LB Alshermond Singleton (51) returned full speed to practice on Wednesday, bolstering a banged-up linebacking corps
After two days of idle fretting about a long list of injured players, the perfect antidote would have been a vigorous Wednesday practice featuring almost full participation.
"We maybe weren't as crisp as I would like to see us," said Dungy, summing up practice. "We had to work on some of the things that Philadelphia does on defense, which is very confusing at first. Hopefully, we'll be sharper on it tomorrow."
The Bucs were also not as healthy as anyone would like to see them. In addition to the existing injuries, which are updated below, Tampa Bay added two players to its lengthy injury report after Wednesday's session.
QB Shaun King has a groin pull and will be added to the report as 'probable' after taking only a few snaps on Wednesday. LB Jeff Gooch will join the list as 'questionable' due to an abdominal strain that was perhaps a bit worse than originally thought. Gooch was not on the first injury report because he was expected to be mostly recovered by Wednesday.
"He has an abdominal strain and he hasn't improved as much as we hoped," said Dungy.
King's limited participation was mostly for precautionary reasons, and Dungy indicated that King would have played had the game been held on Wednesday.
"He has a little bit of a groin pull, so we limited him on some things," said the coach. "He didn't take all of the snaps he normally would, but we think he'll be okay."
Of course, the team is quite happy that the game was not scheduled for Wednesday, because many of its other injured players would have been unavailable. Among those that did not participate in the first full practice of the week were defensive ends Marcus Jones and Steve White and linebackers Jeff Gooch and Jamie Duncan.
"We had a few guys that we kept out totally and we had some guys that had to stay out of the contact part of it," said Dungy. "That gave the backup guys a chance to work. Hopefully, we'll get some of those guys – Marcus Jones, Derrick Brooks, Steve White – back in as the week goes on."
Brooks was one of those few that did suit up for practice but wasn't allowed to run through the contact drills. A clearly impatient Brooks, who is suffering from a right shoulder sprain, kept his helmet on during these stretches and often walked into the defensive huddle before clearing the field.
Afterwards, Brooks gave more reason to believe that he would be on the field in Philadelphia.
It's just going to take gradual improvement all week long and I'll be ready to go on Sunday," he said. "It's going to be tough to keep me out. Right now, I can just feel better every day and build on that. To say I'm not playing – that's not an option."
Brooks' injury involves what is often referred to as a 'burner' or 'stinger', and in this case it has caused weakness in his right arm. To protect against another occurrence such as the one that sidelined him for most of the Green Bay game, Brooks and the team are contemplating different types of harnesses and padding to protect the shoulder.
"We're going to see," said Brooks. "There's a couple of different ideas that our guys have in mind, what at this point, I don't know. We're going to try a couple of different things and see what works best."
Dungy wasn't much more definitive on Brooks' status.
"It's hard to say," he said. "It's a shoulder strain. I think it depends on how he gets hit. Hopefully, he'll be fine and be able to get through, but we don't know at this point."
Joining Brooks and Gooch in the linebackers' own corner of the training room is Duncan, who was held out Wednesday due to his knee sprain. Duncan's injury is of the same type suffered by Mike Alstott and Alshermond Singleton, just not nearly as severe. Like Brooks, he's determined to be there for his team in Philly.
"I'm playing Sunday," he said. "I'm definitely going to play. Ain't no 'optimistic' about it. I may be a little 'optimistic' about practice, but that's about it. But, no, I plan to be out there playing on Sunday."
Ditto for White, who has a hip pointer.
"It gets better day by day, and I think I'll be ready to play full speed on Sunday," said White.
The team is very hopeful that White will recover, since he may be needed to step up for Jones, who is considered slightly worse off. The rash of injuries at just a few spots is seriously testing the Bucs' noted depth, but White believes the Bucs are deep enough to weather the storm.
