The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't kick off the 2009 regular season until Sunday, but on Wednesday the team learned which players would lead them into battle.
The Bucs announced their team captains for the 2009 season. Center Jeff Faine and quarterback Byron Leftwich were voted offensive captains while cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive tackle Chris Hovan were voted defensive captains. In addition, safety Will Allen was voted a special teams captain.
"I was very proud," said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. "It wasn't a popularity contest. I told those guys before, ‘Vote for the guys that are doing the right things – the right things around here, on the field, in the meeting room and with the media. We're very proud of all of those guys and what they've become."
Despite joining the team during free agency this offseason, Leftwich earned enough votes from his new teammates to earn the title of team captain while beating out Luke McCown for the starting quarterback job.
"He came in off the streets, battled to earn the starting quarterback job and earned enough respect from his teammates to be voted captain," said Morris. "He earned the respect of the coaches, too. He went into the room and took our first-round pick under his wing to show him the way and not be selfish. That's hard to do, man. That's what our team wants to be about."
This is Faine's second season with the Bucs, and Wednesday marked the second straight year he's been voted a team captain in Tampa Bay. It's an honor he doesn't take lightly.
"It's a huge honor anytime you're recognized like that by your teammates," said Faine. "I take it with much responsibility to help lead this team and help this team win. I just always want work hard and try to do the right thing."
The role of team captain is nothing new to Barber, a five-time Pro Bowler, and Hovan, who is in his 10th season in the NFL. They also served in that capacity in 2008. Their teammates believe Barber and Hovan have led by example.
"Chris and Ronde are the epitome of an NFL football player," said Bucs DT Ryan Sims. "They work all day and all night. That's what has allowed them to play in this league for 10-plus years. Being a fellow player, you see in them what you aspire to be."
Although he is considered the leader of Tampa Bay's defense, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud felt the players voted team captains were worthy.
"They're kind of similar to me," Ruud said of Barber and Hovan. "They're not the most vocal guys. Well, maybe Hovan is on the field, but Ronde doesn't want to have to say too much. He will if he needs to. He's just a proven, respected NFL player throughout the league. Those are two guys I voted for. It's well deserved."
Allen once again serves as Tampa Bay's special teams captain. He has notched 62 special teams tackles in five seasons with the Bucs.
"It's a huge and tremendous honor that my teammates and my coaches look to me as a leader and a captain on this team," said Allen. "I just strive every day to work hard. That's it. I just work hard and thank God for the opportunity that I'm out here playing and helping my teammates."
In injury-related news, Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers (shoulder), tight end John Gilmore (ankle) and linebacker Adam Hayward (ankle) were held out of Wednesday's practice. It is unclear whether those players will play vs. the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
"That's just the injury report from practice. They're day-to-day," said Morris. "If we get a better feel for that we'll let you know."
Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant (knee) and Michael Clayton (hamstring) had full participation in practice for the second straight day.