Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The More the Merrier (August 11)

The Bucs got nearer to full participation during a short workout on Saturday morning

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FB Mike Alstott ran during the morning practice on Saturday and could be back in the thick of things by Monday

Ah, the healing powers of a Friday with nothing to do.

How else to explain the scene on Saturday morning, when an 11:00 a.m. practice featured some Buccaneer action not seen in awhile. Among the most welcome sights were FB Mike Alstott and S Damien Robinson going through extensive running work and S John Lynch participating somewhat in team drills.

Alstott and Robinson have missed most of training camp with hamstring injuries, and Lynch suffered a bruised ribcage on Thursday when he put his chest in the path of a Dolphins helmet. There is a very strong possibility that all three will be in the thick of the action by Wednesday, when the team starts game-planning for New England.

Said Head Coach Tony Dungy of Alstott and Robinson, each of which were described as at least 80% ready: "Both of those guys have a chance to go on Monday. If they're 100%, they will. If not, we've still got two days until Wednesday.

"If Damien's not back (for Sunday's game) and David Gibson's not back, it would be a long day for a couple of guys. But we think they'll be back."

Gibson suffered a thigh bruise on Thursday while being tackled after a fumble recovery. That was the last of a bizarre string of injuries to the safety position, which started on the first play from scrimmage when LB Derrick Brooks landed awkwardly on the outside of Dexter Jackson's ankle, causing a sprain that will keep Jackson out for at least three or four weeks. Dungy said on Saturday that he considered Jackson doubtful for the season opener on September 3, which also happens to be in New England.

So the safety situation may not be as thin as was early feared, and the running game might get a much needed arrival of the A-Train. Actually, Alstott means much more to this offense than just blasts off-tackle; as the primary H-back in offensive coordinator Les Steckel's new system, Alstott will be utilized in a wide variety of roles. Buccaneer fans are looking forward to seeing that, as our the team's coaches.

"I think Mike's going to be good in this system," said Dungy on Saturday, contemplating Alstott's imminent return. "We're going to get him the ball in the open field as the H-back, and we're still going to run him quite a bit. It's going to be kind of a combination of what he has done in his first four years in the league."

In 1996, Alstott caught a team rookie-record 65 passes but was primarily a lead blocker for most of the season. He has become increasingly important in the rushing attack, culminating in last year's team-leading 949 ground yards, but his receptions total over the last three years combined (72) has barely exceeded that first-year mark.

"It's going to be unique," said Steckel, who thinks Alstott is perfectly suited for the role. "It's going to be a challenge for him, and for us as coaches to be good teachers. Here's a player that is very important to our offense.

Steckel has yet to see Alstott fill that role in a game, but he says, "I can tell already, watching him move, that he's going to be a good fit. He has such strong legs, so he can change directions quickly. He'll be very good out in space as the H-back. One day, we were running whip routes and stutter routes with him in practice, and I've never seen anyone run them that well. He'll be a second tight end, a lead back a wide receiver out in space."

But first he'll be another guy in practice. Alstott was pushing for that to be Saturday, but the coaches are likely to keep him under wraps until at least Monday. The team has another practice at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, in which the ranks could continue to swell. Among the other players who got back on the field in the morning were rookies DE Mawuko Tugbenyoh and CB Tarig Holman, two players the coaching staff had high hopes for but who have been slowed by injuries.

The Buccaneers will have their second day off in a three-day span on Sunday, then will return for the last day of practices at the University of Tampa on Monday. The final UT workout will occur in the evening, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

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