The Bucs practiced at the stadium in Oakland on Saturday, getting used to the baseball infield that takes up part of the turf
The takeoff tradeoff: A night at home with the family exchanged for jet lag remedy.
Though they usually travel on Saturday afternoon for a Sunday contest, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers embarked on Friday afternoon this week, getting their five-hour flight to Oakland over with a day early.
It's something the team has done regularly since the arrival of Head Coach Jon Gruden; when the destination is the West Coast, the takeoff day is Friday, not Saturday. By arriving Friday evening, the team takes the sting out of a tiring day-before-game travel schedule.
"It's a long way to go and there is a time change," said Gruden. "I want to give our players a chance to get a good night's sleep tonight and try to have a normal Saturday before-the-game schedule, keep these players in their normal routine the best way we can. That's our intent."
Tackle Derrick Deese, who played the first dozen seasons of his career in the Bay area – the other Bay area – approves of the idea to leave early.
"Guys just need to get their rest," said Deese, the former 49er. "That's going to be a big thing. We are going out there two days earlier, so we can get adapted well to the time changes. We just have to stay focused."
A normal travel Saturday includes an early-morning report date at One Buccaneer Place and a walk-through on the field before noon. The Bucs will still execute their Saturday walk-through, but they'll double the effectiveness of the routine by also getting a feel for the playing surface in Oakland.
"We'll go to the stadium itself," said Gruden. "It's good to see the stadium sometimes. You get a chance on the road to take a look at the locker room, take a look at the grass. This is a field right now that's set up for baseball, so there's an infield out there. There are certain spots on the field that it's good to get familiarized with."
The Friday flight does make for a long weekend, particularly considering the evening kickoff on Sunday. The Bucs and Raiders will be playing before a national audience on ESPN Sunday night, with kickoff slated for 8:30 p.m. ET. Thus, there's plenty of time for a second good night's sleep on Saturday, as well as an afternoon of football on television in the hotel. Some of the players might enjoy the chance to check out the rest of the league in action. Gruden would prefer an earlier starting time.
"Yeah, it's a little challenging for some of us impatient people, particularly," he said. "I don't like playing at night. I'd just as soon play at seven or eight in the morning. I think the fans feel the same way. But this will give the crowd plenty of opportunity to get energized, to get themselves truly ready for the football game. From past experiences, that works for this crowd."
The revised travel plan was only one topic being discussed by Buccaneer players and coaches during the week leading up to the Raider game. Below are the Bucs' thoughts on a variety of additional subjects.
Here are some other thoughts from Buccaneer players overheard in the locker room this week:
QB Brad Johnson on being taken out of the game against Seattle: "I just wanted to stay positive and let the focus be on Chris, and be in his ear and help him out as much as possible. I thought he played a solid ballgame under those circumstances. It was unfortunate we did not come through. As far as for me, I keep my head to the grindstone. It's still hard. I have never been 0-2 either. That's the way it is and that's the way we are as a team. It's unfortunate where we are. We have dug ourselves a hole, and we'll find our way out of it. I believe in the coaches. I believe in the system. I believe in the players. Unfortunately, we got off to a rough start. We will adjust."
QB Chris Simms on Brad Johnson starting against Oakland: "Not a huge surprise. He's been with this team a long time. He did win the Super Bowl just two years ago at quarterback. So, not real surprising, I'll be ready to go. I'll just continue to work hard and you never know what can happen in this league."
T Derrick Deese on whether it was encouraging when Coach Gruden announced the QB starter quickly: "It was encouraging. He did what he did because he's the coach and he thought we needed a spark. That's what he's supposed to do."
C John Wade on having confidence in the Bucs' quarterbacks: "I've worked more with Brad all last year and I know he knows the system. And Chris, I worked with him in the spring and I know he knows the system as well. It's not my job to worry about who is behind me. It's my job to give them time to operate, whether it be Brad or Chris."
Simms on Johnson's support: "It is great. He was great to me from the start. At first they told me I was in and I don't know if he was told that he wasn't going to be in, so he [said], 'Are you going?' And I said, 'Yeah, they told me to get ready.' The first thing he said was, 'Hey, make sure you see your throws out there and do your thing.' Brad has always been real helpful to me. He's been an angel on my shoulder. He always has these huge calming words for me and then he goes about his business."
