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NFC TAMPA BAY REPORT

See World? Gruden Has No Time for It

January 25, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The Buccaneers held their final pre-Super Bowl practice Friday and plan to hold a walk-through today at Qualcomm Stadium.

Coach Jon Gruden praised his players' efforts during the nearly 90-minute session at UC San Diego.

"We worked the short area of the field and got a lot of good work done," he told a pool reporter representing the horde covering the game. "We cleaned things up from [Thursday] and the day before. Guys were focused and we had good energy.

"I chatted with our team honestly this morning and told them to focus on a normal Friday in Tampa before a Sunday game. You're going to have free time Friday afternoon. There are some distractions here. A lot of these men have their families here and we encourage them to be with their families. If they get lonely and want to talk, I'll be up in [my] room."

Guard Cosey Coleman (knee injury) and defensive tackle Chartric Darby (calf) practiced Friday and are probable for Sunday. So is defensive end Ellis Wyms (ankle).

Gruden said he was satisfied with the team's preparation after enduring long days Monday and Tuesday to get a game plan in place.

"We're ready to roll," he said. "We have no excuses now."

*

Gruden acknowledged some mixed emotions over facing his former team, which he helped build.

"This has been a real strange week for me," he said. "Some of these questions are almost impossible to answer without making somebody mad.

"The only thing I can say is I'm so happy for a lot of those people there. If they win, then they deserve to win and I tip my hat to them. At the same time, I can't tear myself in half with all these emotions. I'm the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I'm very excited about that, and whoever wins the game is going to be very jubilant, very excited, and whoever loses the game is going to be very, very sad."

Although he's obviously familiar with the Raiders, he said they've changed some strategic points since he left.

"They're doing a lot of things differently," he said. "They're doing some great things on offense, very creative things. Players are emerging. The offensive line is unbelievable. The protection that they've given on a weekly basis, when you let five eligible receivers into a route freely, you're counting on great protection. And these guys have done a heck of a job from left tackle to right tackle, giving Rich [Gannon] an opportunity to come off his first and second reads and find completions.

"Defensively, [they have] a lot of new players. I think the linebacking corps has improved tremendously from a year ago, and [Rod] Woodson gives them a real instinctive free safety that's very unforgiving. And they can rush a passer."

*

Given the lengths to which the Buccaneers went to get Gruden, it would be understandable if he felt an urgent need to repay them by winning Sunday. But Gruden said winning is always imperative to him.

"I felt the same urgency when I was at Southeast Missouri State, honestly," said Gruden, who has been holed up in the team's hotel most of the time since he arrived and hasn't had a chance to see the sights of San Diego.

*

Asked what might be the pivotal point Sunday, Gruden professed to be puzzled.

"I really don't know. I never know," he said. "I just know that you have six days to prepare your team to play and our performances are like life. It's not like a movie where you can take a cut and do it over. These are live performances and there's so many variables. Kickoff coverage, punt protection, bump-and-run coverage, playing the right down. You never know."

He also said he didn't know if the game will be close, as could happen because of the parity in the league.

"I've tried to stay out of the business of predicting games," he said. "I don't think any of us predicted the last three Super Bowl champions.

"But anything goes on Sunday. It's going to be decided by the offensive and defensive lines, and execution. And playmaking. And how the ball bounces. Sometimes you never know."

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