Cornell Green would start at left tackle if Anthony Davis is unable to play due to the ankle injury he suffered on Wednesday
You know the schedule is playing havoc with your preparations when you readily admit to one of the cardinal sins of football: Looking ahead to the next opponent.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just two more days to prepare for the Washington Redskins, who will be invading Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon. But the Bucs also have just six more days to prepare for the Dallas Cowboys, who will welcome Tampa Bay to Texas Stadium next Thursday.
In other words, Friday would normally be the first day of game-planning work for the Cowboys, but it just happens to be the team's big on-field review day for the Redskins. Clearly, the Buccaneers' coaching staff will be serving two masters over the next few days.
The dual work stops in the coaches' meeting rooms, of course. Buccaneer players will not be devoting any practice time to the Cowboys this week, as the possibility for confusion would run too high. Besides, this is already a compressed week for work on the Redskins, as the Bucs are just coming off a Monday night game on the road. The realities of that long-awaited three-games-in-11-days stretch are starting to sink in.
"We're going to try to concentrate on Washington because this is a short week also," said Head Coach Jon Gruden, who recalls following a similarly confusing schedule for a Thanksgiving game in Detroit while working in Green Bay. "But things do start running together. You start mixing the 34 defense of Dallas with the 4-3 of Washington and the next thing you know you can't remember who's playing where. We're going to try to take one step at a time and here in the last couple days of the week we'll try to forward our attention on Dallas so we can give our guys a chance."
The Buccaneers are required to give their players a day off after Sunday's game, and they'll be using much of Wednesday to travel to Dallas. Thus, there is only one full day available for on-field preparation for the Cowboys next week. In order to use that day as efficiently as possible, Buccaneer coaches will be working on both the Redskins and the Cowboys over the weekend.
"Well, you have no choice," said Gruden. "Whether you come in right after the game Sunday night or you stay here right after you talk to the team Saturday night and go back to your room and work on Dallas – I don't know. But we do have a schedule."
It's a difficult task, to be sure, and it's complicated by the fact that the Bucs are 2-7 and not in the thick of the NFC South race. It might be easy, given those colliding factors, for Buccaneer players to check out mentally and simply go through the paces over the next seven days. However, Gruden insists that will not happen.
"That's our job, man," he said. "We signed up for 16 games. I don't want to hear about that. This is a 16-game slate and I don't think we've been eliminated. There are a lot of teams that I see on tape that are struggling big-time. I don't want to hear about any mental weakness or anybody needing a pep talk to come to work. The Glazers have given us a great facility and we've got every reason to be excited. We're living in America, we've got another opportunity on Sunday and we've got a good group of guys who work hard. I'm really proud of the camaraderie and effort that these guys have given us."
The Buccaneers' injury situation didn't change on Thursday, except that the Redskins game drew a day closer without three key starters getting any closer to playing.
Defensive linemen Simeon Rice and Ellis Wyms were held out for the second straight day – and fifth practice in a row dating back to last week – due to shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Left tackle Anthony Davis, who has a streak of 26 straight starts on the line (including playoffs), also did not practice Thursday after leaving Wednesday's workout with an ankle sprain.
Rice, Wyms and Davis all remain questionable for Sunday's game, as do cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), running back Michael Pittman (shoulder) and linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle). Bolden, Pittman and Quarles practiced on Thursday, however. There was one improvement on Tampa Bay's injury report on Thursday: first-year offensive tackle Donald Penn was removed from the list. He had been listed as questionable due to a foot injury suffered on the practice field several weeks ago. That could be of some significance; if Davis can't play, Cornell Green would move into the starting lineup and Penn, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings this spring, would be the primary backup at both tackle spots.
Green is also healthy and ready to step into the lineup as needed, much as he did for eight games with the Buccaneers in 2002 and 2003.
"One of his jobs is to back up both sides," said Gruden of Green. "When he was here previously he played on the right side, but he does have some experience on the left side. He'd be the left tackle if Anthony can't go."
Last week, the team held Quarles, Rice and Wyms out of the Carolina game after all three had missed the entire week of practice. The Bucs might be inclined to follow the same approach this Sunday if Davis, Rice and Wyms don't return to action on Friday, but Gruden wasn't interested in dissecting that issue on Thursday.
"I'd rather not talk about those injuries," he said. "I'd rather just quit talking about them and talk about the guys who are playing. I certainly hope the injured guys get well. It's been frustrating, but that's part of football."
Practice Squad Move
The Bucs added a player to their practice squad for the second day in a row on Thursday, this time prompted by the departure of one of their own.
Cornerback Dion Byrum, who has spent eight weeks on the Bucs' practice squad this year, was signed by the Carolina Panthers to their active roster. Any player on any practice squad in the league remains eligible to be signed by another team at any time as long as that signing is to the 53-man roster.
The Bucs quickly filled that opening by signing rookie cornerback Carlos Hendricks. Like Byrum, Hendricks entered the NFL this spring as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears. Hendricks was released by the Bears prior to the start of the regular season.
A four-year letter winner at Alabama-Birmingham, Hendricks (5-11, 190) played in 46 games with 33 starts and tallied 172 tackles, five interceptions, 19 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, he played both safety and cornerback during his Blazers career.