FB Kevin McLeod finds a seam in the middle of the defense during a two-minute drill
Is Monday the most productive weekday in the workplace? Debatable.
It had better be for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, at least this week. Monday morning's practice was the only full-pads session the team will hold this week before Thursday's preseason game in Miami. The two-hour session was crisp in schedule, high in intensity and, according to Head Coach Tony Dungy, very productive. Judging from the punitive laps being run during team drills, it was also a little ragged at times, but that was somewhat due to a few added players in the mix.
Dungy had hoped that his injured players would start to return to practice this week, and that process began yesterday with rookie WR Tavarus Hogans (hamstring) hitting the field. On Monday morning, TE James Whalen (hamstring) and T Pete Pierson (hamstring), joined him.
"We got some guys back," said Dungy. "James Whalen did a little bit, came back today; Pete Pierson. So we're looking pretty good."
WR Keyshawn Johnson did not practice due to a sore knee he took from Friday's win over Washington, but he has vowed to return this week and play on Thursday. Two other hamstring victims, S Damien Robinson and FB Mike Alstott, also stayed out of action on Monday. "We're just being careful with them," said Dungy afterward.
T Jason Odom also continued to miss the onfield work due to lingering lower back pain. He was told last week that an MRI showed no structural damage. "Jason is actually going to get another opinion," said Dungy. "We're going to look at maybe a different way to treat it. But he's still basically at the same point, where he's still got a little pain and we're waiting for that to completely subside before we go out there."
As players filter back in, they're being reinserted into offensive and defensive units that performed well in the preseason opener. While it may take a little while to shake off the rust, there presence helps the Bucs distribute the work in the manner they had planned.
"It does help us to have Pete back," said Dungy. "We have Cosey Coleman back – he missed a couple of days last week and that just kind of increased the pressure on everyone else. I think we'll be back to a more normal rotation."
The Bucs spent a good portion of the day working on the hurry-up offense, a situation they have seemed to focus in on in recent days. Dungy also indicates that they have taken a crack at a number of specific game situations, and at the types of the things that might work against the Dolphins on Thursday.
"We've got (the offense) all in, but basically what we'll do is look at Miami and try to pick some things that we feel will be good against them," said Dungy. "We don't necessarily want to show everything we've got in the preseason, but you'll see more things. We'd like to get the running game going. I think we threw the ball well when we threw it against Washington and we still want to do that and continue to work that, but we want to get our run game working.
Overall, though, the work on the offensive side of the ball was a part of a "natural progression of adding our offense and being a week farther along," according to Dungy. "Doing some different things with motion and things we're more comfortable with as time goes on."
That meant a jam-packed practice on Monday morning, and a 90-minute workout to follow in the afternoon, though only in shorts. With basically just four days to prepare for the Dolphins, it's important for the team to make the most of each practice.
"It just kind of takes away from our fundamental work a little bit," said Dungy of the short week. "Normally, we get two good days of working against ourselves, but we're only going to have today. It cuts back on that, but I think the guys are looking forward to playing, so it will be a good week."
Coach Dungy had a little extra help on the sideline Monday morning: Craig Urquhart, highest bidder in a recent charity auction to spend a day with the Bucs' head coach. Urquhart shadowed Dungy throughout practice and will join him in all team activities on Monday. Urquhart seemed to adopt Dungy's calm, serious approach to practice and the eventual media session, but he was clearly enjoying himself. He did have one concern, however, being that close to the action.
"I was about five yards away from them when they were running out full steam," said Urquhart, "so I was hoping that (Warren) Sapp wasn't going to sneak by and hit me by accident."
Why did Urquhart choose this item to bid on?
"I've been living in Tampa virtually my whole life, and I think we all know we have something special here," he said. "Especially with what happened in the offseason, getting Christy, McDaniel and Keyshawn, I think we're right where we need to be for a long time to come."