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Warren Sapp winces as he leaves the practice Wednesday. [Times photo: Toni Sandys]

Sapp comes up lame but should go Sunday


Bittersweet

From nowhere, and everywhere, comes a star
[Gary Shelton]

Up close and personal with Warrick Dunn

Vermeil sees some truth in Sapp slam

Sapp comes up lame but should go Sunday

Marcum: Stopping Warner will be tough

Quick kicks

By DARRELL FRY, ERNEST HOOPER, ROGER MILLS and RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2000


TAMPA -- Defensive tackle Warren Sapp aggravated a right hamstring strain early in practice Wednesday. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year grimaced as he limped to the training room at One Buc Place.

Sapp still is expected to play in Sunday's NFC Championship Game in St. Louis, but he might not practice again until later in the week.

"He got hurt out there in practice," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "I think he stretched it a little bit, but I think he'll be okay."

Sapp suffered leg contusions but managed to record a sack and recover a fumble that set up the Bucs' game-winning touchdown in Saturday's 14-13 win over Washington in the divisional playoff game.

He is not the only injured defensive lineman. Nose tackle Brad Culpepper participated in individual and some team drills before receiving treatment on his right foot sprain.

"They actually are a little bit sore," coach Tony Dungy said. "They got some of the drill work in and got the first part of the team work in, but we didn't want to push them too much. We think they'll be okay.

"We're a little short-handed on defense but I think the line should be fine by the end of the week. They'll tough it out, and I think they'll be ready by game time."

Safety Damien Robinson missed practice with a left hip strain, but he could return to workouts by the end of the week. Dungy said quarterback Trent Dilfer (broken clavicle) and receiver Reidel Anthony (left quad strain) will be inactive.

GRUBER PONDERS FUTURE: Left tackle Paul Gruber, lost for the post-season with a broken right leg, said he hasn't decided whether he'll return to football next season.

Gruber
Gruber, 34, whose contract expires after this season, is facing months of extensive rehabilitation. But the 12-year veteran said his decision to return won't be affected by his injury.

"I haven't really given it much thought," he said of his football future. "Right now, I'd just like to get healthy again and just take my time and evaluate the total situation, and then we'll see."

What if the Bucs were a prime Super Bowl contender next season, when the game will be played at Raymond James Stadium?

"I don't know," he said. "I've been around (football) a long time and there's no guarantees. There's injuries. There's a ton of things that could happen and this team could be completely different next year than it is this year, so who knows what the situation will be?

"So, I've been around football long enough that I don't think that would be the reason I would come back. The reason I'd come back is because it's something I can do well and that I still love doing. Those are the things that play into it."

NO WEAPONS ALLOWED: Rookie defensive end John McLaughlin, a major contributor on special teams this season, broke his left hand Saturday.

McLaughlin
"It hurts, but I'm going to practice with it," McLaughlin said. "I'll know a little bit better and have a sense of how it will be after practice (this week)."

McLaughlin said he plans to play but will wrap the hand in a soft cast that looks like a club. Will it be used as a weapon?

"You never know," he said. "You never know."

NO WORRIES: The Bucs had heard the hype about the Rams offense, but they still have hope.

On Wednesday, players and coaches had trouble removing their tongues from their cheeks when speaking about the Rams.

"It's the biggest challenge we've had this year, to stop the greatest offense known to man and the best team since sliced bread," Sapp said.

Even Dungy jokingly added to the hyperbole.

"Oh, they're unstoppable," he said. "They can't be stopped. We'll try to outscore them if we can."

Middleton
Guard Frank Middleton was a little rankled by the perception that the offense can't score enough.

"We did it 12 times already, scored enough points to win," Middleton said. "But all of sudden, it's the NFC Championship Game, we're playing the Rams in St. Louis and we can't win or score enough points. That fires me up when somebody says we can't play ball with anybody else in this league."

PUMP UP THE VOLUME: Quarterback Shaun King is having his sound system upgraded, but it's not because he wants his music to have more boom.

Following the Vikings' lead, Bucs equipment manager Darin Kerns said the team will add two speakers to King's helmet to help him combat crowd noise in St. Louis.

Plays are sent in from quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen to King via a wireless communicator. The Vikings upgraded quarterback Jeff George's helmet for last week's game at St. Louis.

King
"I guess every little bit helps, but you can't get overly concerned about the noise," Dungy said. "We're going to have to beat the Rams. We're not going to have to beat the noise, per se."

Ask Dungy about crowd noise in St. Louis, and he'll respond with three words: Minnesota, Detroit and Seattle.

Although teams have struggled with the noise at the Trans World Dome, Dungy is quick to point out the Bucs have been in noisy venues. During his four years, the Bucs have won at Minnesota and Detroit, and this season they won at Seattle, considered to be one of the loudest sites in the NFL.

"We've played in domes," said Dungy, whose team is 6-7 there. "We're sure it's going to be loud and we'll have to deal with it, but there's not a whole lot we can do other than try to concentrate and eliminate the mistakes as much as possible."

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