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Lightning forces players into garage

By RICK STROUD, ROGER MILLS and DARRELL FRY, Times staff writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

TAMPA -- It's a play everyone has called in the huddle during street football: Run to the Buick, cut to the Ford and I'll hit you with a pass.

TAMPA -- It's a play everyone has called in the huddle during street football: Run to the Buick, cut to the Ford and I'll hit you with a pass.

But that was close to reality for the Buccaneers on Thursday. Severe thunderstorms produced as Tropical Storm Edouard weakened into a depression forced them to practice on the fourth floor of the Corporate Center One garage.

The Bucs tried to practice outdoors at One Buc Place but were chased by lightning.

"There's a first time for everything," coach Jon Gruden said. "But we got some work done, and we have no excuses. But the weather was scary today, a lot of lightning. Rain is one thing, lightning is another thing. Without a doubt it was the right thing to do. Our players concentrated, and we got some work done."

Thursday is traditionally a heavy work day for NFL teams. The Bucs were scheduled to practice in shoulder pads and shorts. But an 8-foot ceiling reduced their workout to a walk-through in preparation for Sunday's season opener against New Orleans.

"Our passing game didn't get much work in there, either," Gruden said. "But we were able to get some things done, try to recognize some looks and work on our communication and overall detail. It's not like being outside, but you have to sometimes make adjustments."

For the players, it was different, but better than risking a lightning strike.

"I have never done that before," 39-year-old offensive tackle Lomas Brown said. "I've practiced in a gym, inside the facility and even in an auditorium, but never before in a parking lot. ... It was great because no one was pounding on me today, and that's important for an older fella like myself."

The forecast calls for more rain today, but the Bucs have no contingency plan -- other than the garage.

"Hopefully, we can get outside (today) and practice some different phases," Gruden said. "We're going to look into a contingency plan. There's just not a lot of indoor domes that are available to us that can accommodate a football team. So if we have to go back to the garage, by God, we'll have to do that."

In the offseason, the Bucs inquired about using Tropicana Field on Fridays during the season to avoid hot weather, but no arrangement was finalized.

ONOME KNOWS: He may be the Trojan Horse or a diamond in the rough, but the Bucs are happy to have receiver Onome Ojo on the practice squad.

They are particularly happy to have him this week. Ojo spent last season, his first in the NFL, on the Saints roster and was cut after the preseason.

"Up to a couple days ago (I was there)," Ojo said. "It's sweet and weird all at the same time. I thought, how strange. I'll be seeing all my old teammates sooner than later.

"It's odd. Here I was rooting for the Saints to win as we took the field a couple days ago, and now I'm on the opposite side. So, I'm really hoping for the Saints' demise this weekend."

Ojo, a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder from Cal-Davis, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Saints last season. He was on the 53-man roster all season but was inactive for every game. He said he was delighted to share some of New Orleans' secrets with the Bucs coaching staff.

"Definitely, and I've been forthcoming because that's the nature of the business," he said. "It's fun. It's a game, but you want to win. I have a lot of respect and love for those guys over there, but I really want the Bucs to win."

READY AND WAITING -- IMPATIENTLY: The regular season is so close defensive tackle Warren Sapp can almost touch it. To Sapp, and most of his teammates, the season opener can't come soon enough.

"Yeah, it's time to go. Let's play ball, man," Sapp said. "I'm sick of this preseason. I'm sick of everything. Let's play. Let's line up."

Safety John Lynch said the starters understood the nature of preseason but got frustrated with limited action.

"You despise the preseason so much," Lynch said. "You just want to get that opening day to get going. You spend the offseason targeting that first day. Preseason, I don't think I played more than 15 plays."

GAG ORDER: Gruden has preached throughout the offseason to his players about not trash-talking and making bold predictions. The message seems to be getting through.

Pressed during the week on his team's outlook for this season, Sapp diplomatically responded: "We've got a game this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, and that's no further than we're looking."

LEAN ON ME: With a new scheme and several new starters, the offense has gotten off to a slow start in the preseason and may take a few games to get in rhythm. That could mean the defense and kicker Martin Gramatica again could play a prominent role.

That is just fine with Sapp, who said the team wouldn't suffer if the defense had to carry more of the early workload.

"You're going to put it on the defense and Martin? No problem. I'll take my chances with that because I know what us 11 can do and I know Mr. Automatica is ready," Sapp said. "It's going to take us a little while to get this offense cranked up. But once we're cranked, we're going to be a real tough team to beat. If we've got to carry the load for the first month, then that's fine."

HE SAID IT: "I know we didn't run all our pass plays and patterns. I ran like two routes all preseason." -- Receiver Keyshawn Johnson on how much of the offense was on display the past four weeks.

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