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Tampa Bay’s passing game got a key element back in the mix on Thursday


WR Keyshawn Johnson was back on the field Thursday and apparently not slowed down by a sore neck

All in all, one day of missed practice isn't bad for a 212-pound collision between the back of one's neck and the unforgiving turf of a football field.

On Sunday against Dallas, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Keyshawn Johnson made a leaping catch over the middle in the fourth quarter only to have CB Phillippi Sparks hit him in the legs as Johnson was airborne. That resulted in a 180-degree flip for Johnson, who couldn't stop himself from landing on his neck with his body sticking straight up, perpendicular to the field.

Though he spent only a few dazed seconds on the ground before getting up (and holding onto the ball), Johnson woke up with a sore neck and upper back the next day. He was still somewhat sore on Wednesday and was held out of practice by the team's training staff. That crew cleared Johnson to play on Thursday and he was back with a vengeance, catching pass after pass during seven-on-seven and team drills.

"Keyshawn was back," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, beginning to size up the team's injury status. "Frank Middleton was back. Donnie Abraham was not, but overall the guys look pretty good. I thought we looked a little fresher today than yesterday."

All of the above are expected to suit up on Sunday in Miami, including the currently inactive Abraham: "I think," said Dungy. "We'll find out tomorrow. He should be able to go and we'll see how it is then. Right now, we're planning on having everybody other than Mike (Alstott) and Al (Singleton)."

Alstott and Singleton are out for the rest of the season with very similar MCL sprains in their left knees, but there were very few other Buccaneers not practicing on Wednesday. One who did sit out was DE Chidi Ahanotu, who has a left knee sprain as well, but of far less severity.

"Actually, we were trying to make a decision whether he should go yesterday or today," said Dungy. "He went (yesterday) and wasn't feeling that much better today, so we thought we'd give him one day of rest and see how it is tomorrow. But we anticipate him being okay by Sunday."

Ahanotu was on last week's injury report with the same ailment but was able to play against Dallas, recording one of the Bucs' two sacks and forcing a fumble.


It was an interesting day on the sidelines behind One Buccaneer Place today, as a variety of guests were allowed on the field to take in practice. While L.A. Dodgers outfielder Gary Sheffield and Ohio State University Head Football Coach John Cooper may have been the most prominent figures on hand, another group drew much more attention when the workout attended.

That would be the Dallas Redskins, a Pop Warner team of 10 and 11-year-old football players who will be playing for their own national championship in Orlando on Saturday. That just happens to be the same Dallas Redskins – same head coach even – that won the 1986 national championship with a certain standout player named Damien Robinson.

Now the Bucs' starting free safety, Robinson had the Redskins on hand as his guests Thursday, two days before they go for the program's fifth national title on Saturday morning at Disney's Wide World of Sports. It would be the Redskins fifth national title since Robinson's days, as they also won in 1989, '90 and '96, and were runners-up in 1993, '95 and '98.

After practice, the Redskins were swarmed by Buccaneers players and coaches, who stopped by to discuss the big game and sign autographs. It was certainly a thrill for the young athletes, but it was no less exciting for Robinson, whose childhood football memories were stirred up. In fact, he held some of them in his hand, thanks to Redskins Head Coach Larry Oliver.

"It was called the Surf Bowl when I played in it," said Robinson of the upcoming championship game. "We won…I've got it on tape right here! I'm going to go look at it right now."

Oliver had the tape for Robinson because, remarkably, the team has the exact same coaching staff in 2000 as it had 14 years ago. "Larry Oliver, still calling the shots," said Robinson.

And doing it quite well, apparently.


The last time either Martin Gramatica of the Bucs or Olindo Mare of the Dolphins missed a field goal try, there wasn't so much as a single chad dimpled in George Bush or Al Gore's favor.

Mare has made 11 consecutive field goal attempts, last misfiring on October 23 against the New York Jets. Gramatica has made 16 in a row, with his last miss occurring on October 9 in Minnesota. Gramatica's streak is tied for the longest in Buccaneer history.

Not surprisingly, both Florida kickers are doing well in online Pro Bowl balloting. At the last league update, Gramatica was a few thousand votes behind Minnesota's Gary Anderson in a two-horse race. Mare was running fourth in the AFC, but also only a few thousand votes off the leader, Indy's Mike Vanderjagt.

Those two could pick up some last-minute Pro Bowl credentials on Sunday, when they figure to be key players in a close, hard-fought game. With two very determined defenses, this game could easily come down to the kickers, and the Bucs are pleased that there man has hit five field goals of more than 50 yards this season. Will the efforts of Gramatica and Mare be crucial to the outcome?

"I would think so," said Dungy. "You have two outstanding kickers, guys that don't miss very often. Not only the field goals, but kickoff coverage and field position – I think it will be a day when both of those guys have to have big days."


Online Pro Bowl balloting through concludes Friday at 6:00 p.m. EST. To cast a last-minute ballot for your favorite Buccaneers, please click here.

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