Acupuncture treatments on his right leg weren't exactly the highlight of Martin Gramatica's day
With 50-degree temperatures herded closer to freezing by a strong wind whipping north to south, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went back to practice Wednesday in weather not suited to Florida's image. The quickness with which the climate flipped from last week's balmy weather to this week's chill, however, is very much like a Florida winter.
As the Bucs prepared to take the field for a two-hour workout in the afternoon, Head Coach Tony Dungy expressed his hopes that the preparations for Baltimore on Saturday would be as focused and intense, or more, as they were last week before the team's thrashing of New Orleans.
"You know it should be pretty good even though we had a couple days off," he said. "Obviously there is a lot at stake, a lot riding on it. We've got to have a little better concentration, a little better focus then we had last week. Hopefully we'll get that."
Unfortunately, like the weather, Tampa Bay's sharpness slipped a notch from last week's highs as well. It wasn't enough to worry Head Coach Tony Dungy, and certainly the passing problems could be blamed on the heavy winds, but the Bucs' head man would still like to see improvement on Thursday.
"The tempo was good," said Dungy. "We weren't quite as sharp as I would have liked to have seen us, but overall it was pretty good. I think we'll get some more guys back at practice tomorrow and we'll be fine."
The bloated ranks on the sideline were surely another factor in the uneven nature of practice as Warrick Dunn, Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland, Todd Washington, Frank Murphy, Eric Vance, David Gibson and Martin Gramatica all took the day off.
"We had about seven or eight guys out," said Dungy. "We're hopeful that Warrick, Todd, David Gibson, Anthony – those guys will be back. Frank and Eric Vance are probably the farthest away."
Not mentioned in the above is Gramatica, as his situation has been covered closely since he strained his right hamstring on Sunday. As reported earlier on Buccaneers.com, the Bucs conducted a pair of tryouts on Wednesday morning with free agent kickers Doug Brien and Brad Daluiso. Gramatica did not test out his leg on Wednesday but is expected to do so as early as Thursday afternoon, which will help the team decide whether a temporary replacement is necessary.
"We'll evaluate and see who we think is the best guy (of the players who try out)," said Dungy. "Tomorrow, possibly, or Friday, we'll see what Martin can do. My sense is, we'll try to get an idea tomorrow of what he can do and then make a decision from there."
On Wednesday, the focus for Gramatica was making progress on the hamstring strain, which had to be done somewhat gingerly to avoid aggravating it further. Among the treatments applied to the area were ice, an electrical stimulating machine, very light sessions on the treadmill and stationary bike, and acupuncture.
That's right, acupuncture.
That may not have been Gramatica's favorite part of the treatment protocol, though he has undergone it before.
"It's a little scary," he admitted. "I didn't see them since they were in the back of my leg. I just tried to go to sleep."
It was a long day-after-Christmas for Buc players, who reported early in the morning for special teams meetings and assigned workouts and were still at team headquarters well into the evening. Players generally leave the complex not long after practice ends at 4:00, but there were several additions to the agenda this Wednesday.
First, Buc players had to watch Sunday's game film, a task usually completed on Monday. The team was given Monday off, however, as a planned reward for victory.
After that, the players were required to cast their Pro Bowl ballots, a process that can take some time. Offensive players vote only for defensive opponents, and vice versa, but no one can vote for a player on his own team.
That's too bad, because Ronde Barber's snowballing Pro Bowl campaign might pick up even more steam as the final votes are cast.
There are, of course, many worthy Pro Bowl candidates on the Bucs' roster, but Barber has become the all-star topic du jour in Tampa because of his late-season charge combined with the fact that he's never before been to the big game in Honolulu. Barber was running second in the online fan voting as of last week, but coaches' and players' composite votes make up two-thirds of the balloting.
He'd have the votes of his teammates if they were allowed to cast them.
"That's up to the opposing team's offenses," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "If I could vote, I'd definitely vote for him. He deserves it. We'll see. Hopefully, he gets in because he's had a heck of a year."
Defensive end Steve White seconded that notion and noted that Barber's biggest day of the season came at a very good time.
"If I had a vote, it would definitely go to him," said White. "The guy has showed up in big games in a big way. Three interceptions and one for a touchdown, right before the Pro Bowl voting – he's got pretty good timing, too! You can't ask any more of a corner. He comes up and tackles, intercepts passes, hardly ever has a mental bust. What more do you want? I wouldn't trade him for anybody else in the NFL."
Though the Bucs were back at work a day after Christmas, there were still reminders of the holiday spirit all around. One came in the quiet form of a 15-year-old visitor to practice, Timothy Medeiros of St. Petersburg.
Medeiros was invited to practice after the team learned of his rather astounding charitable efforts during this holiday season.
Five years ago, Medeiros' father, Fernando, died after a bout with cancer, leaving Timothy and his mother, Deborah, in a difficult financial situation. The Salvation Army came to their aid, making it possible for the Medeiros family to enjoy a Christmas with a tree and presents.
That generosity left a deep impression on Timothy Medeiros, who has paid back the gift many times over. This December, for the second year in a row, Medeiros donated 52 Thanksgiving dinners to the Salvation Army, one for each week one the calendar. He spent the entire year saving enough money - $900 – from his minimum wage job at a service station to make the donation possible.
At One Buccaneer Place, Medeiros watched Wednesday's practice before meeting Buccaneer players and Head Coach Tony Dungy. Impressed by his story, Dungy brought Medeiros into the locker room after practice, a rare gesture for practice visitors. Inside, he chatted with several more Buc players, including QB Shaun King about the latter's flight with the Blue Angels.
Hopefully, the Bucs made an impression on Medeiros. They could only be so lucky, given this young man's impressive sense of loyalty and obligation.