The Bucs spent a little extra time working on kickoff returns on Thursday
So much for early exits.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had routinely found a way to finish practice 15-25 minutes early during the previous three weeks, spent almost two-and-a-half hours on the fields behind One Buccaneer Place on Thursday. The heat hasn't yet broken in Tampa, so it was a somewhat grueling afternoon for the 3-0 Buccaneers, but there was a lengthy list of things to address.
"We had some things that we needed to cover," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We went a little differently (in practice). We worked on our kickoff coverage, which takes a little longer then field goals. So then we tried to get the field goals at the end in the two-minute period. But it was probably just a little more special teams emphasis."
That might be expected after Detroit's Desmond Howard stung the Bucs for 218 yards on seven kickoff returns in the Pontiac Silverdome last Sunday. Howard, whose day included nearly disastrous runbacks of 70 and 63 yards, is considered one of the league's most dangerous return men. Dungy gave a nod to Howard's ability but feels his team shares a good chunk of the blame for opponents' 29.3-yard kickoff return average this season.
"We have faced some good returners, but a lot of it is just everybody being on the same page," said Dungy. "That's what happens, especially early in the year. We've gone through that every year with some new guys…Jeff Gooch and Shelton Quarles and those guys…Brian Kelly. Their first year was a little bit off. Now they're the veteran guys who know what's going on, and the new guys have to kind of find out. And I think you see it all throughout the league. You're seeing a lot of long returns, and I think the coverage units will catch up as the season goes along."
The Bucs desire to tighten down on kickoff returns might lead to a longer practice here and there, but it won't prompt the team to make personnel changes.
"We may play some different guys, may play some our veterans on there, but we're not going to base our 45-man (active list) on that," said Dungy.
The practice's extended length wasn't the only change of pace for the team. Tampa Bay had been fortunate to mostly escape injuries during the first three weeks of regular season practice, but that luck has run out a bit this week. On Wednesday, CB Ronde Barber experienced tightness in his right quad, and on Thursday WR Andre Hastings went down early in the workout with a hand injury.
Hastings, who has been inactive for each of the team's first three games, suffered a compound dislocation of his left ring finger when a pass was on him quicker than he expected. Hastings had the injury relocated and stitched up in the Bucs' training room and is not considered seriously hurt.
"He was going after a ball in a passing drill," said Dungy. "Todd doesn't seem to think it's too bad, but I guess a dislocated finger for a receiver can't be good."
Barber didn't practice on Thursday but was removed from the team's injury report, where he had been listed as probable. He is not expected to miss any more action.
"I think Ronde's going to be fine," said Dungy. "We held him out again today and he's getting treatment, but we don't expect it to be a problem on Sunday."
Barber also told Buccaneers.com that he intends to return to the practice field on Friday.
The only other player not practicing for the Bucs on Thursday was safety David Gibson, who has a foot sprain. Gibson's recovery is coming along well, but he may be held out of Sunday's game, particularly since safety Dexter Jackson is expected back.
"Dexter is well and doing well and healthy, so I think we're leaning that way at this point," said Dungy. "But, medically, he may be able to go by the end of the week, but realistically it will probably be Dexter.