RB Carnell Williams was back on the field Thursday afternoon, though he didn't participate in every drill
While the Houston Texans were canceling practice and fleeing town in the face of Hurricane Rita, and the displaced New Orleans Saints were wondering if they were in the path of another big storm in San Antonio, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were experiencing just the slightest edge of Rita's power on Thursday.
The Bucs practiced as normal on Thursday afternoon, working for two hours on a soggy field and under a light drizzle. The day's heaviest rains came a few hours after the end of the team's practice. They were not affected in any significant way by the conditions, something that is unfortunately not true of the Gulf Coast communities in Texas.
In fact, Thursday's cooler temperatures were welcome break from the stifling heat of recent weeks. Also welcome was the sight of rookie running back Cadillac Williams on the practice field, even if he didn't take every snap he could have.
Williams, who sat out Wednesday's practice due to a left foot injury, returned on Thursday in a somewhat limited fashion, skipping some of the full-team sessions. It was exactly what the team expected of him, and it kept him on pace to play against Green Bay this weekend.
"He did a little more today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's making improvement. We expect him to be ready to go Sunday."
G Matt Stinchcomb also missed practice again and remains questionable for the game due to a lower back injury. In Green Bay, tight end Bubba Franks was held out of the Packers' workout for the second straight day and remains questionable on the injury report. Three other Packers are probable: defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas. Carroll and Thomas are both second-year players and are thought to be in a continuing competition for the left cornerback job; Thomas started there in the opener.
The Buccaneers will hold one more full-speed practice this week, a 90-minute morning review session on Friday. The team will conduct a walk-through on Saturday morning before jetting up to Wisconsin.
Welcome to the Buccaneer Family!
There was one other starter who missed practice on Thursday, though not due to injury. In fact, it was happy circumstances that kept linebacker Derrick Brooks off the field: His wife, Carol, gave birth to a daughter, Dania Denise, on Thursday afternoon.
"Derrick Brooks missed most of the practice today; his wife had a baby," said Gruden. "We're happy to announce that and we wish the missus the very best."
Two Weeks, Two Wins
Williams is proving to be a bit stingy with the hardware in his young NFL career.
The 2005 NFL season is two weeks old and Williams has already secured two NFL Rookie of the Week awards. The second one was announced late Thursday, after voting for the award concluded that afternoon on NFL.com.
Each week, fans visiting the league's official web site are given five rookie nominees to consider, and they may cast their votes from Tuesday through Thursday. Last week, after stinging Minnesota with 148 rushing yards and a touchdown, Williams won a tight race with Cincinnati linebacker Odell Thurman to take the initial award. This week, he easily outdistanced a field that included Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe, Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton and Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, gaining nearly half of the 41,700 votes cast.
Williams followed up his debut in Minnesota with another stellar outing against Buffalo in the Bucs' home opener. Running hard between the tackles and repeatedly fighting through defenders, Williams carried the ball 24 times for 128 yards and another score. His three-yard touchdown run came on a third-and-goal in the third quarter and gave the Bucs a 16-3 lead. Williams ran nine times in the second half after sustaining the left foot injury on his final carry in the second quarter.
At the end of the season, fans will also vote on a Rookie of the Year as part of the same promotion. Safe to say Williams has a leg up on that competition.
Keeping up with Jones
As of Thursday, Gruden had not yet decided if third-year cornerback Torrie Cox would be on the active list for Sunday's game in Green Bay. Cox was declared inactive for the Buffalo game and could be on that eight-man list again this weekend.
"We will make that decision some time before the game," said Gruden. "He will definitely be an option in this game."
If Cox is inactive, the kickoff return job will once again fall to second-year receiver Mark Jones, who is already counted on to return punts. Against Buffalo last Sunday, Jones handled all of the returns in both categories, bringing back three punts for 50 yards and three kickoffs for 49 yards. The latter category included one kickoff after a Buccaneer safety, which was sort of a hybrid of the two return jobs since the Bills used their punter for the free kick.
Jones' longest runback of the day was a 22-yard punt return starting at his own 10-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Gruden might have been more impressed, however, with Jones' first fair catch of the season.
With the Bucs leading 16-3 early in the final period, the Bills' offense stalled at Tampa Bay's 39 and punter Brian Moorman came on to try to pin the home team down near its own goal line. Instead, Moorman's kick went almost straight up in the air, traveling only 15 yards downfield. To prevent an unfortunate hop, Jones had to come charging well up the field, making a fair catch on the run at the Bucs' 24.
"I was very pleased, he did a great job for us," said Gruden of Jones' all-around efforts. "He made a key fair catch on a very awkward kick. He's brought the ball back and done extremely well for us. He's going to be a good receiver, too, I think."