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No concern yet on refs' labor dispute

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 29, 2001


TAMPA -- News that negotiations between the NFL and its officials had come to an impasse was taken with little fanfare Tuesday at One Buc Place.

As the team began preparation for Friday's preseason finale in Atlanta, the thought of entering the regular season with replacement officials did not appear to cause any concern.

"I think they'll do fine," coach Tony Dungy said. "It's just like when you have injuries on your team. You can't worry about those things. You just have to go out and play. We would love to see our officials back, but if they can't be back, we just have to go out and do our job.

Linebacker Derrick Brooks said he joked with one of the officials before Saturday's game against the Patriots, pleading with him for the sides to come to an agreement. But, Brooks said, there isn't much the players can do.

"We want it to get done," Brooks said. "You want the experienced guys in there doing it. At the same time, the guys that are going to eventually become NFL officials are the ones who are going to work (in) the league if they don't get a deal worked out. I hope everybody gets what they want and come to a reasonable agreement."

The league said it was "99 percent" certain replacement officials will call games this weekend.

"What we've got to do is play well," Dungy said. "You never want to put the game in the hands of the officials. But you've got guys who haven't worked in the NFL and it'll be a faster tempo, but it's the same for both teams."

Asked if he was worried about the calls, Dungy responded: "There may be some better calls!"

ALSTOTT'S RETURN: Fullback Mike Alstott had been running individual drills over the past few days but took part in his first full practice and felt no soreness in the left hamstring that had sidelined him since the first week of camp.

"I felt real good," Alstott said. "Everything went real well. I didn't feel the hamstring. I may be a little bit rusty, but by the end of the week, I'll get everything tuned up."

Said Dungy: "If he continues to go like that he should be fine by Friday."

MATCHING MICHAEL VICK: Though the first-team defense likely will see little, if any, of Falcons rookie quarterback Michael Vick, the experience of facing such a mobile quarterback might prove profitable.

Tampa Bay's first three games are against Dallas' Quincy Carter, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper.

"We're not worried about Michael Vick, we've got to go out and execute our defense," Brooks said. "I think it's going to be a good start for us because we're going to go out and face mobile quarterbacks the first few weeks of the season. But we can't worry about the quarterback we're playing."

APOPKA ON MY MIND: Defensive end Warren Sapp grew up in Apopka and has been an outspoken fan of the team that lost Sunday night to Japan 2-1 in the Little League World Series.

The All-Pro might have a nice gift planned for the team, like attending a Buccaneers game this season.

"Definitely, if they want to come watch me work, I'll definitely have tickets for them," Sapp said. "No doubt, I'm sure we can work that out."

COOKING ON HIGH HEAT: Rookie fullback Jameel Cook of Illinois seems a lock to make the team. In Saturday's game, Cook had two catches for 23 yards including a 19-yard scamper on fourth and 1 which put the ball on the Patriots 24. The Bucs scored on that drive.

"He is playing the exact same role he played in college," Dungy said. "The offense is very, very similar to what they had and that's helped him. But it's good to see. That's something we were looking for and I think between he and Rabih (Abdullah), we're going to be comfortable at the backup (fullback position).

INJURY REPORT: Mark Royals (right knee sprain) punted again and appears on pace to play Friday. Defensive end Marcus Jones (right hamstring) resumed light practice, but it will be a game-time decision whether he plays. The team reached an injury settlement with rookie defensive tackle Mike Mackenzie, which brings to 71 the number of players on the roster. Linebacker Marq Cerqua (shoulder sprain) returned to practice.

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