Forget bad schedule: Bucs excited

Early edition

Published November 20, 2006

TAMPA — Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski arrived early at work on his day off Monday to begin watching video of the Dallas Cowboys.

Chances are he never took his finger off the fast forward button.

“I have a lot of film to watch today,” Gradkowski said. “(Quarterbacks) Coach (Paul) Hackett was joking around with my mom last night, saying, 'Tomorrow we’re putting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday together all in one day.’ ”

He was not alone.

Bucs coaches went back to work just a few hours after Sunday’s 20-17 win over the Washington Redskins.

Most players showed up at the team’s training facility Monday morning and began doubling up on their treatment and rehabilitation sessions. The team returns to work today for a light practice without pads and will have a walk-through Wednesday morning before boarding a charter flight to Dallas for the Thanksgiving Day game.

“So far I’ve seen a lot of guys today in the building as far as lifting and getting treatment a lot earlier than normal,” linebacker Derrick Brooks said. “So I figure that’s a good sign.

“Obviously, the Cowboys have been doing it for years so you would think the advantage would be their way in knowing what to do. But to me, football is football. Line up and play the game.”

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen have called the Bucs schedule “unfair.’’ At the very least, it’s a rarity.

Tampa Bay is the first team since 1996 to play three games in 11 days, including two on the road.

The Bucs got a lift Sunday by snapping a three-game losing streak with the win over the Redskins. They’re hoping momentum and the excitement of the franchise’s first appearance on Thanksgiving  will push them through.

“I wish it were spread around a little bit for the rest of us,” Gruden said of the Thanksgiving tradition.

“But I think it’s a great opportunity to play on the day of Thanksgiving in front of everybody in the country. I just wish our schedule here in the last 10 or 11 days wasn’t as inhibitive as it is. I don’t want to make an excuse, but when you get back at 5 o’clock in the morning from North Carolina and play Sunday, then you’ve got to play Thursday, that’s tough. That will challenge us.

“You can’t practice everything. And it’s a 3-4 defense, we’ve got a lot of young guys playing. I’m a little uneasy about it but I’m eager to see what we can get done.”

The short week is likely to prevent several starters from playing. Tight end Alex Smith sustained a high ankle sprain and cornerback Juran Bolden was still hobbled with a bruised fibula from Sunday’s game.

Defensive end Simeon Rice said he will have surgery on his left shoulder and expects to go on injured reserve. Linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee) and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms are expected to be questionable.

That won’t make things easier against the Cowboys, arguably the league’s hottest team after handing the Colts their first loss Sunday night.

“I was hoping for this chance, really, for 12 years,” Brooks said. “I know watching the games every Thursday , most practices are cut short so guys can go home and be with their families. I mean, everyone’s watching. For the troops overseas, this and Christmas Day games are really games where around the world people can watch football and get away from the world at war. We’re looking at the bigger perspective about it, the opportunity to play, and that’s created excitement for this football team.”