RB Rabih Abdullah finds a route to the end zone during 'Green Zone' drills
It's not that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't sweat on Monday and Tuesday. It's just that their jerseys were too soaked from the rain during the first two days of training camp to tell the difference.
On Wednesday, it was all perspiration, all day, as the typical Tampa summer heat returned with force. There might have been a few sweaty brows in the packed stands as well when All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks was suddenly escorted off the field and into the training room halfway through the workout.
That concern was eased a little bit when Brooks returned 20 minutes later, and significantly more when the nature of his injury was revealed. Brooks suffered a cut in the webbing of his right hand between his ring and pinky fingers, a laceration that required six stitches. The team's training staff administered that treatment and sent him back to the field; though he won't be able to take any contact on that hand for a few days, he may be able to rejoin practice.
"Derrick is going to be fine," said Head Coach Tony Dungy after practice. "In a passing drill we had, he just caught Jamie Duncan's jersey, stretched his fingers apart and got a laceration in there. They stitched it up and he should be fine in a couple of days.
In truth, it will be difficult to keep the defense's leader off the field. Even though he was held out of action for the rest of the workout, he seemed driven to stay in the middle of the action. Brooks constantly discussed the action on the field with the other defenders and even went into the huddles with the starting defense during team drills, running out of the action at the last moment.
T Jason Odom is equally eager to get back into action, and he may get his wish as well. Odom was held out of Wednesday morning's practice after reporting pain in his lower back on Tuesday afternoon. While that immediately threw up a red flag due to the back surgery Odom underwent last fall, the nature of his pain is actually not too discouraging.
As the team's head trainer, Todd Toriscelli, explains, lower back surgery of Odom's variety is intended to relieve pain from the legs and rear, which was plaguing Odom throughout 1999. His surgery succeeded in that endeavor, and the pain he experienced on Tuesday was strictly in his back. Recurrence of pain in his legs would be a far more troublesome development. Overall, the team is alert but not overly concerned about Odom's condition.
"Jason (sitting out practice) was just a little precautionary," said Dungy. "He's got a little back pain that we don't think is related to his surgery. We kind of planned on that, at some point getting him back to once a day. He's just going to take off today and tomorrow and we think he'll be ready by the weekend."
A number of players – S Damien Robinson and TE James Whalen among them – continued to watch from the sidelines thanks to a run of hamstring injuries that are typical for the first week of camp. On Wednesday, with the sun no longer missing in action, another trainer's favorite returned: cramps.
"We had some cramps in there at the end of practice," said Dungy. "Floyd Young, for instance, really worked hard in practice, did a lot of stuff on special teams. Then, on the coverage drills, he cramped up late in practice. We'll see. Usually, the IVs come about an hour after practice."
For Dungy, however, Wednesday's sudden heat is just another example of the types of adversity for which a team must be ready. "We weren't as sharp," he said, "and we lost some guys as practice went along with heat-related things. We had some guys sitting out as practice went on. That's something we're going to have to work on, but overall it was a good day and I was glad to see us get a little sunshine.
"It was fun today. This was the first day that I felt we were really in training camp, and it showed a little bit. I thought we got off to a very good start. We got a little sloppy at the end when I think we got a little fatigued, so it was good to be in the heat."
The Bucs' offense tried to put a little heat of its own on the defense as the Bucs took much of the morning to work on 'Green Zone' plays. With the defense backed up against the goal line, the offense began the process of improving on its less than exemplary record inside the 20 last year. However, with training camp still only a few days old, the defense remained ahead of the offense on the learning curve and was obviously more effective in the Green Zone.
"We had some new plays and it kind of happens that way," said Dungy of the offense's stumble. "You install and it's a little bit rough around the edges, then you review and you get the fine points down. A couple of days later, you're installing again, and that's what happened today. We were still a little rough around the edges, but that will come."
Center Jeff Christy, the team's most significant unrestricted free agent signing of the offseason, is expected to be at the heart of the offense as it gels under new coordinator Les Steckel. Christy is not sure when the offense will catch up with the Bucs' outstanding defense.
"It really goes to a different level once you get to training camp," said Christy. "At mini-camp, we felt pretty good about it. Once you put the pads on, you take different footwork, you're worried about getting hit. It's like a whole new learning process.
"It's hard to say (when the offense will completely gel). Sometimes it takes just training camp, sometimes it goes into the season, sometimes it takes a week. The more time we spend together the more we learn about each other. It's just a learning process.
"This is one of the best defenses in the league. We've got to speed that process up just so we can compete at practice."
Dungy expects to see daily progress but also is not sure when his offense will be operating more instinctually.
"That's going to be a situation that we're going to have to deal with maybe for a year or two," said Dungy. "Our defense right now is second nature to our veteran guys because they've done the same thing for five years now. We want to eventually get to that point on offense, but it is going to be tough, especially in training camp and early in the season. Concentration becomes a premium when you have bad conditions, wet conditions, heat…anything different that forces you to concentrate."
The Bucs will practice under yet another new condition for their second Wednesday workout: nighttime. The first of two evening practices scheduled for camp (the other will occur on Monday, August 14), it is likely also to feature a packed Pepin-Rood Stadium granstand.
"Well, the night practice for one thing gives our fans at work a chance to come out after practice," said Dungy. "That's the main reason we do it. It also gives us a high school atmosphere, which usually gets things going. We'll work our field goals for the first time tonight. We'll also work on some two-minute offense and defense, special situations, and that's always fun at the end of practice."