Seventh-year LB Derrick Brooks was one of two Buccaneers not to report to camp on Sunday
Eighty-four of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 86 players reported to training camp on Sunday, leaving the focus to fall squarely on the two that were absent.
Fourth-year running back Rabih Abdullah did not make it on Sunday due to a family situation. His absence was excused. Linebacker Derrick Brooks' absence was not.
"I've spoken with him," said Head Coach Tony Dungy of the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker. "Where he is right now, I don't know. He's not here. He's chosen not to report. I'm aware of it. I've had a conversation with him and I understand his position.
"I'm not going to speak for him as to why he's not here. We've had a lot of conversations. I know what he's thinking and what's on his mind. He's wrestled with this and gone back and forth, but he chose not to come. I respect that. Everybody has decisions that they make.
"We just have to take a position now like we do with injured guys. He's not here and we've got to get other people ready. You have to move on and that's what we plan to do. It won't be an excuse for us."
Dungy remained focused on football and the 84 players in camp and did not wish to address the impetus for Brooks' decision. However, General Manager Rich McKay provided the background.
"Derrick has two years left on his contract, which we renegotiated a number of years ago," said McKay, speaking of the current pact that is scheduled to pay the linebacker $8.5 million over the next two years ($3 million in 2001 and $5.5 million in 2002).
"We have for the past seven or eight months attempted to do an extension with Derrick. We felt it was the right thing to do even though it was a little early. We still felt based on his level of play and his achievements that it was the right thing to do. We didn't make much headway, so I guess it came to this and he made a decision not to come in.
"It's one of those situations that you never want to occur, but in this business they're going to occur. That's the nature of the business. We haven't had one of these in a long time. You hope it's something that resolves itself quickly, but quite frankly, I don't know what to expect."
Clearly, neither side wishes to negotiate through the media. McKay doesn't intend to address the subject again until its conclusion and Brooks did not threaten a holdout before camp.
McKay was not aware of Brooks' decision until he arrived at training camp between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. The team held a mandatory meeting beginning at 3:00 p.m., with only Brooks and Abdullah not appearing. However, McKay wasn't completely caught by surprise.
"I knew it was a possibility, but in the end I didn't know (whether Brooks would report on time).
"You always are (disappointed in holdouts), but Derrick Brooks is a pretty good football player. He's been pretty good to our organization and pretty good to the community. I'm disappointed, but I'll get over it."
As will the team, according to Dungy. While admitting that Brooks' decision was the most notable issue on reporting day, the Bucs' coach believed it would no longer be a distraction by the time practices begin on Monday.
"It probably is today," said Dungy. "It won't be tomorrow.
"Obviously, Derrick's been a big part of what we've done and this is going to be unexpected for the players, but we'll be fine. Tomorrow, we'll go out to practice just like we normally do and I think we'll be ready to go."
In the meantime, Dungy indicated that he will discuss with the coaching staff the immediate solution to Brooks' absence from the starting defense. While not committing to any particular lineup, Dungy did mention the possibility of switching Shelton Quarles into Brooks' weakside slot.
Quarles has started at strongside linebacker for the Bucs for the past two seasons, but is familiar with the opposite side and has the requisite speed and cover skills to handle the position.
"I played there my first year-and-a-half, so I'm pretty comfortable playing there," said Quarles. "Wherever they need me is fine."
Quarles spoke without emotion on Sunday evening and appeared ready to help the Bucs move beyond this issue.
"I wasn't really too shocked because I knew what was going on behind the scenes. I'm pretty upset that he's not here, but we're a family and we're going to handle it like that. I hope it ends soon, but we're in it for the long haul. We're going to prepare as if Derrick's not here."
Neither Dungy nor McKay would indicate a gut feeling as to how long this issue might take to reach a resolution.
"The ball really ends up in Derrick's court," said McKay. "I'm sure we'll hear from him. When, I don't know."
Added Dungy: "Right now, it really doesn't matter. We have to focus on who's here.
"Every player has to make his own decision. Derrick is certainly a guy who's done everything we've asked since we've been here. Derrick's one of my favorite guys, but I have to deal in the reality of who's here."
Respecting Abdullah's privacy, Dungy also did not discuss the family situation that is keeping the running back out of camp.
"We're wishing him well and we think he'll be back soon."