Wide receiver Reidel Anthony (white jersey) suffered a mild ankle sprain in a collision with CB Dwight Smith on this play on Thursday
Often, the best barometer of whether an injured NFL player will be able to play on Sunday is his participation in practice on Friday, or lack thereof.
On this Friday at Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters, wide receiver Reidel Anthony was not among the 56 players who took the field for a 90-minute, early-afternoon workout. On Thursday, Anthony was added to the injury report with a mild left ankle sprain, listed as probable. On Friday morning, he was downgraded to questionable after a right hip flexor strain was added to his line on the report.
Obviously, several of those factors would seem to point towards a weekend of inactivity for the Bucs' third wideout, but an even more direct piece of evidence supports the opposite theory.
That would be Anthony's own declaration from the Bucs' training room, where he sat after practice with ice bags on his hip and ankle:
"I will play on Sunday."
Actually, that echoes the Friday thoughts of both Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli and Head Coach Tony Dungy. Toriscelli held Anthony out of Friday's practice after the receiver rolled his ankle in a downfield pile-up with rookie cornerback Dwight Smith near the end of Thursday's session. Anthony's hip soreness was not attributed to any particular event and is also considered mild.
"Dexter had (a similar hip injury) last week and probably would have played if we'd have had the game," said Dungy. "It would have been touch and go. Usually, rest is the best thing for it."
Still, the Bucs took the cautious route with Anthony on Friday, particularly given that the fifth-year veteran missed two months during the summer due to a sprain to the same ankle. Before the collision with Smith on Thursday, Anthony was considered 100 percent recovered from that first ankle injury.
"We held him out just so he wouldn't aggravate it, but we think he's going to be fine," said Dungy.
If Anthony were unable to go, the team would likely elevate first-year player Frank Murphy to the 45-man active group on Sunday and slide dependable veteran Karl Williams into the number-three role. Murphy and rookie receiver Milton Wynn were both inactive during the Bucs' season opener at Dallas.
"We should be fine," said Dungy. "We'd still have four real good people to work with. We don't anticipate that happening, but if it did we'd be ready to go."
The only other player who did not suit up on Friday was defensive tackle James Cannida, whose sprained knee is still several weeks away from full recovery. Rookie guard Russ Hochstein, who is recovering from a foot fracture, took another step forward on Friday, practicing fully with the second-team offensive line. Hochstein had participated briefly in Thursday's practice but had stopped before the squad went into full-team drills.
Because the NFL no longer requires teams to name four of their eight inactives on Friday, the team has the rest of the weekend to get a firm grasp on the availability of Anthony and Hochstein. For the season opener, most of the Bucs' inactive spots were taken by injured players.
"Everybody's healthy, except for James," said Dungy. "That makes it a little more competitive. We'll see what happens on Sunday."
Cornerback Donnie Abraham just has to be average in 2001 to become the greatest in team history.
Through five NFL seasons, Abraham has 25 interceptions, including seven each of the last two years. The Buccaneers' career INT record is 29, set by Cedric Brown over nine seasons, beginning in 1976. Mike Washington put up 28 picks in that same span.
Those are the only two players still above Abraham on the Bucs' all-time chart. If the former third-round pick out of East Tennessee State merely duplicates his per-season average of five interceptions, he will pass both Brown and Washington and take over the top spot.
Though he is unlikely to completely catch either Washington or Brown this weekend, the note does take on added significance because Abraham has had uncommon success against Minnesota. In nine career games against the Vikings, he has redirected five Minnesota passes, fully one-fifth of his career total. If Abraham grabbed interceptions at that rate against every team, he'd already have 43 picks at this point in his career.
Abraham's preponderance of picks against Minnesota may have gone mostly unnoticed because the focus is usually on the positive plays the Vikings create with their passing game. Abraham knows the spotlight isn't on the defensive backs when it comes to a matchup with Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
"You've got great competition," he said. "You've got future Hall of Famers. There's Moss, Carter and now Reed is back – the whole game is back. We've just got to go out and play hard."
Two of Abraham's three touchdowns have also come at the Vikings' expense: a 55-yard interception return in 1999 and a blocked field goal return last season in the Metrodome.
The merciful end of the Bucs' three-week layoff also brings a resumption of team travel for the first time since the terrible events of September 11. The team heads to Minnesota on its chartered flight on Saturday afternoon.
While there will be heightened security procedures, the Bucs' travel itinerary has not changed and the impact should be minimal.
"We talked about it," said Dungy of security on and around the plane. "We don't want it to be a disruption. The security is going to be stepped up. If anything, it's probably a safer feeling because we are taking so many precautions. I think all the guys understand what's going on. It's going to be a little more time consuming on some of the things we do, but we should be fine.
The majority of the new security procedures center around the path the Bucs take in boarding and the need for identification checks for all passengers as they enter the plane.