By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 7, 2002
LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Bucs safety John Howell, who has missed nine days of training camp and 17 practices, is expected to rejoin the team by this weekend.
Team officials said Howell was excused shortly after reporting to the Celebration Hotel on July 28 to attend to an undisclosed family matter.
Howell's brother-in-law, Craig Norgard, 30, was sentenced Tuesday for manslaughter to no less than one year and no more than 10 years in the Nebraska Penal Correctional Complex in Lincoln, according to court documents.
Norgard, the brother of Howell's wife, Laura, was the driver in a fatal off-road accident Nov. 5 that killed 47-year-old Earl Soester of Crawford, Neb.
Court documents show that several hours after the accident, Norgard's blood alcohol level was 0.15, nearly twice the limit for driving in Nebraska.
Howell, who backs up Dexter Jackson at free safety, played in 14 games as a rookie last season with 26 tackles and 12 stops on special teams.
Coach Jon Gruden said Howell's absence should not affect his ability to earn a spot on the team.
"We have a good evaluation on him based on what he did last year and what he did in the offseason, and we have a good feel for who he is and what he represents," Gruden said. "I'm not saying everything is a lock and everything's decided, but we're concerned about him, and that's the big thing right now. Hopefully he'll be back before our first preseason game, and he'll be able to assert himself and earn a role on this team."
With Howell absent, rookie Jermaine Phillips, a fifth-round pick from Georgia, has taken reps at free safety with the second-team defense.
"There are more important things in life than football," general manager Rich McKay said. "We're trying to deal with it, and so is John. We're not at a point where it could affect John's season. We could come to that point, but we're not there yet."
DANGEROUS JOB: Gruden said NFL players don't need to be reminded of the danger inherent in the game after Houston safety Leomont Evans bruised his spinal cord Monday night in the first half of the Texans' debut, a 34-17 preseason loss to the Giants.
Evans regained feeling in his upper body, right leg and left foot by the end of the game.
"When you play this game you understand some of the terrible things that have happened in the past, and they can happen," Gruden said. "That's why wearing the proper equipment, teaching the proper etiquette of the game, the officials in the NFL enforcing it, it's so important. But sometimes there's no preventing it. You've seen it over the years, and all you can do is pray that it doesn't happen."
McCARDELL WALKS IT OFF: Receiver Keenan McCardell walked onto the practice field without assistance a day after spraining his left knee, which will sideline him for as much as a week.
McCardell, who injured his leg making a catch over defensive back Brian Kelly, said he was afraid at the time that his condition might be more serious.
"It kind of shocked me yesterday. It kind of scared me, I should say," McCardell said. "But today it's feeling better. I think we're taking a one-day-at-a-time approach, and we'll see what happens.
"Right now I'm just trying to get the swelling down, using a lot of ice and stuff like that. It wasn't stiff, so that's a good sign. I would love to play (against the Dolphins), but it's not my call."
UPPER HAND: Defense was dominant during team drills, as the Bucs worked on third-down and short-yardage situations. "We were pretty good today," safety John Lynch said. "I think we shut them out on the third-and-6, and in short yardage we were pretty damn good, too. We've had our days, they've had their days. I think you strike a good balance on a team when you go back and forth, and that's what we've been doing for the most part."
GRANTS AWARDED: The Glazer Family Foundation announced the donation of $25,000 to 15 organizations from the Tampa Bay and Central Florida areas for its Summer Grant 2002 Program. Team executive vice president Joel Glazer presented the grants at the camp. The Glazer family, which owns the team, established the grant program to financially assist organizations with special needs.
-- RICK STROUD, ROGER MILLS, CARYN BAIRD