The Buccaneers attacked practice with intensity on Wednesday
It has often been said that winning one game in the NFL only makes the next one more important. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would like to be in a position to test that theory next Monday.
First, however, we will see how the Buccaneers follow up one very good practice.
If Tampa Bay is to record its first win of 2009 on Sunday in Washington and begin the work of getting its season back on track, it will begin on the practice field on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Or, as veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan put it, the Buccaneers have to crawl (practice well) before they can walk (win a game).
It was at the very least encouraging, then, when the Buccaneers followed up Hovan's Wednesday morning proclamation with a fast, urgent and productive practice in the afternoon. No points were scored and no real touchdowns prevented on the practice field, of course, so a good two hours proves nothing yet. Still, Morris was eager to find out how the team would react to a very difficult loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, and he thought he saw the beginning of the answer on the practice field.
"You judge it based on the practice we just had, which might have been one of the best we've had all season," he said. "That's all we can do, try to practice as best as we can, go play as hard as we can and let the results fall where they may."
As he suggested he might do on Monday, Morris kept the players in shoulder pads throughout the entire practice and shortened up the periods in order to keep the tempo high within each drill. The players took to it well but, again, Wednesday gains only have meaning if they are still present on Thursday.
"It was a practice where you come off the field feeling really good about each other," said Morris. "We were feeling really good about ourselves and how fast we just practiced and the tempo of the practice; the intensity of the practice; the demeanor of how they were in the team meeting today; how they approached their individual meetings; how they approached their on-the-field play. The hardest part about a young team is getting them to maintain that, so we've got to come out tomorrow and do it or it means nothing."
The Buccaneers' path to the playoffs is obviously much more difficult given the 0-3 start and the difficult schedule that remains. That remains the goal, however, and while there are some unhappy men in the locker room this week, there is no one who has given up on the season before it is even a quarter old.
"There isn't anyone on this football team waiting for next year's draft," said Morris. "There is nobody on this football team waiting for next year's offseason. We are trying to win. We have 13 games left. There is no rule that says we aren't going to win all 13 if we put our mind to it. Now, we have to win one at a time and the only game that matters to me right now is Washington. That's our mentality. That's it."
Added Hovan: "It's not good, but you have to find the silver lining anyway. As one of the leaders on this team, I know we can't look back. We've got to look forward, and 0-3 is the position we put ourselves in. But we're the only people that can get us out of it."
The Buccaneers may have escaped Sunday's game against the Giants with no new major sprains or strains, but their injury report to start the Washington week is as long as it was last Wednesday.
Five players did not participate in practice on Wednesday, including three – defensive end Gaines Adams, quarterback Byron Leftwich and running back Derrick Ward – who were able to play against the Giants. The other two, center Jeff Faine (triceps) and defensive end Kyle Moore (knee), are dealing with longer-term ailments and have both missed several weeks already.
Adams has a groin injury and Ward's knee is bothering him a bit, but Morris was hopeful on Wednesday that both players would be able to suit up against Washington. Leftwich's hip injury is not severe, but he is expected to be the inactive third quarterback against the Redskins anyway.
Wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Maurice Stovall, both dealing with knee issues, were able to participate in a limited fashion. Bryant's work on the practice field has been intermittent all month as he continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery in August, but he has played in two of the team's three games. Stovall suffered his injury against Buffalo in Week Two and was unable to play against the Giants.
Running back Earnest Graham has made improvement with his hamstring injury as he was able to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday, too. Graham missed all of last week's work and did not play against the Giants. The third member of the Bucs' three-headed rushing attack, Cadillac Williams, is also on the injury report with a knee ailment but he practiced without limits.
The Redskins' injury report is short, but all four players on the list are starters and none participated in practice on Wednesday. Those four include Washington's starting backfield, running back Clinton Portis (calf) and fullback Mike Sellers (thigh), as well as defensive standouts Albert Haynesworth (glute) and Carlos Rogers (ankle). All four were able to play in last Sunday's game at Detroit.
More from Coach Morris
During his Monday press conference, as he announced that Josh Johnson would be taking over as the starting quarterback, Morris hinted at other possible changes in the lineup. On Wednesday, Morris clarified those remarks, suggesting that there would be some new contributors in the mix but not necessarily any other alterations to the starting lineup.
Two players that may see an uptick in their time on the field include linebacker Adam Hayward and wide receiver Brian Clark. Hayward is listed behind strongside linebacker Quincy Black on the Buccaneers' depth chart but is capable of playing all three positions. Clark is one of three reserve receivers but he has just one reception so far to a combined 10 for fellow subs Sammie Stroughter (six) and Maurice Stovall (four).
"You will see a little of Hayward in there," said Morris, who revealed that Hayward played a little at both Will and Sam linebacker against New York. "You will see a little bit more of him. He went out there and played pretty well. It's not an indictment on anybody; it's more of a reward for Hayward. Hayward went out there, we gave him some snaps and he played well at Will linebacker and Sam linebacker.
"You will see some more Brian Clark. He came out there last week, had five tackles on special teams, played well at receiver, got some confidence. Let's see what he can do when given a role. I have to keep on evaluating talent on this football team. I want to play as many young people as I can. If I have 45 helmets up, I want to find a way at some point that all 45 of those men get on the field to see what they can do."
Morris touched on several other game-related topics after practice on Wednesday:
On Byron Leftwich being a team captain: "He's still a captain, there's no doubt about it. He's still assuming those responsibilities. He's helping those guys right now, the young guys. I told you guys he's a great guy and I meant it. He is a great guy. He's a team leader. He's still a team leader. He was a team leader in today's meeting. He was a team leader on the field today. His positive attitude about this thing is what makes it a little bit easier for this team, what makes it a little bit easier for everybody that loves him, because of how he is, how great a person he is. And the team, you judge it based on the practice we just had, which might have been one of the best we've had all season. That's all we can do, try to practice as best as we can, go play as hard as we can and let the results fall where they may."
On the Redskins having seen a little of Josh Johnson on film: "They know his ability to scramble, they know his mobility. Obviously they're smart coaches up there; I'm sure they'll work on some bootlegs, some nakeds. I'm sure they'll work on some things like that, just assuming they're going to get some of those things. I'm sure they'll work on some different things with him scrambling outside the pocket, I'm sure they'll work on some deals with somebody spying him, with somebody watching him. It definitely gives you an advantage. The fact that Josh Johnson is not a guy that's going to step back there and look to run first creates its own problems for everybody. We've got to deal with that same issue that we've got with Jason Campbell. He has the ability to run, he's very athletic, he's very mobile. We've got to be ready to deal with him in the same way. At the same time, they're quarterbacks, different types of quarterbacks. They're not a college quarterback that can run the football and that's what they do. These guys are quarterbacks first but they have the ability to hurt you with their feet."
On getting the running game back to its opening-day form: "The Giants were studs, we talked about that. Buffalo kind of forced us out early with the turnovers. They got us into the passing game. We had a successful game against Dallas. We have to get back to that. We have to get back to coming off the football. Like I said, it starts with me. Last week I took the pads off of them a little bit, I kind of took the brakes off of them. Today we had full pads, shorter periods, got them off the practice field faster. It was higher tempo, higher energy, I have to wait for the results this week to let you know what happened to the running game."
On if it will be necessary to bring five pass-rushers to get pressure on the quarterback: "We have been doing that a little bit. We might have to send six. We have to give more pressure and these guys have to do it. The first thing starts today in practice. We had great effort today; I don't know what that is going to result in on Sunday. I'm hoping the results are positive."