The Bucs would love to get WR Karl Williams back on punt returns, if his injured hip complies
Over the last three Decembers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won nine times and lost just three. Another crucial December slate opens Sunday in Cincinnati and the Bucs would love to continue their late-season dominance. If they can't, they won't have injuries to blame.
Tampa Bay may have all 53 active players on the practice field on Thursday, after a promising Wednesday began a short week of preparation for the Buccaneers. Only wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Karl Williams sat out due to injuries, and both may return on Thursday. Johnson suffered a mild ankle sprain Monday in St. Louis while Williams missed the game due to a hip pointer sustained the week before.
"We held Keyshawn out," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "He wanted to go, but (Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) felt like it would be better for him to wait another day. I think he'll be okay to go tomorrow. Karl Williams caught punts and ran some individual routes, but we kept him out of team work. If we get both of those guys back tomorrow, we should be pretty much at full strength."
Actually, a few other players could miss the workout Wednesday, depending on if and on whom the current flu bug lands. The bug is currently affecting tackle Kenyatta Walker, defensive tackle James Cannida and kicker Martin Gramatica.
"It actually started in St. Louis," said Dungy. "Hopefully, it will work its way through before the weekend. Other than that, we're in good shape."
The short week created by a Monday night game actually effects coaches' preparation time more than players' on-field work. The team will practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as usual, but Dungy ordered the pads off for the week because his players have one less day to recover from the aches of the previous game.
"It was a good workout – without the pads but we had good tempo and good speed and quickness," said Dungy after the two-hour session on Wednesday. "We'll try to take some of the contact off and get our freshness back."
Often, the week after a game on Astroturf features the longer injury lists of the season, but the Bucs came out of St. Louis with only one player listed worse than probable on the injury report, and that was Williams who didn't even play in the Dome at America's Center. Dungy pointed out that the Rams' high-octane passing attack may have actually helped in that regard.
"It was very much a passing game, and that kind of helps you because there aren't a lot of big pileups," he Dungy.
Safety John Lynch might disagree, given the hard spill he took on his backside breaking up a pass. Though he was sore on Wednesday, Lynch practiced without difficulty. The same was true of running back Warrick Dunn, whose turf toe injury was significantly inflamed after Monday's game.
"Warrick practiced and did fine," said Dungy. "He bounced back pretty quick."
Perhaps the Bucs' season will as well, now that the calendar is flipping to December and the training room is relatively empty.
Local School Benefits from Dungy Honors
His team desperate for a season-saving victory, Dungy apparently pushed all the right buttons in St. Louis on Monday. The students at Webb Middle School in Tampa are happy that he did, and not just because they're home town fans.
On Wednesday, Staples Inc., in partnership with the NFL and CBS, named Dungy the Staples Coach of the Week. As a result, Webb will get the opportunity to spend $5,000 on school supplies at area Staples locations.
Each week, Staples and the NFL honor one head coach whose leadership guided his team to victory. An independent judging organization randomly selects an entry sent on behalf of an accredited K-12 school in that NFL team's area. The winning school receives a $5,000 Staples gift certificate along with a visit from the chosen "Staples Coach of the Week." A school winner is drawn weekly during the NFL season and announced every Sunday during The NFL Today pre-game show on CBS. Webb Middle School is the eleventh of 17 winners during the 2001 NFL season.
"We recognize that schools today are in need of basic supplies to keep their classrooms and administrative offices operating smoothly," said Thomas G. Stemberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Staples, in a statement. "If we can provide funding for the school supplies through a gift certificate, it is the students who ultimately reap the benefits."
Six weeks remain in the program. Schools can find information on entering the contest at Staples stores or the company's web site.
Abdullah's Block Abducted
On Monday, fourth-year running back Rabih Abdullah recorded his first career blocked punt. On Wednesday, it was taken away.
On a fourth quarter attempt by Rams punter John Baker, the Bucs loaded up on the right side of the punt formation, with Abdullah and CB Ronde Barber on the end. Both players managed a quick push on the Rams blockers, and Abdullah cut inside his man at the last moment to dive in front of Baker. The ball fell to the ground and was eventually recovered by rookie CB Dwight Smith.
It all seemed pretty routine, but a video evaluation of the play the next day, requested by the Rams' coaching staff, showed evidence that Baker never actually kicked the ball. Though the scene is confusing, even on video, it's apparent that Baker never fully extends his kicking leg after dropping the ball into place, perhaps because the rushing Bucs were upon him.
As such, the official interpretation of the play has been changed from a blocked punt to a fumble, and it is now considered an offensive play, technically a run for zero yards and a big chunk of 'fumble yardage.' Since Smith recovered, the Bucs do get credit for a turnover, giving them six takeaways on the day. It is Tampa Bay's first six-turnover day since a 16-3 win in Seattle on November 28, 1999.
Interestingly, Dungy witnessed first-hand a similar play in 1990 that may have led to this type of ruling. During a season in which he amazingly blocked seven punts, former Chiefs cornerback Albert Lewis did much the same thing, actually keeping the ball from ever reaching the punter's leg. That play was ruled a blocked punt but the rule was subsequently changed to its current reading. Dungy, who was the Chiefs' defensive backs coach at the time, called it the 'Albert Lewis' rule.
The NFL's official statistics compiler, the Elias Sports Bureau, actually changed the rulings on two plays from the Bucs' game in St. Louis. In addition to the no-longer-blocked punt, Elias also subtracted a sack from the Rams' tally.
On the play just before defensive tackle Brian Young's interception of Brad Johnson's pass in the fourth quarter, Johnson takes a snap from the Bucs' eight and turns to hand off to FB Mike Alstott. However, Johnson tripped over a lineman's foot and, as he hit the turf, elected to keep the ball rather than risk a fumbled handoff. DE Chidi Ahanotu fell on him moments later and was credited with a sack.
Since the play was clearly called as a run, however, Ahanotu's stop cannot be called a sack. Thus, the former Buc had just one sack on the evening, not two, and the Rams' total was reduced from three to two, overall.