Simms on whether the coaches have indicated that they'll be quick to go to him again this week: "No, they really haven't. I think we're going to approach this as a normal week. You never know what could happen in the NFL. I'll be ready and I'm going to approach it just as I do every other week."
Johnson what progress the offense has made: "Until we prove it, it's hard for me to say. I think it has been a one-play breakdown here and there that's really put us in some bad situations. I think it's a great system. I think we have tremendous players. There just hasn't been a smooth transition, from just making drives, making explosive plays, plays where you get 15 to 20-yard hits. That's kind of where the game is at. It starts with protection. It comes to the QB making the right play, the right throw, and guys making plays after the catch. We have to stay away from the long down situations, have plus running plays, and be positive in the passing game."
Wade on facing Warren Sapp: "A great player that needs to be recognized in a defensive system. You can't have your sole focus on it, not to take anything away. He's a great player, he was here and he will be out there and he has been for the last two games I'm sure. He's a great player but you still go out there knowing he's going to know some of our stuff. But that's just the way it is. He's not the only guy that switched teams and knows some tips. So, you just go out there and try to play better."
DE Simeon Rice on Sapp: "It will be good to see him this weekend. It has always been really quiet between me and him. It will be a good time. I'll probably call him today or tomorrow and see how he's doing, how he's holding it down on the West Coast. We're still going out there to take care of business."
LB Derrick Brooks on Sapp: "I don't have to face him. But, again it's going to be fun seeing him play and seeing our offense go against him. To me it's no different. I've played against players that have played here before and actually I'm just anxious that I can go out and do my part and help our team win. Football is football no matter who is on the field; they're going to block, tackle, score, or make turnovers. In that aspect our focus is on the field and we don't worry about who is going where and who is playing who."
Rice on how you stop Sapp: "I don't know. I don't think you can. He's a guy that if he is motivated, he's up there with the best of them. He'll be a legend in this game. We'll have our hands full. It will be interesting to see what we do on offense to throw him off. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. We're not going to roll over. We are still knowledgeable on how to go about this game and get the victory. Our hands will be full, nonetheless."
Brooks on whether the team misses Sapp: "I mean, you can't replace his personality obviously and nobody is trying to by any means. We're just so wired in on the guys this year. Let's worry about this defense today and get prepared and taking it one day at a time and not letting anything outside that distract you."
Deese on Oakland's defensive line: "Obviously, their defense is good. You have to be aware of all of their guys; they come out of nowhere. They come from the sides. They come from the corner. They come up the middle. They bring their guys all over the place. We just have to be aware; really study hard on the film, and know what to expect in certain situations."
Deese on going back to the Bay area: "I am excited. I get to go back into the Bay and play. I am going to a place where I played before. I've had big rivalries there before. This is no different."
DT Anthony McFarland on previous unsuccessful cross-country trips: "That's in the past. All we're worried about is right now and what's going on this weekend. We're looking forward to it."
WR Tim Brown on what he feels he must prove in Oakland: "I don't think it's about that. I don't think it was about my football ability so much. I just think they wanted to go young. Certainly, Jerry Porter is a very talented guy and a guy who is quite capable of having a great year in the NFL. I am not getting any younger. I understand that. I don't think they were thinking this guy can't play football anymore. I think what they are doing on offense is they are not playing a lot of three- or four-wide. What I know about with Norv Turner is that there is a chance when you do play, it will be ten snaps a game and that there are going to be games when they won't even use you. That was a decision I had to make. My decision was not to be in that position and we moved on."
Brown on whether this game equates to a 49ers/Raiders game): "I don't think at any point we had five or six 49ers playing with the Raiders. The biggest situation we had was when we went back and Jerry had come over. This year, this game, this is probably the biggest rivalry game the Raiders have ever seen."
McFarland on whether the game is a must-win: "All of them are must-win. The first one is a must-win. Quite actually the third one is a must-win. That's the way I look at it."