After holding a special teams workout in the morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex for a full team practice on Thursday night.
It marked the first time the Bucs have ever held a night practice since head coach Jon Gruden's arrival in 2002.
Gruden suggested Thursday night might not be the last time the Bucs practice under the lights.
"They liked the lights. They felt like they were back in high school again," Gruden said of his players. "It's a great evening, a great facility and a great turnout from our fans. I think it was really important from an evaluation standpoint that we see our returners, receivers and our quarterbacks under the lights where we'll play on Saturday night [vs. the Miami Dolphins].
"I sure would [consider holding another night practice]. The hard part is getting the players treatment should we have an injury and then getting a report from the trainers and trying to schedule the next day's practice. When do you watch the film? But I kind of like it. We might have another one of these night practices next week. It's a good change up."
Former Bucs fullback Mike Alstott and defensive tackle Warren Sapp were in attendance for Thursday night's workout. Both players retired from the NFL during the offseason and were part of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl XXXVII team.
"It was great to have Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp, two of my favorite players, out here tonight," said Gruden. "We're excited to play a game and get the preseason on.
"We're making progress, and we were glad to have Warren and Mike Alstott come out here and witness where we are as a football team tonight."
When asked if he had attempted to lure Alstott and Sapp out of retirement, Gruden answered sarcastically, but expressed his appreciation for both former Buccaneers.
"If they want to play we'll have these conversations again," Gruden said smiling. "Both of those guys have a lot to do with not only the success that our team has had here, but some of the most thrilling moments I've had in my life. It was great to have them back. They're great ambassadors for our program here, our city and Tampa Bay Buccaneer football. It's awesome to have them back. I wish they could strap it on and help us out. We could sure use them."
GRUDEN ELABORATES ON FAVRE SITUATION Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen fielded questions from the media two different times on Thursday – once in the morning and again in the evening – to answer questions regarding the team's interest in acquiring quarterback Brett Favre, who was traded from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets on Wednesday night.
After Thursday night's practice concluded, it was Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's turn to field Favre-related questions.
Allen told the media that the Bucs neither negotiated with the Packers nor did they offer the Packers anything in the form of compensation for Favre, but Gruden did acknowledge that he spoke with Favre after Green Bay gave Tampa Bay permission to speak with him.
"I did talk to him," Gruden said of Favre. "I had a good idea of what the situation was. I'm happy it all worked out for him and I wish him the best. The Jets are fortunate."
When introduced by the New York Jets in a press conference on Thursday, Favre said that Gruden did a great job of selling him on playing for Tampa Bay, but in the end New York was the place for him.
Gruden, who worked with Favre for three years in Green Bay, didn't deny that notion.
"It's not a hard sell," Gruden said of playing in Tampa Bay. "Number one, I'm happy for Brett Favre. If you saw the look in his eyes and heard the expression in his voice – this guy has been through a lot. He's a friend of mine and a guy that I care a lot about, and a guy everybody in the league cares about."
The Bucs have five quarterbacks on their roster, including Pro Bowler Jeff Garcia. Although Tampa Bay was interested in Favre, Gruden suggested he did not get his hopes up in terms of acquiring the future Hall of Famer.
"I can't say I'm disappointed. I've said all along that we like the group of quarterbacks we have," said Gruden. "If you watched tonight, you saw Brian Griese and Luke McCown do some good things, and Jeff is one hell of a competitor and a fine quarterback. You're not talking about Tony the Tiger here. You're talking about Brett Favre. This was one of the more awkward, unprecendented situations from a timing and media standpoint that I've ever seen in my career, and I've seen some pretty neat things. I'm glad it's over and I'm happy for Brett."
While the saga might be over for Favre, many of the questions fielded by Allen and Gruden on Thursday pertained to Garcia, who was not available to speak to the media as he still is nursing a calf injury.
While some wonder where Garcia's mind is at after all of the Favre rumors and reports, Gruden attempted to dismiss the notion that damage had been done to Tampa Bay's starting signal caller.
"There isn't air to clear right now," said Gruden. "This isn't going to become a Oprah Winfrey special. It's an awkward thing. We're not talking about Bill Smatz or Jon Gruden from [the University of] Dayton. We're talking Brett Favre. He's one of the most tremendous players of all time. It's a [Catch 22] situation. If you don't look into it and don't survey the situation for yourself you really don't get all of the information. All you get is reports. I had a chance to talk to Brett a couple of times and talked to his wife. We want to win games. We need to get Jeff healthy and out on the practice field. That's an understatement. I feel good about being involved in this and knowing exactly what happened, and feel good about our quarterbacks like I have said from the beginning of training camp. I hope at the end of the day, if there are some feelings hurt, we can get over that and move on. We have work to do.
"I'm sure it was [awkward for Jeff Garcia]. I'm sure it is awkward for the Packers players right now. I'm sure it's awkward for the Jets players. I'm sure wherever Chad Pennington goes it will be awkward for the team he's speculated to go to now. It's a tough deal. Only one quarterback plays and it's such a high profile position in the NFL. I'm sure Jeff wasn't real pleased with the reports and things of that nature. At the same time, I feel like at the end of the day he'll understand that we have a lot of respect for him and hopefully we can get Jeff signed to a long-term deal because he's one hell of a quarterback."
