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Bucs getting back to normal

By Times wires and staff report
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003

TAMPA -- After a three-day weekend off, the Bucs returned to practice Monday with lively legs and even livelier spirits.

And more important for coach Jon Gruden and his staff, they had a full complement of players.

Back in the mix were defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Ellis Wyms, cornerback Ronde Barber, running back Aaron Stecker and kicker Martin Gramatica, all of whom sat out portions of last week's practice with nagging injuries.

"Guys are moving around pretty quickly right now," safety John Lynch said. "Three days of rest last week had guys very fresh and hungry. Now you have to take advantage of it."

Added Gruden: "They're lively. They're excited about the upcoming game."

Equally encouraging was the presence of quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson's gradual return from a deep back bruise appears to be over. The 11-year veteran took all the reps with the first team and is expected to start Sunday against the 49ers.

"I feel great," Johnson said. "I feel about as sharp as I've been all season. ... My legs feel good, my arm's got a lot of zip on the ball right now."

A number of players spent the weekend watching the four playoff games.

"A lot of times in playoff games, when you get behind, a lot of teams panic," Johnson said. "You saw it happen to two teams where they got blown out, and you saw where two teams kept their composure even after turnovers or bad plays. Pittsburgh and San Francisco, they were able to bounce back and give themselves a chance to win.

"That's the sign of a champion."

OVER, IN A SNAP: The botched field goal at the end of the Giants' wild-card loss to the 49ers -- when holder Matt Allen got a low snap and scrambled before throwing an incomplete pass -- was hard to watch for the Bucs' combo of long snapper Ryan Benjamin and holder Tom Tupa.

"I don't ever want to see a snap go bad, even if we're playing them," said Benjamin, a former River Ridge High and University of South Florida standout who joined the Bucs in midseason. "Even if you're rooting for the other team, your heart goes out to them. I really feel for (long snapper Trey Junkin). He's one of the best."

Experts have second-guessed Allen's decision to roll out for an ill-fated pass attempt -- because the attempt was on third down, with six seconds left, a quick incomplete pass would have allowed for another potential winning kick. Tupa, who saw the Bucs' season opener end in overtime when a botched punt turned into a desperation pass from him and a game-ending interception in the end zone, sympathized with the holder.

"He's a young kid, and things can happen so fast," Tupa said. "It's tough. You can't even think about all the bad things that can happen. We've had a pretty good string going here."

ALL IN THE FAMILY: This is going to be a unique week in the Gruden family. While Jon and brother Jay, an offensive assistant, are busy preparing for Sunday's game against the 49ers, father Jim is going to have to stay out of the way.

Jim, a former Bucs assistant, is a regional scout for the 49ers.

"There's a lot of hard work that he's put in there the last 15 years, and he's proud of his work," Jon Gruden said. "But if he's not for the Bucs, he's not sitting at the table with my family."

Jim Gruden was a frequent visitor at One Buc Place during the offseason but hasn't been around during the regular season.

"Not in the regular season, we keep him far away," Jon Gruden said. "That's why we have gates and walls. ... Who knows, there could be some secret phone calls for all I know."

Pressed as to who Jim would be rooting for, Jon replied: "He's pulling for us. Blood is thick."

GIMME THE DANG RING: On a day when Packers quarterback Brett Favre held a news conference to end rumors of his potential retirement, Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson said his future in Tampa Bay -- and in the NFL -- could change if the Bucs win the Super Bowl.

"I don't know what I would do with my career," Johnson said. "I'm not going to jump on the Brett Favre bandwagon and say 'I'm going to retire.' I'm not going to do that. I don't know what's going to happen. I may wake up tomorrow and not feel like playing after today. I may say I want to play another 10 years. Who knows ... It's just how I am. I'm not starving to be a football player, and I think that upsets a lot of people."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, hell I got coffee for the waterboys. I was really on the bottom end of the stick, if you want to know the truth." -- Jon Gruden on his duties with the 49ers during his early coaching days.

-- ROGER MILLS, GREG AUMAN, Times wires


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