Bucs Vigorously Training While Patiently Waiting

September 20 – When Tampa Bay faces Minnesota at the Metrodome, 20 days will have passed since the Buccaneers played and won their first game of the regular season against the Cowboys. The Buccaneers are in the middle of their bye week, but one would not know it after watching their intense practice on Wednesday afternoon. The Bucs are not treating this week as a vacation. Instead, they are using the time to get back to basics and prepare for Minnesota

With three weeks off, one might think the Buccaneers have all the time in the world to worry about football. So what will the players do with all of the time they have off?.

"I'm going to play video games," said RB Warrick Dunn. "I have a buddy who's in town right now and that's what we do. We all get together and play video games and just try to not worry about playing a game. But we'll get our rest and when we're out here on the field, we'll go full speed, try to get in a rhythm at practice and try to simulate a game. We have to definitely try to stay healthy and work through this time off."

Yes, people might assume Tampa Bay has a lot of time on their hands, but over at One Buc Place, their thinking is just the opposite. Tampa Bay is taking advantage of their 20-day layoff in-between games by going back to basics and holding intense practices.

"Offensively, we're doing some good things," said Dunn. "Guys are working on some techniques, we're catching better and we're tying to work on our running game. There's a lot of things we can improve on and we can gel as a unit. Right now, we're just working on getting better and moving down the road."

With the postponement of their home opener against the Eagles last Sunday, the Buccaneers are essentially treating this week as another training camp.

"We had a hot day out here today," said SS John Lynch. "The wide receivers counted it up and I think we had something like 65 plays. We practice intensely. We probably don't quite reach the intensity of a game and the hitting is not there, but 65 plays is a lot. You add on all of the individual and the 7-on-7 as well, and you get some good work in."

Head coach Tony Dungy feels his team has responded well to difficult situations in the past by focusing on the positives and he doesn't feel that will change with the long period of time between games..

"Well, you have to look at it as how it helps you," said Dungy. "If you let it hurt you and build in excuses, then it will (hurt you). But we've got two more weeks to get our fundamentals ready to go. We've got two weeks to prepare for Minnesota, which has historically been a tough place for us to win. We've got time to heal up and have all of our guys ready to play. We've got to use it as a positive and go up there, win and say it's our second opening day."

Although it would be easy for the Bucs to focus on the glaring negative aspects of having a 20-day layoff between their first and second game of the season, the team seems to be buying into Dungy's philosophy of focusing on the positives while acknowledging the negatives.

"At this time, this is probably good for us," said Dunn. "But it takes away a little bit because we can't get into a game rhythm. Once we get into a game rhythm, I think things will flow a little smoother."

Strong safety John Lynch shared Dunn's sediments on their long break.

"If you could script it, I don't think you'd want a three week layoff," said Lynch. "But the way we're approaching it is to turn it into a positive. We're working real hard to try and make that happen.

"It's probably ideal to have your bye week somewhere in the middle or late October, but this is what we were given by the schedule makers and we'll be real fresh right now."

But make no mistake about it. Tampa Bay will need the extra time to rest and practice. The Pewter Pirates will play three of their first four games on the road and after their extended period of time off, they will play at least 15 straight weeks of football.

The Buccaneers are 6-17 lifetime at Minnesota and have not won in the Metrodome since 1997. Dungy expects his team to come out and play their best football when they visit Minnesota on Sept. 30.

"We should be mentally sharp and physically rested," said Dungy. "We should be healthy, so there's really no reason why we shouldn't go up there and play great."

The consensus among the Tampa Bay players was positive in regards to the NFL's decision to reschedule Week 2's games, including the Bucs-Eagles game at Raymond James Stadium. But they are not so optimistic about the league finding a way to avoid eliminating four Wild Card spots in this year's playoffs.

Officials from New Orleans stated on Wednesday evening that moving the Super Bowl back one week in order to keep all 12 playoff spots intact was not an option. With that option no longer there, the only feasible plan that would allow the league to avoid eliminating four playoff spots would be having each team play three games in one week at some point this season.

"I think we just played three (games) at today's practice," said Lynch. "Tony was working us today and I suppose you could, but it would be tough. I know there's some teams fighting for those Wild Card spots, but our approach really won't change. The goal is to win our division and if we just keep that in mind and keep that our focus, we'll be alright regardless of what they do."

Winning the NFC Central Division title has always been the Buccaneers' goal. But with two of the three Wild Card playoff spots all but eliminated in this season's playoff format, Tampa Bay knows winning the division is the only way to guarantee themselves a spot in this year's playoffs.

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