Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Throwing Caution to the Wind

QB Trent Dilfer lets it loose in his first full practice since November


QB Trent Dilfer has worked towards a speedy recovery from a shoulder injury

Back in November, Trent Dilfer called it the injury that no quarterback could hide from. Sooner or later, probably while he's on the run, a quarterback can expect to be slammed shoulder-first into the turf by a 300-pound lineman. This event, with Phillip Daniels playing the part of the lineman and the Seattle Kingdome floor playing the part of the turf, occurred to Dilfer on November 28 and resulted in a snapped right clavicle.

It also ended his regular season, as such an injury has a fairly standard recovery time of six weeks. That it happened to Dilfer's throwing shoulder meant that practically the entire healing process would have to take place before the strong-armed passer could start playing football again.

Well, it has been a few days less than six weeks since that Sunday in Seattle, but Dilfer returned to practice with his teammates on Wednesday. The Buccaneers worked out for two hours in a somewhat modified schedule due to the bye week, and Dilfer participated fully, surprising even himself a bit."

"I feel good," said Dilfer after Wednesday's practice. "It was a surprise…yesterday when I was in here getting treatment, I didn't think I'd be able to go at practice today. But I woke up this morning and it felt good, I had a good rehab session this morning, and I decided to give it a shot. The more I practiced, the better it got."

Dilfer actually began throwing on the sidelines last week, but had not tried to join the team until today. "I threw all last week," he said, "each day progressively harder. Friday, I probably overdid it and really took a setback. That's why I was concerned about this week. But things are working out as planned."

Dilfer, in fact, indicated that he was ahead of schedule in his healing process. He was also sharper on his first day back under center than he expected to be, particularly after last week's slow progress. Though he received constant medical updates on the state of his injured shoulder, it was anybody's guess as to how well he had maintained his overall playing shape.

"I threw the ball well (in practice)," said the sixth-year signal-caller. "That's the big think when you come off an injury…you're not sure how the rest of your body is going to respond. I feel like I was getting through the ball well. I still probably tried to overdo and threw a couple high, but for the most part threw the ball very accurately, which I was encouraged by. Last week, the bone wasn't completely healed. I was always concerned with throwing to hard and having it break again. I don't know if last week I was as fundamentally sound as I could have been. Today, I decided that if I was going to throw, I was going to throw the way I know how to. I think that actually helped me."

Though Wednesday's workout was a major hurdle, there is another one ahead, and Dilfer won't clear it until the doctors clear him. "He actually did fine throwing the ball today," said Dungy after the Bucs concluded their workout at about 12:30 p.m. "Our concern has never been his arm or ability to throw. It's just when is he going to be healed up enough to take a hit, and the doctors still haven't cleared him to do that. But, we're hoping that they will be next week."

That clearance could come next week, which would allow Dilfer to suit up for the Buccaneers Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, January 15. For his part, Dilfer feels ready for the full football experience, including the return of those falling 300-pound linemen.

"I don't think that will be an issue," said Dilfer of the effect of the next hit he will take. "The doctors have assured me that there's plenty of research that shows that six weeks is enough time to heal. The X-rays have been good. Obviously, it's not within my control if they allow me to take a hit, but I think I'll be fine."

Of course, Dilfer's ability to absorb a tackle is even more conjecture than usual, as neither he nor the team plans on him taking the field again this season. Rookie QB Shaun King, who has performed superbly since Dilfer's injury, is expected to start however many games the Buccaneers have left. Dilfer just wants to know that he can take the field if the team needs him.

"There's rust that needs to come off," said Dilfer, "but I don't think there's any hurry to play, either. Shaun's doing a great job, and I'm not looking for that to change. I think he's going to play great and take us where we want to go. My objective is to get healthy and to be available in an emergency situation."

An available Dilfer would give the Bucs uncommon depth at quarterback heading into the playoffs. Before his injury, the longtime starter had helped Tampa Bay to a 7-3 record in his 10 starts and was riding a hot streak that paralleled the Bucs upswing on the field. In his three starts before the Seattle contest, Dilfer completed 47 of 78 passes (60.3%) for 639 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, numbers that equate to an excellent 97.1 passer rating.

King has been similarly strong in helping the Bucs continue their winning ways, completing 61.0% of his passes, throwing seven touchdowns versus just four interceptions and leading his team to four victories in five starts. The Bucs also have an experienced starter in Eric Zeier, who completed 32 of 55 passes for 270 yards at Detroit on October 31 in his only start of the year. Zeier was actually anointed the starter over Dilfer for that Lions contest but then was forced to the sidelines himself with a severe ribcage injury. Zeier is healthy now and continues to impress the coaching staff.

With King still untested at the time of Zeier's injury, Dilfer stepped back in and began his aforementioned hot streak, helping to salvage a Buccaneer season that was headed in the wrong direction. Dilfer's workout on Wednesday brings hope that he would be available for that role again in the upcoming playoffs, though nobody is hoping for that to become necessary.

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