The Bucs have practiced with a very good tempo the last two days, according to Head Coach Jon Gruden
The first week of the regular season is a transition of sorts. It begins with a meandering schedule that has the free-form feel of the preseason. Then, by Wednesday, teams are locked into the tightly-controlled regimen they will follow before every game over the next four months. The excitement of the regular-season opener creeps in very slowly.
It's Thursday, and the Bucs are near the end of that transition. The team will throw a season kickoff party for the fans on Thursday night, fly to Seattle on Friday and be making its first mark in the standings just three days hence.
Accordingly, the tempo has picked up at One Buccaneer Place, and that's how Head Coach Jon Gruden wanted it.
"You've got to get everybody on the same page and acclimated to how we practice," said Gruden of the challenges of the first week. "We don't like to waste time here. It's a very hot place to practice. I am pleased with the tempo and I'm pleased with the execution for the most part, as well."
The Bucs, who want to put last year's 4-12 season firmly in the past, need a much better start to the season than they had a year ago. Marred by offensive line injuries leading up to the opener, Tampa Bay fell hard in a 27-0 loss to Baltimore and took a month to truly recover.
In contrast, the 2005 season opened on a very positive note and the rest of the season took shape accordingly. The Bucs' 4-0 start and eventual 11-5 finish was kicked off by an uplifting 24-13 road victory against the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings. Two years later, the Bucs find themselves in a similar position, ready to make a long opening-weekend trip to face a favored opponent.
"Our goal is to start fast," said Gruden. "The win in Minnesota – I think they were highly-touted at the time and we started three rookies in that game on offense, did some good things as a football team and got a rousing victory. I think it was a big reason behind the big 4-0 start, I believe it was."
Seattle happens to be the Bucs' last regular-season opponent as well, as the Seahawks took a 23-7 decision at Raymond James Stadium to close out the 2006 season. Tampa Bay was coming off its own rather dominant 22-7 win at Cleveland the week before, and on Thursday Gruden jokingly pointed out that his team is on a one-game road winning streak.
The joke, of course, is that was the Bucs' only win in their last six games. That run should have no effect on the beginning of 2007, however; this year's team is strikingly different from the one that finished 2006.
"We want to get momentum going," said Gruden. "Last year's over. We weren't a very good football team last year. We've got a lot of new characters, new faces, and we've got a new objective right now. That's why we're eager to get going."
Still Feeling Good
The Bucs made only one change to their injury report on Thursday, and not only was it a move in the positive direction, but it involved a player that wasn't hurt in the first place.
Under new league rules, teams are not required to designate injured players as out, doubtful, questionable or probable until Friday this year. However, each day they must report any players who miss practice or are limited during practice. Thus, the Bucs listed wide receiver Joey Galloway on Wednesday, because the coaching staff chose to hold him out for much of the workout in order to keep him fresh.
Since Galloway was a full participant on Thursday, he came off the list. The Bucs only mark on that injury report is DE Patrick Chukwurah, who has already been ruled out due to a knee injury.
Likewise, the Seahawks have only one player on their report. Wide receiver Ben Obomanu did not practice on Wednesday due to a hamstring ailment.
The Bucs didn't bother to list a number of players who had missed time near the end of the preseason, indicating that their health is not a concern. That short list included rookie guard Arron Sears, who is expected to start at left guard despite missing the last two August games with an ankle sprain. Gruden said the second-round pick out of Tennessee is a virtual lock to return to action on Sunday.
"I don't think there's any question. He's really looked good on the practice field and he's going to be a fine football player. I don't think there's any question about that."
Practice Squad Swap
Taye Biddle is back, this time as a member of the practice squad.
The first-year receiver out of Mississippi first joined the Buccaneers on Sunday as a waiver claim from the Carolina Panthers. He was placed on the 53-man roster, but then released two days later when the team signed linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.
On Thursday, the Bucs announced the addition of Biddle to their eight-man practice squad, releasing rookie guard/center Enoka Lucas in order to make room. Lucas had first joined the team on July 25 as a waiver claim from the Houston Texans.
The Bucs' practice squad now includes three receivers, helping the team fill out that position for workouts during the week, since only five wideouts were kept on the active roster. Coincidentally, two of those three receivers are former Ole Miss stars. Biddle and recent addition Micheal Spurlock were Rebels teammates throughout their college careers, both beginning as redshirt freshmen in 2001 and concluding as seniors in 2005.
Players on the practice squad may, obviously, practice with the team but they are not eligible to play in games unless they are first elevated to the 53-man roster. They are also free to sign with any other team at any time as long as the contract is for that new team's active roster.
Biddle first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Panthers in 2006. He spent most of his rookie season on Carolina's practice squad before getting a late-season promotion to the active roster. An extremely fast receiver, Biddle averaged 27.1 yards per catch on his seven receptions this preseason.