Garcia, 38, is in the final year of his contract. The Bucs have offered Garcia new deals, but to no avail as the offers apparently do not meet his financial demands.
Garcia missed out on approximately $1 million in not-likely-to-be-earned incentive money due to the fact that Tampa Bay chose to rest him after the Bucs won the NFC South division title.
Allen reiterated to the media on Thursday evening that the Bucs cannot simply give Garcia $1 million. Salary cap rules only allow teams to restructure a player's contract one time in a calendar year. Allen went on to say that the team felt it had time to work on Garcia's contract since he's not scheduled to become a free agent until February.
QUARTERBACKS SOUND OFF ON FAVRE RESOLUTION Although the entire team has not been surveyed, early indications suggest the Brett Favre rumors as they pertained to Tampa Bay never served as much of a distraction to the Buccaneer players.
"I don't think it really ever had any impact on our team. If anything, it's good that it's over," said Bucs quarterback Luke McCown. "We were a close team last year. I think everybody knows that and saw that last year. We want to keep it that way."
Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms admitted that he was intrigued by the Favre situation, especially since any scenario that might have seen Favre join the Bucs might have meant the end of Simms' tenure with the team.
"I think we were just like you guys, just waiting to see what was going to happen," Simms said. "We were listening to what you guys had to say and then what all the other sports channels had to say. It was a crazy event altogether just knowing where he was going to go. I'm a football fan. I want to know where he's going to go, too. If he came here – so be it. That would have been pretty interesting in itself. I wouldn't have minded seeing some of that stuff go on. It would have been pretty crazy. With all due respect, we have a lot of good quarterbacks here."
Simms offered his support for Tampa Bay's current starting quarterback while fielding questions about Favre.
"We have Jeff Garcia and I think people can't lose sight of that fact. I think we all felt for Jeff," said Simms. "Jeff has done a lot of great things with this team and deserves respect and the command of this team with just the way he played last year. I think there are a lot of guys on this team that are in his corner, including myself."
GARCIA, OTHERS RULED OUT OF PRESEASON OPENER Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia has missed seven straight days of training camp practice due to a calf injury that will hold him out of Tampa Bay's preseason opener vs. the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.
In fact, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Thursday that Garcia, fullback B.J. Askew (ankle) and wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin) would not travel to Miami with the team.
"We're going to leave several players here," said Gruden. "Jeff has missed a lot of time, the opening of training camp and the last seven or eight days. B.J. Askew, Joey Galloway and others will stay here and get double-day treatment where hopefully we can speed up the recovery and get them back out on the field on Monday or Tuesday of next week."
Tight end Ben Troupe (undisclosed), running back Kenneth Darby (undisclosed) and cornerback Sammy Davis (hip) were held out of Thursday's practices with their respective injuries. Gruden suggested that both Troupe and Darby would be able to play vs. the Dolphins.
With Garcia not playing on Saturday, Luke McCown and Brian Griese likely will take the majority of reps at quarterback for the Buccaneers.
"We want to try and get McCown some work, and one of the great things we've been able to do is give both Luke and Brian NFL-starter reps," said Gruden. "These guys have taken a lot of turns and reps in Jeff's absence. We want to see a lot of Luke McCown. In fairness in evaluating a quarterback you need to see them play extended, so hopefully we can get a whole half out of Luke. We want to see Brian come out and either finish the first half or start the third quarter. We've got to give Chris [Simms] some good looks as well. Then we'll try to change it up next week."
Simms hasn't played in a game since the 2007 preseason. Ironically, Simms' last game action came vs. the Dolphins. He ended the '07 season on injured reserve for the second straight year due to the spleen injury he suffered in '06.
"I thought about that the other day," Simms said. "This was the last [team] I played [against]. I like going down there and playing. It should be a good challenge for the team and myself. This will be light years [better] compared to last year. Last year, I knew I wasn't even capable of making certain throws and going out there. I can't even say what I was thinking. Certain pass plays I knew I was in trouble because I knew I wasn't capable of throwing a 20-yard out if Coach Gruden called that play last year. I wasn't able to manage it. I was thinking of ways I was going to survive the game and at least move the team down the field somehow, someway."
Simms asked for his release or a trade during the offseason because he did not believe he had a future with the Buccaneers and was unhappy with how Gruden treated him after his spleen surgery.
Rookie QB Josh Johnson isn't expected to play vs. the Dolphins, and if Garcia, Griese or McCown were to get hurt for any length of time, Simms could make the team as the third-string quarterback.
"I've thought about it," Simms said of staying in Tampa Bay. "If that is the case, then so be it. I know I said things and it's a competitive league. You get frustrated and you say things … right now I'm focused on just getting myself better and play as well as I can to help myself out. I'll let the rest kind of fall where it may."
BUCS CANCEL FRIDAY PRACTICE The Buccaneers have cancelled their Friday morning walk-thru at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Tampa Bay will travel to Miami to play the Dolphins in its preseason opener on Saturday night.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on if Tampa Bay will hold off playing rookie QB Josh Johnson vs. Miami on Saturday night and instead play him the following week vs. the New England Patriots.
"Yeah, we feel like we'll let him go up against the 18-0 Patriots. I give Josh a hard time. My alma mater, the Dayton Flyers, beat Josh Johnson last year, so since Dayton beat him we're going to give him a shot at the Patriots. That's a good opening for Josh."
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