A much-needed water break for Derrick Brooks was a good sign for the Bucs at practice Thursday
The Buccaneers' depleted practice ranks received some very welcome reinforcements on Thursday.
Returning to field work after missing practice on Wednesday, and in some cases several days before that, were running back Warrick Dunn, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Nate Webster. That's eight Pro Bowls worth of experience and one very tough young player getting back into action.
Head Coach Tony Dungy was happy to see his trusted veterans back in action.
"We had a few guys back and it looks like we're doing a little bit better," he said of the team's overall injury situation. "Keyshawn did pretty well, Warrick seemed like he made it through well, Nate Webster came back and did some things…so we're starting to get there. It looks like we may have Marcus Jones practicing tomorrow, and Reidel Anthony, too, so we're getting close."
Upgrades to probable on the official injury report had made the returns of Dunn and Johnson somewhat expected, though each has struggled through leg injuries on an almost weekly basis for the last month. Webster, on the other hand, remains questionable on the report thanks to a shoulder that came out of place several times during last Sunday's game against Minnesota. He has already gained the reputation of a tough player, so it would not be surprising to see him follow in the footsteps of S John Lynch, who quite notably played last season just a week after a shoulder dislocation.
"It's kind of similar to what Lynch did," agreed Dungy. "He's obviously playing a different position where you hit it more than John would – he'll probably get hit on every play. It will probably come down to how he feels on Sunday."
Brooks, on the other hand, was already feeling much improved. Though he has not missed a game this season – or at any time during his seven-year NFL career – a sprained foot has made him a mid-week question mark for about a month now. Against the Vikings, Brooks played very little in the second half as the Bucs had compiled a sizeable lead. He may be closer to full health this weekend.
"Derrick did better," said Dungy. "It's probably the best he's moved around in three or four weeks."
Brooks and Dunn were each struggling with the same injury a few weeks ago, but the running back has recovered from the foot sprain and is now nursing a slight hamstring pull. That injury forced him to miss last week's game, a decision that has probably led to his ability to complete an entire practice on Thursday. "I think had he tried to go in the game he would not be near where he is now," said Dungy.
Johnson did play in last week's game despite a week of recovery from a hip strain, but came out of it a little worse for the wear, having taking a hit to the knee that kept him out for the entire second half. Swelling in the joint made his gait rather stiff on Monday, but by Wednesday he was running through his routes with the first-team offense with little apparent difficulty.
"He got it hit and there doesn't seem to be any structural damage in there," said Dungy of Johnson's knee. "He actually is feeling better every day this week than he did at the corresponding time last week. He was able to get a good practice in today."
Jones, as Dungy indicated above, has also improved from his elbow sprain, suffered against the Vikings. Jones had difficulty moving the elbow on Monday but made it clear that he expected to play in Green Bay. He did not practice on Thursday but should be back on Friday.
Anthony is listed as probable on the injury report though he did not work out on Thursday or Friday. He is currently starting in place of another injured wideout, Jacquez Green, who missed last week's game with a groin strain. With those two sidelined on Thursday, the Bucs pressed third-string quarterback Joe Hamilton into duty a as a receiver for the scout team.
The only player to go in the opposite direction on the injury report was safety John Howell, who suffered a mild concussion in Sunday's game. Howell reported to work on Monday and Tuesday seemingly over any concussion symptoms, but practice on Wednesday brought on a headache for the rookie safety and he was held out on Thursday. Howell was added to the injury report as questionable, as the team is currently unsure of how he will respond a day later.
"We don't know," said Dungy. "He got what we thought was a mild concussion. Monday and Tuesday he felt fine but he didn't feel quite as good yesterday when he was out here running around. Hopefully, he'll be okay tomorrow. If he's not, that would throw him into some question.
"You just have to rely on how (concussion victims) feel and what the doctors' say. We pretty much take our cue from the doctor on this one."
The Bucs' injury report will be updated one more time on Friday.