DE John McLaughlin tries to break downfield during the important punt coverage portion of Sunday's practice
How constant is Tony Dungy's schedule as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? So constant that Dungy measures changes in routine only by the amount of traffic encountered on the way to work.
When the Bucs, at 3-0, played the 3-0 New York Jets late in the afternoon last month, Dungy gauged the excitement of the area by how much gridlock he encountered on the way to Raymond James Stadium. When an unusual Thursday game against the Detroit Lions this week forced the Bucs to hold their typical Wednesday practice on Sunday, Dungy only felt the difference when he made it to work quicker than usual.
Inside One Buc Place, it's business as usual.
Did it feel at all different to Dungy practicing on a Sunday? "Just a little bit," he said. "Getting here, there was less traffic. That made it feel odd, like it was a holiday, but once we got into the routine and started our meeting, we pretty much got back on our schedule."
For the Bucs, that means full two-hour afternoon sessions on Sunday and Monday, an earlier practice on Tuesday and a walk-through on Wednesday. Despite what the calendar said, Sunday's schedule was exactly like a normal Wednesday for the team. The players reported in the morning and went through a series of team meetings before a light walk-through at 11:00. After a noon media session, it was more meetings and then a 2-4 practice.
As is typical for a Wednesday workout, several portions of practice were devoted to special teams. Specifically, the Bucs worked on punt coverage on Sunday, and both that and kickoff coverage will be important against the Lions and return man nonpareil Desmond Howard.
Howard had two long kickoff returns against the Buccaneers in Detroit last month, a 63-yarder on the opening kickoff and a 70-yarder later in the game. They didn't come back to haunt Tampa Bay in a 31-10 win, but it was concerning nonetheless.
"We looked at it," said Dungy. "They had a couple of good counter returns in, where they took the wedge one way and he broke back the other way. We've just got to be really on our reads.
"We had a good game, special-teams wise, except for those two kickoff returns, so we'd like to keep the tempo that we had, see if we can get after another punt. But we definitely have to keep him contained…he's a big part of their field position game."
The Bucs could make some subtle changes in personnel on kickoff and punt coverage, including a more liberal use of LB Shelton Quarles. Quarles was the Bucs' best special teams player from 1997-99, but his every-down status on defense this year has caused the team to employ him only sparingly to cover kicks. Overall, however, Dungy doesn't think lineup changes are the answer.
"We're not looking at changes in the return game," said Dungy. "We may move some people around in the coverage units, but really not major changes. We've just got to step up the pace and play a little better."
After two days off to rest and relax on Friday and Saturday, the Bucs returned in almost full force on Sunday. Quarles was one of just a small handful of players not to take part in the afternoon workout, and it is believed that he'll be back in time to face the Lions.
"I think we're going to be in pretty good shape," said Dungy. "Karl Williams more than likely will not play. Steve White has a sprained ankle but we think it's going to be okay by Thursday. Shelton Quarles has a groin strain. We held him out today but he should be ready to go. Other than, we really have just minor bumps and bruises. Karl and Steve, I think, are the only guys right now in danger of missing the game."