CB Ronde Barber and the Buccaneers got a boost from the visiting Marines and VFW members on Friday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers mixed things up a bit at practice on Friday morning, putting the offense in red jerseys and the defense in white, the opposite of most days. On the sideline, the two colors mingled along with a third: light tan, in camouflage patterns.
A group of 40 members of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion got a close-up look at the Bucs' final full-speed workout before Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins. That elite crew – seven of whom have been awarded Purple Hearts – were joined by another 10 members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) chapter as special guests of the Buccaneers in honor of Veterans Day.
The presence of these young soldiers and former war heroes was uplifting for the Buccaneers, who are looking to hone their emotional edge for Sunday after two straight losses. Though he had already been pleased with the previous two days of practice, Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden could feel the added energy on the field Friday.
"I thank our military men who came out today," Gruden said. "They inspired us to have a good practice, and we thank them for coming. It's Veterans Day, and we've got to really put things in perspective and thank the people who are doing what they do."
After practice, Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Kent Ralston presented Gruden with a commemorative coin. On one side of the coin was the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor, while the other side displayed the Battalion logo.
"God bless you, coach," said Ralston as he turned over the coin. "We're all on the same team."
The 4th Battalion recently returned from what was a second tour in Iraq for many of the Marines. As many of the soldiers on hand were reservists, they had hopes of remaining in the United States for a couple of years before having to return to active duty. Coming out to the Bucs' practice was a way for them to feel more at home, and for the Buccaneers to honor the nation's true heroes.
"The guys were very excited about coming out here," said Gunnery Sgt. Joe Sanchez. "I think it's great that the Buccaneers would invite us to one of their practice sessions. It's an awesome experience."
Many Buccaneers players actively support the military by donating tickets to soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base or by visiting the base to rally around the troops. The Buccaneers players were honored to meet these veterans so they could thank them in person for what they do for our country.
"I think Veterans Day is a great day to pay tribute to all the people who have sacrificed for our country over the years," said quarterback Chris Simms. "Without a doubt, these guys are the true heroes. We're just playing a game while they are out there putting their lives at stake every day."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars who attended practice are members of Post 4321 in Tampa. Larry Bahneman, retired from 23 years in the Air Force, served during the Vietnam War.
"This was very nice," said Bahneman. "I got to see Doug Williams, and I've liked him for years."
Buccaneers RB Mike Alstott usually hits the film room immediately after practice in order to study for the upcoming game. On Friday, he hung around after practice to shake the hands of those military men in attendance in recognition of their sacrifice and dedication.
"I honor them," said Alstott. "What they do for our country, what they do for our freedom and what they stand for - much respect. Anything I can do to let them know I appreciate them is the least I can do."
The Bucs will continue to pass on their thanks to the men and women of the armed forces during this Sunday's game, which has been named Military Appreciation Day at Raymond James Stadium. Members of various armed forces will be stationed at the south end of the stadium to greet fans and exhibit displays on their specific branches.
In a pregame ceremony, the team will honor the family of Medal of Honor recipient and Tampa native Sgt. Paul Smith, who was killed in Iraq. President George W. Bush recently presented the Medal of Honor to Smith's wife and children at the White House. Sgt. Smith was the first Iraq-based soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. A tribute to him will be shown on stadium video screens and his family will be presented by team Executive Vice President Bryan Glazer with an encased Buccaneers helmet signed by players.
Family members of a deployed soldier will serve as honorary captains during the coin toss. Six Blackhawk helicopters will perform a flyover at the conclusion of the national anthem. At halftime, approximately 100 recruits will be inducted into the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.
Clayton Still Ailing
Three-fourths of an NFL team's injury report are pretty easy to interpret. A player listed as "Out" will definitely not play. It is rare for a player listed as "Doubtful" to play, and almost as rare for a player listed as "Probable" to sit out.
It's the "Questionable" designation that carries all the intrigue, and the Buccaneers have three players in that category this week – wide receiver Michael Clayton, safety Dexter Jackson and running back Michael Pittman. However, Gruden did help to clarify the status of those three on Friday.
Clayton, said Gruden, is on the "downside of questionable," giving a hint as to his expectations for Sunday. Clayton is still attempting to recover from his badly bruised right knee in time to play against the Redskins, but he did not practice this week and has not attempted to run yet.
Still, Clayton did hold out some hope on Friday that the next two days will be enough time for him to recover sufficiently.
"I think I'll be alright," he said. "It's just a matter of getting with Todd and seeing what they want to do. I haven't practiced all week and they're probably going to take that into consideration. I'm getting better. It's still day-to-day, so I don't know yet. We'll just wait until Sunday. If I'm healthy, I'll play."
It was a frustrating week for Clayton, who was not too fond of skipping practice. It marks the first time since he was drafted in 2004 that he has missed practice during the season.
"This is something that's a little bit discouraging because I'm not out there," he said. "I want to be out there for my teammates. It doesn't feel like family when you're not out there and you don't have that camaraderie with your teammates. That's the biggest part about it, not being out there with your guys. That's the hardest thing to get through."
Safety Dexter Jackson, who was never expected to play the previous two weeks due to a hamstring injury, was at least upgraded to questionable this week. That's an indication that his recovery is gaining momentum, but Gruden didn't seem confident that Jackson would be recovered in time to face the Redskins.
Pittman, on the other hand, has seen improvement in his injured shoulder during the week and has practiced the most of the three of them. His situation appears to be more optimistic than that of Clayton or Jackson.
The Redskins made a change to their injury report on Friday, downgrading Sean Taylor from probable to questionable. Taylor, Washington's starting free safety, is suffering from an ankle injury. He is backed up by sixth-year veteran and former starter Matt Bowen. Starting wide receiver David Patten was also added to the injury report on Friday due to a knee ailment, but he is considered probable for the game.
The Redskins have three other players designated as questionable on their injury report: defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive tackle Cedric Killings and safety Omar Stoutmire. Griffin is the lone starter among the three, and his hip injury forced him to miss last week's game against Philadelphia.