DE Marcus Jones blocked K Martin Gramatica's field goal attempt at the end of Thursday's practice
Given that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were practicing for their weekend game in Minnesota, the scene that ended Thursday's workout was strangely familiar.
The Bucs ended Thursday's session with a pair of two-minute drills. The second drive, led by QB Shaun King, reached scoring territory but fell short of the end zone. K Martin Gramatica came on to try a long field goal.
We'll never know if the kick was on line because starting defensive tackle Marcus Jones came straight up the middle and blocked it, sending the ball on a carom past Gramatica and into the arms of starting cornerback Ronde Barber. Barber was gone, unimpeded to the other end zone.
Last year in Minnesota, starting defensive tackle Warren Sapp blocked a fourth-quarter Viking field goal attempt, and the resulting loose ball was scooped up by starting cornerback Donnie Abraham and returned for a go-ahead touchdown.
The main difference on Thursday was that the blocked field goal was the last play of practice. In Minnesota last fall, the Vikings had enough time left to rally for 10 points and a victory.
Still, if the interestingly timed replay serves as a reminder of the importance of special teams, then it was a good way to close practice.
The Buccaneers' special teams struggled noticeably in the season opener at Dallas 18 days ago, perhaps due to the inexperience of some of the young players being asked to fill new roles. Notably, the special teams units had a shaky start in the 2000 season opener as well before rebounding to have a solid season in most categories.
Tampa Bay isn't taking a similar turnaround for granted, however. To make an immediate improvement, Head Coach Dungy has authorized the use of additional veteran starters on special teams where needed.
"We will," said Dungy. "We'll mix them in there on certain things. You'll see some of those guys this weekend."
In addition, the two weeks without games have given Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano extra practices to smooth the edges on the play of his younger contributors.
"We feel like we got (the needed work) in this time off," said Dungy. "We went hard, we went several practices in pads and we were able to get some things done, simulating game conditions. We think some of our young guys did get better and get some more chances."
The Bucs also got rookie cornerback Dwight Smith (mid-foot sprain) back during the layoff. Though he's not one of the veterans Dungy alluded to above, he is expected to make an impact on special teams, as he did throughout training camp.
"That will help," said Dungy. "Dwight has been one of our better special teams players. He's a strong body and a real tough guy, and we do expect him to help us."
Of course, most of Thursday's two-hour afternoon practice was dedicated to offense and defense, not special teams. After a Wednesday workout that was a bit rough, Dungy was pleased with the progress made on the second full day of work.
"Practice was actually pretty good," he said. "I think we're right on schedule. Today was a good day."
As usual, a portion of the Thursday practice was used for red zone and goal-line work, an area that has also drawn special attention after the tight, season-opening win in Dallas. Tampa Bay's restructured offense moved the ball reasonably well in Texas Stadium but put up just 10 points, as several scoring opportunities ended in turnovers. On Thursday, the first-team offense was quite sharp during the goal-line work.
"We've looked at what we did," said Dungy. "I thought we had a good plan for Dallas. It didn't quite work out, but you plan for what you think you're going to see. We know it's going to be loud up there and that's one of the problems you have in the red zone, going into those end zones at Minnesota. You've got to be ready to go in the silent snap count and those kinds of things. I think we'll be ready and we'll have a good plan. Hopefully, we'll get down there a lot to check it out."
Near the end of practice, wide receiver Reidel Anthony limped to the sideline after going down in a heap with Smith on a deep pass route. He missed the last 15 minutes of the workout, approximately, thanks to what has been diagnosed as a mild left ankle sprain.
Afterwards, the team's training room added Anthony to the official injury report but did list him as 'probable.' Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli initially believes the fifth-year wideout will be fine to play on Sunday, but will re-evaluate his condition on Friday morning and decide whether or not to downgrade Anthony's status.
Even with the addition of Anthony, the Bucs' injury report is quite short, thanks to the recent layoff. The only other players on the list are rookie guard Russ Hochstein, questionable with a foot ailment, and DT James Cannida, out with a knee sprain.
"Russ, we'll see," said Dungy of the rookie's availability on Sunday. "James is going to be out, but they might be the only two."
The Vikings also have just three players on their injury report. S Robert Griffith, who suffered a fractured fibula in Chicago last Sunday, is out. CB Wasswa Serwanga is considered questionable with an abdomen injury and FB Jim Kleinsasser is listed as probable with an ankle injury.