Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hurricane Irma forces postponement of Bucs' season opener

TAMPA — Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says he is nervous about riding out his first hurricane in Tampa as Irma, with winds up to 185 mph by Wednesday, zeroes in on Florida and is expected to make landfall this weekend.

"I'm a little nervous about the hurricane," said Koetter, who said he would remain in Tampa. "I've never been through one. The football part, I'm not nervous about the football part. I'm nervous about what's going to happen. All you have to do is turn on the TV and look at Houston and we should be nervous."

The NFL informed the Bucs and the Dolphins that because of Irma, their season opener scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens was postponed until Nov. 19, Week 11, when both teams were scheduled to have a bye week.

As a result, Bucs players scattered after practice Wednesday morning and were not scheduled to return to work until Tuesday to begin preparations for the new season opener, Sept. 17 against the Bears at Raymond James Stadium.

Koetter said he agreed with the NFL's decision, though it means that Tampa Bay and Miami will be the only teams forced to play games for 16 straight weeks.

RELATED: Postponement of season opener gives injured players more time to heal.

"It is nice to have clarity more than anything else," Koetter said. "The No. 1 thing anyone should be thinking about is safety for everyone involved, not just our people, but everybody's families and communities. This is a natural disaster. Football takes a back seat to all that.

"This isn't going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11. You know, if we're 10-0 or 0-10, we'll be feeling different about ourselves. If we're 10-0, we probably will want to keep playing. If we're 0-10, I probably won't be standing here. Let's just be real about it. We've got a hurricane. We're dealing with it, and move on."

Preparations for Irma aside, there are positive and negative ramifications for the Bucs to the league's decision to postpone the game rather than play it at a neutral site such as New Orleans, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, which had been discussed.

First the negative. The Bucs will have had only two full practices in 12 days when they are scheduled to return next week. Starters such as Jameis Winston did not play in the final preseason game Aug. 31, meaning their timing and conditioning could suffer.

"I think the biggest concern right now, take the hurricane out of it, would just be that Chicago will have played a game and we haven't, so I think your conditioning level, we've been off for a few days," Koetter said. "But that's things we don't have control over, and we've got to do the best we can."

RELATED: Irma left NFL little choice, columnist Martin Fennelly says.

Also unknown is what impact playing 16 straight weeks will have on the Bucs. There is precedent for the NFL's decision. In 1992, the Patriots were scheduled to play at Miami for the regular-season opener, but Hurricane Andrew forced the league to postpone the game until the teams' shared bye week.

"I just know how it is when we get ready for a game, it's a lot on our bodies," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Baker said. "To go 16 straight weeks without a break is really tough. You look forward to that bye week just to get away from football a little bit, let your body rest.

"You guys don't see us Monday through Friday when we're in a lot of pain. Our wives have to help us up and down the steps. Our knees are hurting, elbows are hurting. To say suck it up and play, you don't know what we go through."

The other impact of the decision surrounds Doug Martin, who is suspended for the first three games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Martin originally would have returned for the Oct. 1 game against the Giants. Because of the postponement, he will have a short week to prepare for his return in an Oct. 5 Thursday night game against the Patriots at Raymond James Stadium.

"There's all kinds of sidebar issues like that," Koetter said. "I'm sure there's more than that. Our guys are going to scatter here (Wednesday) afternoon, and who knows when we'll be able to get them all back. There's lots of little things that are going to come up, just like anything else, just like a football game. Guess what? We've got to adjust, and we've got to deal with it.

"I've talked to a ton of people (Wednesday), and there is a precedent for teams playing 15 or 16 games in a row. And you know what? Most of those teams have done pretty well."

The positive to not playing this weekend is that the Bucs will have more time to get some injured players healthy. Tackle Demar Dotson (groin), linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and defensive end Jacquies Smith (knee) may have played Sunday but will benefit from more time off.

Also, newly signed safety T.J. Ward, who joined the Bucs on Monday after being dumped by the Broncos, will have an extra week to get into the playbook.

"Positives are what you make of it," Koetter said. "Okay, we've got longer to get ready for Chicago. More time to study Chicago tape."

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers said players were just glad the uncertainty about playing the game had passed, even if the hurricane has not.

"The most important thing is preparing stuff for your family," Rodgers said. "You don't want at the last second, say we're playing at a neutral site, then your family doesn't have any plans and everybody's family is stuck here and we'll be more worried about that than the focus of football."

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