WR Keyshawn Johnson, who ran on the side during Wednesday's practice, has made encouraging progress in his recovery from a hip strain
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Wednesday afternoon practice was quieter than usual, and that was before center/guard Todd Washington went down.
"I thought our mood was kind of somber today," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "I thought we were focused in and there wasn't the chatter that we normally have. Everybody was just focused on doing their job, and that's good."
While doing his job during nine-on-seven drills, generally used to practice running plays, Washington had the misfortune of a teammate falling on to the back of his ankle. He had to be helped off the field, which certainly didn't improve the mood at practice. Teammates were pleased to see Washington in the training room later, already returned from an X-ray appointment and feeling more optimistic.
"Todd Washington got rolled up on the back of his ankle during the inside running drill," said Head Coach Tony Dungy at the end of practice, before visiting the training room. "We're not sure how that's going to be. That could be tough if he's out."
Washington's greatest value on game day is that he is capable of playing starter-level football at all three interior offensive-line positions. The Buccaneers generally keep only one substitute, Washington, active for the guard and center spots. If he is unavailable, rookie free agent Shane Grice would be the lone backup at center and tackle DeMarcus Curry would provide added insurance at guard.
Fortunately, Washington's X-rays were negative and the injury has been diagnosed as a mild ankle sprain. He has been added to an already lengthy Buccaneer injury report as questionable and will probably not practice on Thursday.
The same holds true for a trio of Buccaneer offensive starters who did not suit up for Wednesday's workout. Neither running back Warrick Dunn (hamstring) nor receivers Keyshawn Johnson (hip) and Jacquez Green (groin) will be expected to practice. on Thursday, though hope was raised on Wednesday for some Friday returns. The Bucs also were happy to see starting free safety Dexter Jackson, who missed last Sunday's game, back in action on Wednesday.
"On the positive side, Dexter Jackson came back, went through the whole practice and looked fine," said Dungy. "Warrick and Keyshawn did some light running. Jacquez Green did not run but said he felt better."
According to the Buccaneers' training room, Johnson has an excellent chance to practice on Friday, with Dunn just behind the rapidly-improving receiver. Green is a longer shot to suit up at the end of the week.
"I doubt that any of those three guys will practice tomorrow but I think there's a chance they could practice Friday," summarized Dungy.
One starter that could return on Thursday is linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has practiced sparingly for three straight weeks due to a foot sprain. Brooks did some work during individual drills on Wednesday before shutting it down for the team portion of practice.
"Derrick did some things today, moved around a little bit," said Dungy. "We hope to have him in regular practice tomorrow."
Dungy was actually pleased with the way his team practiced last week, before sustaining a painful, 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. His team reported to work this Wednesday with a purpose as well, which has allowed the head coach to remain confident that his squad will pull out of its current struggles.
"The way we're practicing, number one (gives him confidence)," said Dungy. "We've got to continue to that. I thought we had a good practice week last week. We've got to prepare better. Our team is focused and they know what the game means and what we have to do to get the job done. I have confidence in these guys.
"We're not very far off, but you don't have to be in the NFL. I'm sure they're asking the same questions in Baltimore and Denver and New York. When you're off just a little bit, you're not winning as much as you like. The way to fix that is to get on and that's what we're going to try to do."
That being said, Dungy knows there is no guarantee that another hot finish, like those of the past three years, will follow the team's most recent sluggish start. He believes it will, however, until proven otherwise.
"You never know," he said. "I can't predict the future. We are going to try to do that. We're just going to stick with what we do and try to do it better. I have every confidence that it's going to work."