DT Brad Culpepper turns toward the 'quarterback' dummy during the immensely popular defensive line drills Monday night
On the defensive sideline, the players were exchanging remarks as if it was crunch time in a regular-season game. When DT Anthony McFarland broke through for an apparent sack, there was jubilation.
This was a practice.
For some reason – maybe it was the crowd at Pepin-Rood Stadium, maybe it was the dramatic night setting, maybe it was the fact that there would be no more training camp after tonight – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Monday evening practice was imbued with a gameday atmosphere.
Or maybe we misinterpreted it. When the makeshift clock in the south end zone ticked down to zero and signaled that the defense had won the last of a series of two-minute drills, there was a celebration on that sideline. Maybe what they were celebrating was the final seconds of training camp.
No matter. Head Coach Tony Dungy was quite pleased with the team's effort and intensity Monday evening, putting a positive final touch on a mostly uneventful training camp.
"It was a fun evening to wrap up camp," said Dungy. "We got some work in our scoring zone and got some work in two-minute. That's always exciting – it gets competitive – and I thought it was a good way to end camp.
"I think we've gotten a lot of things done. We'll get back to One Buc now and really get some work in on New England and, these last two weeks, try to fine-tune our game and get ready to go."
The Bucs tried to hold one other night practice in the first week of camp but were besieged by heavy rain and heavier lightning only a few minutes into it. This time, the weather cooperated and the Bucs put on a show. By far the loudest reaction from the crowd came when the team relocated its defensive line drills to right in front of the grandstand. Some of the team's most recognizable players – including defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Brad Culpepper – whipped the crowd into a frenzy by tearing through the dummy drills.
"It's been kind of a tradition," said Dungy, referring to both the night practice and the defensive line work. "Unfortunately, school started so some of the kids weren't able to come out, but we did want to have at least one night practice for the people at work who aren't able to get out during the day."
At least two players were less excited about the evening. Rookie WR Chris Daniels dislocated his right shoulder and has already been ruled out for Sunday's game. CB Floyd Young sprained his right ankle; he's considered questionable.
On the other hand, the Bucs welcomed back FB Mike Alstott during the morning practice and were cheered by the work of TE James Whalen and CB Tarig Holman in the evening.
"Some of the guys we expect to get back on Wednesday – George Hegamin, Damien Robinson," said Dungy. "James Whalen worked today and actually did pretty well. Mike Alstott worked once today and felt really good. So we think we're getting closer."
They will also get a lot closer to a normal routine now that camp is concluding. The players will actually return to the University of Tampa on Tuesday in order to move out and return their keys, but the rest of the day is free. On Wednesday, the team will begin a fairly normal gameday week, with opponent review beginning that day and practices sheared to just one a day.
Dungy thinks his team is eager to move on to the next phase of the preseason, and even more eager to get back on the field after losing in Miami last Thursday.
"When you don't play well, you always wish you could go out and play again the next day," he said. "But you have to learn to be patient. I think our guys will play well. Being on national TV is going to be fun. I think it's the first Buc preseason game on national TV in a long, long while, so we're excited and anxious to play."