By ROGER MILLS, ERNEST HOOPER and RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000
TAMPA -- Asked how much he had benefited from his enhanced off-season weight-training program, 5-foot-8, 170-pound kicker Martin Gramatica didn't hesitate.
"Can't you tell?" he deadpanned.
It was easy for Gramatica to laugh Thursday after being named NFC special-teams player of the month for October. Gramatica had 39 points, converting 10 of 12 field-goal attempts, including his last eight.
Gramatica converted a pair of 50-yard field goals in a game this season, and he believes weight training has made a significant difference not only on field goals, but on kickoffs.
"I think just having the whole body in shape helps," Gramatica said. "I think I was in good shape last year, but I think it was more soccer shape. I ran a lot, but I really didn't lift weights as hard as I did this off-season. I just feel a lot stronger. I feel a lot more fit.
"I can still go out there and run just as much as I did last year, it's just that I feel better physically. I can tell on the kickoffs I don't have to really try as hard. Last year, to get it deep, I had to give it all I had. Now I can just relax and let my leg swing."
BACK IN STRIDE: Two seasons ago Falcons running back Jamal Anderson was one of the most frightening and bruising ball carriers in the game. Then came a season-ending knee injury at the beginning of last season.
Anderson, whose powerful running style led the Falcons to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, appears finally to be getting his legs and agility back. The Bucs have taken notice.
"I believe he is (back all the way)," defensive end Marcus Jones said. "After watching a couple films, you could see at the beginning of the season he was a little hesitant about making his moves. Now, he's going to spin right off somebody. He's back and he's a great back. You know he can break it open."
TEAM IS WARY: With star linebacker Jesse Tuggle out for the season and starting linebacker Keith Brooking placed on injured reserve Wednesday, the injury bug has ravaged the Falcons defense. But the Bucs are aware that an ailing team, like a wounded animal, is a dangerous one.
"That's a fact," safety John Lynch said. "Sometimes, guys could get pumped up when they feel their backs are against the wall."
Bucs coach Tony Dungy said the injuries to the Falcons should not affect the Bucs' preparation.
"They have new linebackers playing and have shuffled the offensive line because of injury but I think that's part of the game," Dungy said. "This is the NFL and that's why you have 53 guys and those other guys have to come through and I think some of their younger guys, like (linebacker) Mark Simoneau, are coming on and so I think they are going to get better as the season progresses."
Jones said it would be stupid of the Bucs to underestimate the Falcons.
"Any team in the NFL is dangerous," Jones said. "They're a hungry team, a team that has to win. I think that's pretty much how it is around the league. It doesn't matter if you're 7-0 or 3-6, whatever your record is, Sunday is the biggest game you're going to play."
EARNING HIS PAY: Against the Vikings, Mark Royals did not get a chance to punt and has had to face constant ribbing about getting paid for no work. Of course, he defended himself.
"Sure I (earned my pay check)," Royals said, referring to his holding duties on field goals and extra points. "I went out and held the ball seven times and all the laces were facing out, and that's part of my job."
Royals, who has punted well the bulk of the season and is averaging 44.4 yards, said he commonly enters the game with butterflies but they go away as soon as he gets in his first punt. When he doesn't get to punt early in the game, Royals said it becomes harder to get into a flow.
"The fewer times that I'm out there the harder it is to really stay zoned in on what I have to do," Royals said. "But, when you haven't been out there for three quarters and you're in the fourth quarter you start wondering. It makes it a little difficult. I don't ever say I don't want to punt, I'm certainly ready when the opportunity presents itself but it makes it a little more difficult when you haven't been out (for the first three quarters)."
Royals, who has been in the league for 12 seasons, said it was his first game without a punt attempt.
SACK ATTACK: Even with All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp nursing an inflamed left knee, oddsmakers like the chances of the Bucs getting to Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler. As it turns out, the Bucs lead the league in sacks (37) and the Falcons lead with sacks allowed (32).
"Well, we like to play on AstroTurf, so I think that's one thing that's going to be in our favor, so I think our speed will be in our favor there," Dungy said. "They like to throw the ball upfield a lot, they are looking for big plays and deep routes, which helps you get there."
The Bucs defense could flourish if it gets Atlanta looking for the pass and that can only be accomplished, Dungy said, by containing Anderson.
"We've got to control the running game," Dungy said. "If they are in a lot of second and 4, second and 5 and they are running and throwing a lot of play-action, it's going to be difficult (to get to Chandler)."
Sapp said he expects Falcons coach Dan Reeves to run the ball as much as possible in order to protect Chandler.
"We go back to a game we played in 1997, when we went up to Indiana, and they had given up too many sacks," Sapp said. "We walked into that game with our eyes lit up. We went up there and had to hold on and (Michael Husted) had to win it on a kick.
"That's the thing. We got out of whack. The thing that we have to focus on is the running game. ... We're preparing for a game where we've got to stop the run."
KEEPER: Jones, who is second on the club in sacks (10), might not need an agent as a free agent after this season. He already has Sapp.
The NFL's defensive player of the year says he has lobbied general manager Rich McKay to re-sign Jones.
"I've already talked to them. Trust me," Sapp said. "I'm not blind to the fact. I've already walked in there and said, "We've started already, haven't we?' Rich was like: "Yeah, big dog, we've already started.' I said, "Okay.' So I feel happy about that situation. I don't think they'll let him out the door. And he doesn't want to go anywhere."
INJURIES: Sapp is expected to return to practice today after missing the past two workouts with inflammation on his left knee.
"Warren is doing better," Dungy said. "He doesn't have a lot of pain. He's just got some fluid in there and hopefully he'll make that improvement over the next 48 hours that we need."
Linebacker Shelton Quarles, who aggravated a groin injury, is questionable and his status might not be known until kickoff Sunday.
Cornerback Donnie Abraham (hip) returned to practice and is expected to play against Atlanta. Defensive end Steve White (ankle) and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (triceps) also participated in the workout.