Veteran T Paul Gruber returned to practice on Thursday
Though many offices were closed on Thursday in observance of the upcoming New Year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed their normal schedule with an important afternoon workout. There were only two days left in 1999 when the Bucs came to the office on Thursday but, more importantly, only three days to go before Tampa Bay plays a critical game in Chicago.
Thursday represents the middle day of the Bucs' three main workout sessions, and it followed what was described as a very sharp practice on Wednesday. The most commonly heard word in the team's locker room during the week has been 'focus', and the team's adherence to thought was evident in its effort on the practice field. Coach Dungy was less pleased by Thursday's session, but still generally confident.
"Not quite," said Dungy when asked after Thursday's workout if it measured up to Wednesday's. "We had to rest some guys, and overall we weren't quite as sharp, but we had a high energy level. We made some mistakes – some little mental things that we need to be sharper on – but we should be able to get that squared away tomorrow."
Overall, the Bucs' attendance at practice was actually better on Thursday, with key linemen Tony Mayberry and Paul Gruber returning to practice. Mayberry and Gruber, veterans of a combined 22 NFL seasons, were unsurprisingly held out of Wednesday's session due to neck and shoulder strains, respectively. They were back in action on Thursday and had no difficulties in practice, meaning they should take their customary spots on the Bucs' offensive line on Sunday. Gruber and Mayberry stand one and two on the team's all-time games played list, with 182 and 159, respectively.
Several other players, however, watched from the sideline for a second straight day. "We held (defensive tackle) Brad Culpepper out again today, but he's better and he should be playing on Sunday," said Dungy. "We held (tight end) Dave Moore out because of tendonitis in his knee, but he should be fine. Really, we're in pretty good shape."
Other than the three players already ruled out, G Ken Blackman (knee), QB Trent Dilfer (shoulder) and RB Rabih Abdullah (hand, placed on injured reserve on Tuesday), the Bucs' most serious injury concern is with WR Reidel Anthony. Anthony, who was originally placed on the injury list due to an ankle sprain, pulled the quadriceps muscle in his left leg during Wednesday's practice and was downgraded to questionable. He did not work out on Thursday.
"Reidel will be a gameday decision," said Dungy. "He's the most questionable in the group."
If Anthony cannot suit up for Chicago's game, his spot will be taken by rookie WR Darnell McDonald who has appeared in eight games this season and posted eight receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.