Tampa Bay’s preparation for its season opener at Minnesota was a bit soggy on Monday as the rain came down during the Buccaneers’ entire practice. After a brutally hot training camp in August, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said that he and the team welcomed the cooler weather that the rain brought on Labor Day.
“It was quite refreshing, really, to have a little cooler atmosphere,” Gruden said. “We got a lot of good work done today. The players have tomorrow off and we’ll resume on Wednesday. We’ve got a long way to go and we’re working hard.”
Without any lightning strikes, Tampa Bay was able to get in a full practice, which included piped in crowd noise to help the team prepare for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Sunday, which is regarded as one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums.
“I thought it helped us concentrate even more given the fact that it was noisy and it was obviously slick,” Gruden said of the piped-in noise and the wet conditions. “I don’t know if it gets much louder [than the Metrodome]. It might be close. There might be some teams that can take offense to that. But when they’re playing well and they’re on top of their game, when things are going well particularly, that place is just devastating from a noise standpoint. It’s hard to call plays and get your sideline communication organized, let alone communicating on offense, particularly on the road.”
While All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss has been traded to Oakland, the Vikings have added a lot of new faces, especially on defense, that has made studying for what to expect this Sunday in Minnesota quite difficult for the Bucs coaching staff. Gruden said that the team has had to study some of the Vikings’ game film from a year ago, as well as this year’s preseason games, to scout personnel and try to ascertain Minnesota’s game plan on defense and offense, which is led by new coordinator Steve Loney.
“They’ve made so many changes on their football team you have to speculate a little bit, too,” Gruden said. “When you bring in (linebacker) Napoleon Harris and (safety) [Darren Sharper], you add (cornerback) Fred Smoot and now you’ve got [Antoine] Winfield and Smoot – the ability to really lock you down. (Defensive end) Erasmus James and [Ted] Williams, the big nose tackle, is a great run defender. They are a completely different team on defense then they have been. (First-round draft pick) Troy Williamson is a great young prospect at wide receiver and obviously they have stated that they are going to make some changes on offense, but you have to consider everything.”
One thing is certain, Minnesota’s offense is still lead by Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who is coming off a career year in which he completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,717 yards with 39 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. While the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Culpepper is 2-3 versus Tampa Bay in his seven-year career, he is 2-0 at the Metrodome.
“I think Donovan McNabb is a rare guy,” Gruden said. “He’s built like a running back and he’s got extreme ability throwing the ball. The only difference between Culpepper and Donovan is Culpepper is like Shaquille O’Neal back there. He’s really big. This guy is a freak. He’s a great quarterback. He’s a hell of a competitor. When games are on the line, that guy shines. He never quits. It takes three guys to tackle him sometimes. He’s a great player. He’s clearly in the prime of his career. He’s taken off in that system. He’s had some continuity around him. They’re good upfront. They’ve got a good football team on offense, that’s for sure. Defensively, they are much improved.”
Gruden said that only wide receiver Ike Hilliard sat out practice while nursing his sprained ankle, but he is expected to return to the practice field on Wednesday.
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