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Practice met with excitement

By GREG AUMAN, JACK SHEPPARD, ANTONYA ENGLISH, RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- After two days of traveling, meetings and interviews, the Bucs returned to the practice field Wednesday for 21/2 hours in preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVII matchup against Oakland.

The Bucs practiced without pads and without incident at the University of California-San Diego, according to a media pool report.

"It was a pretty good practice," coach Jon Gruden said. "I'm pleased. It's always good to get restarted again and acclimated to a different schedule."

Before practice, several Bucs expressed excitement and relief to get back to the field for the first time since Sunday's 27-10 victory against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.

"It's time to put all of this aside and refocus on football," guard Cosey Coleman said. "It feels good."

Coleman said his right knee, injured in the second quarter against Philadelphia, gave him nothing more than the usual early week soreness. The Bucs had a full complement of players, including receiver Joe Jurevicius, who joined the team Tuesday night after spending two days with his wife, Meagan, and their newborn son, Michael, born prematurely last week.

According to the pool report, about 50 to 70 fans watched practice, though practices are closed to the media. Gruden said he wasn't bothered by the fans' presence.

"It's the American way," he said. "I'm not paranoid about anything."

DOWN THE ROAD: The game is not being played in Keyshawn Johnson's hometown. But he's doing his best to bring much of his hometown here.

Johnson, who lives less than two hours up Highway 5 in Los Angeles, plans to purchase more than 100 tickets to Sunday's game for family and friends.

"I'm probably going to have about 95 to 110 at the football game," he said. "I'm still kind of scratching for tickets -- I've gotten about 90 of them so far. But I'm still scraping a little bit. But I'm getting some help from some people. But I'll have a lot of people here."

At a cost of between $400 and $500 per ticket, Johnson will spend close to $50,000. But there is a tradeoff. He will save on expenses for airfare and hotel rooms.

"It's definitely nice," Johnson said. "It's about an hour and 50 minutes to my house, so I don't have to worry about airplane tickets or hotel accommodations. I can just leave most of my family at home and they drive down the day of the game. And if they want to experience some of the events surrounding the Super Bowl they can drive down during the week."

Other Bucs with ties to Southern California include John Lynch and Michael Pittman (from San Diego) and Brian Kelly and Rob Johnson, who both attended USC.

CHASING CHARLIE: Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks has had the task of spying on Marshall Faulk and it looks as if he might do the same against Raiders multipurpose back Charlie Garner. While the Bucs likely will stick to their basic defense, Brooks is the likely candidate to be assigned the task of eliminating big plays from Garner, who topped 1,000 rushing yards and almost reached the mark in receiving as well.

"We have been checking Faulk for the last four years, and (Brooks) says he never missed him, so I'm going to have to press that on him this week, too," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "That's Charlie Garner."

Brooks hasn't played Garner since Oakland's 45-0 win against the Bucs in 1999, but said he still has "tremendous respect" for the ninth-year pro.

"He's a very special back," Brooks said. "To put him in the category with Faulk is well-deserved. He has done a tremendous job for their offense this year. He's one of the reasons the offense has played as well as it's played."

ARIZONA CONNECTION: Defensive end Simeon Rice is one of three Bucs, with Pittman and tackle Lomas Brown, who signed as free agents after playing with the Cardinals.

Rice said he left Arizona two years ago because he didn't feel like he had a chance to reach a Super Bowl. Oakland offensive coordinator Marc Trestman also left Arizona after three years in the same position.

"We're all in the big game now, so we had the people (there)," Rice said. "We had a great coach in Dave (McGinnis) but we didn't continue to build on what we had.

"At a certain point you have to make a decision. What do you want to be in this league? They never wanted to be one of the elite. You can't fault them; it's just not in their plans. They never had that broader perspective. They never committed themselves. (Now you) have your best defensive player now being the best defensive player for another team."

CATCHING ON: Pittman's rushing numbers in his first season with the Bucs weren't spectacular (718 yards, 3.5-yard average), but he has been successful catching passes out of the backfield, as has Oakland's Garner.

Pittman finished seventh among NFL backs with 477 receiving yards and eighth with 59 receptions, but Garner led all backs in yards (941) and receptions (91).

"As running backs, we're involved in the passing game," said Pittman, who caught 73 passes at Arizona in 2000. "A lot of running backs now catch a lot of balls and are not running as much. The top six rushers in the NFL did not make the playoffs, so maybe the passing game is bigger now -- I'd love to be an NFL rushing champion, but this is more exciting."

PART TIME JUST FINE: As a member of the NFL's competition committee, Bucs general manager Rich McKay said last week that in the wake of prominent missed calls, the league would consider a change to full-time officials in the offseason. He said Wednesday while that option will be considered, he would not support such a measure.

"They had a very good year, but with a few high-profile calls, it's (called) a bad year but is not deserved," McKay said. "I don't envision any changes. I think it's a little bit of an overreaction that comes out of a big play at a big time. Hopefully that doesn't taint what's been a very good year."

McKay said a shift to full-time officials would undermine the lengthy process officials must go through, from starting with high school games and moving on to college and smaller pro leagues before reaching the NFL.

"These guys are trained to be NFL officials, but they've trained while having a career," McKay said. "They have families and homes and everything they've done, and with them investing all that time, I think it's hard to then say, 'Okay, give all that up. Come over to us and we'll bring you in full time.' The reason we're going to do that so everybody we'll see we're doing it. To me, it doesn't make it any better."

EARLY START: Gruden isn't the only one getting up early to prepare for the Raiders. Cornerback Ronde Barber was up before sunrise, getting his first looks at edited clips of Oakland's offensive players.

"The alarm goes off at about 5:45 a.m.," Barber said. "During the year, I am always over trying to watch film by 6:30 a.m., so I went downstairs at 6:30 today. I went through (receivers) Jerry (Rice), Timmy (Brown) and Jerry Porter today and did all that this morning."

Barber usually sets the standard for pregame preparedness on the Bucs defense, but he wasn't the first one in Wednesday morning.

"Nobody prepares like Ronde, but I beat him into the film room this morning," Sapp said. 'That's my pride this week. I was there at 6:30 and he was right behind me."

DON'T BE SO HONEST: So much for keeping secrets.

Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica was asked if it would be effective for the Raiders to call a timeout before an important field-goal attempt, the proverbial "icing" of the kicker.

"I don't know," Gramatica said. "I had it done once in practice and I missed it, so it could work."

Hey, Martin, got any extra playbooks?

THE ULTIMATE QUESTION ... AND ANSWER: With the NFL's No. 1 offense (Raiders) set to face the league's No. 1 defense (Tampa Bay) Sunday, Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice said the game could give a definitive answer to that age-old question: "Which is more important, offense or defense?"

"I would say this: If I'm a psychoanalyst of the game and I'm doing a deep study on football and I want to say is offense more important than defense or is defense more important than offense, I'm going to use this game as research," Rice said. "This would be my research tool, this would be my little experiment. We've got exhibit A, the Buccaneers, and exhibit B, the Raiders. If I fuse these things together and see how they break down (nuclei) and what comes out the more dominating force. Whatever it is, that's what we'll say is the most important thing in football."

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