"I think it's great that we have guys here that can come in and perform and have the coaches and the other players expecting (good play)," he said. "When those guys go in, nobody hits the panic button. Derrick went down and I'm sure a lot of people in America probably cut the TV off. It continued to be a real good defensive game because we had guys that came in – Don Davis, Shelton Quarles, Jeff Gooch – that stepped up and did a great job in Derrick's absence. If Marcus goes down, I have to play a whole bunch of plays. When you have that quality depth, it's not a problem."
So, are you aching for some good news on the injury front?
Singleton, who suffered his left knee sprain against Buffalo on November 26, returned to practice today and is a very good bet to play on Sunday. Singleton actually got a little light work in last week and was eager to play in Green Bay, but the team decided one more week of rest would be beneficial. The timing of his return is excellent, given the state of the rest of the linebacking corps.
"The knee felt great," said Singleton after practice. "It just felt really good to be out here and be contributing to the effort we're trying to accomplish on Sunday.
"The held me back last week. I made the trip up to Green Bay, but I wanted to play in the cold weather. I feel fine, I feel great and I feel confident. I guess we have a few linebackers banged up. They picked up the slack when I was down, so I have to do the same thing."
Click here to view the Bucs' updated injury report as of Wednesday afternoon.
Those Bucs nursing various ailments can't be pleased that the schedule now takes them to Philadelphia, home of the turf annually judged to be the league's worst in player polls. That and the notoriously hostile Philly crowd could make for an unpleasant Sunday atmosphere for Tampa Bay, but the Bucs don't seem to be dwelling on either issue.
"You can't really, at this time of the year, get focused in on turf or weather or stadium or where you are," said Dungy. "You've got to look at the Eagles, and I think that's what our players are going to do. I think too much can be made of all the other outside factors that really aren't going to determine the game."
S John Lynch believes his team will be too focused on the importance of the game to think about the field conditions.
"I think that's something you'd worry about more if you were playing in a preseason game, because there are seams in it," he said. "But I guarantee you that when we're watching the film, I'm not looking for seams in the turf. I'm looking at Donovan McNabb and Chad Lewis and things of that nature. So I really don't see that as a factor."
And the crowd?
"I've played there a couple of times," said Lynch. "I'm somewhat oblivious to 'hostile'. People say that about Philly, but I'm sure this year, things will be magnified a little. They're playing well, they're in the playoffs for the first time in a while and I'm sure the excitement's heightened right now. I'm sure we'll face a hostile crowd and whatnot, but that's not what's on our mind. What's on our mind is the team that's across from us, and they're a good football team."
Duncan believes the team's annual run through the rugged NFC Central prepares them for such supposedly antagonistic venues.
"You've just got to go in there and expect it. You know it's a playoff game and you know teams have to deal with it when they come down here. We go into hostile situations every week in our division so this won't be any different. We just have to be on our keys and not let the crowd take us out of this game."
White has the added perspective of playing for the Eagles as a rookie, if only for a very short time. It's not an experience he believes can be of much use to his teammates.
"What do you tell them?" he asked. "Okay, the field's hard. Okay, the crowd's loud. Let's go play football. We've been in those situations before and we've come through and won games in those situations, and we'll do it again on Sunday."
The Eagles and Bucs, who go head to head in the Wild Card round on Sunday, will also share the spotlight on Saturday morning when FOX-TV airs its weekly "NFL Under the Helmet" show.
Dungy and Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will be featured in a pair of prominent segments of the show, set to broadcast at 12:00 p.m. Easter time on FOX-TV.
"Under the Helmet" will take viewers "Back in the Day" with Dungy, to his beginnings in the sport. Viewers will also join McNabb on one of his many community service initiatives, as he plays Santa Claus for the children at the Women's Christian Alliance Community Center in Philadelphia, dressing in full costume and distributing gifts.
Other segments will focus on the Baltimore Ravens' defense, 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line.
"NFL Under the Helmet" airs every Saturday on FOX-TV. The show is hosted by Ron Pitts and Rebecca Grant.