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McFarland likely to return Sunday

By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001

TAMPA -- Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who is recovering from a right knee sprain and experienced no setbacks during Wednesday's practice, participated in drills Thursday and likely will play Sunday against the Bears.

McFarland missed the past two games after spraining the knee against the Vikings on Oct.28.

"Anthony was really confident (Thursday)," coach Tony Dungy said. "He went through (Wednesday) and didn't have any soreness and was able to do more."

Fellow tackle Warren Sapp (left knee bruise) sat out practice for the second straight day but worked on the side. He likely will practice today and play Sunday.

Receiver Jacquez Green (left abdominal strain) also practiced and is probable. "We're starting to be healthy," Dungy said.

"We may have a full complement for Sunday."

BEGINNING THE FAST: Fullback Rabih Abdullah, a Muslim, said he will begin the one-month fast for Ramadan today. Abdullah will not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. That includes water.

Celebrating the purification period is not new for Abdullah, who has done it every year since he was 14. "It makes me more focused than usual," Abdullah said. "It is a challenge. But it's something I have been doing for a long time, and I've gotten used to it."

Abdullah said he will eat and hydrate himself well every night and keep his mind focused on football.

Thursday, Abdullah said he weighed 234 pounds and was sure he would be "around 226 or 227" when the fast ends. BALL SECURITY: The Bucs have committed only eight turnovers (four interceptions, four fumbles), which puts them first in the NFC (second in the NFL) in takeaway margin (plus-11).

But part of the Bears' first-half success has been their ability to force turnovers. Chicago enters Sunday's game with eight fumble recoveries and six interceptions.

"They're playing hard. They are hitting and knocking balls loose," Dungy said. "That's the kind of football I like to see. So we've got to be aware of that and know that that's how they play.

"We've done a good job of protecting this year, and that's got to continue."

MORE COOK: Rookie fullback Jameel Cook has caught the coaches' eyes with solid blocking and safe hands but plays almost exclusively as Mike Alstott's blocker. Rarely has he played with Warrick Dunn.

Dungy said that could change.

"He's learning how to be a blocking fullback in the NFL and is getting better," Dungy said. "We want to use Jameel and both of our running backs. (Cook and Dunn) will be one combination that you do see a bit."

It's easier said than done, however. The Bucs know Dunn and Alstott are productive weapons and finding more playing time for Cook likely means taking snaps away from one of the two.

"It's a tough decision because you're taking a real good player out of the game," Dungy said. "But situations dictate that. Depending on what we're trying to do, Jameel can do a great job in a lot of capacities."

TWO IN A ROW: The Bucs are 4-4 (3-2 NFC Central), and a win Sunday against the 6-2 Bears (1-1 Central) would close the gap on a team that plays four consecutive division games after Sunday.

"We have to get hot in the second half," Dungy said. "We can't afford many losses at all if we're going to make the playoffs. I don't know how many it'll be, but I know we can't afford many. So you definitely can't afford to lose any at home because winning on the road is tough.

"Also, when you play a team that's ahead of you, you have to beat them to catch up to them. You can't expect someone else to beat them for you."

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