washington on October 1, and it was re-aggravated on Wednesday when his arm was hit in practice.
"It's a strained tricep," said Dungy. "Right now, I think it's more (an issue of) swelling and pain and being able to push off and hold the line."
If McFarland is unable to play and thus misses his first game of the season, his role next to Sapp would be filled by James Cannida and Tyoka Jackson, who can play either end or tackle. "It would be a combination of the two of those guys playing more, maybe James on first down and Tyoka on third down," said Dungy.
Dungy also gave an updated on DE Steve White (ankle) and G Randall McDaniel (quad).
"Steve has an ankle sprain, but he's pretty convinced he'll be ready to go by Sunday," said Dungy. "He's at about the same point as he was last week, and he was able to play. Randall did well. He should be fine by Sunday."
Dungy did not cover the condition of WR Karl Williams, but Williams did not practice during team drills on Thursday. On Wednesday, Dungy mentioned the strong possibility of giving the fifth-year receiver one more week of rest.
The Buccaneers' offense has not been overly sharp in two days of practice this week, but the players have not become frustrated or tempted to do too much.
"You talk to everyone about that," said Dungy after Thursday's workout. "That's one of the things that you tend to do in these situations is get outside the framework of the system. 'What we're doing hasn't been successful the last four weeks, so I need to do more, or something different or something extra,' when really, you have to do your job and that's it. That's the message to everyone."
The team's mood has been upbeat in practice, but Dungy isn't convinced that they are playing with the same sureness on Sundays that they had early in the season.
"I think we're just in a little bit of a downer right now and our confidence is not where it was," he said. "You've got to make a few plays to get that confidence back, and I think if we do that, we'll be in good shape.
"It can turn so quick. Miami gives up three touchdowns all year then gives up four in 15 minutes, with the same players on the field and the same everything. That is the NFL, and you have to be ready for it and you've got to be ready to play every week and play 60 minutes. It is fragile."
Strangely, the 3-4 Buccaneers have been installed as favorites over the 7-0 Vikings on Sunday. Maybe the oddsmakers know that neither team has swept the season series between Minnesota and Tampa Bay since 1992.
"We've split with them seven or eight years in a row now," said Dungy. "They're good, hard-fought games, evenly matched, and that's how it's turned out over the last few years."
Another split could right a Buccaneers ship that is listing from four straight losses, but Dungy wants his team focused on the task at hand, rather than what it might mean to the season as a whole. The Bucs of 1999 were also 3-4 after seven games but managed to win eight of the last nine to win the NFC Central crown. There's no talk on the team's practice field of repeating that feat.
"You really can't afford to do that," said Dungy. "That is a natural tendency. You think, we've got to win about four in a row to get back in this thing. But you can't win number four without winning number one. I think we have mature enough guys to realize that. This is the only one that counts. If you don't win this one, you certainly can't win two in a row."