TAMPA — Though coach Raheem Morris' claim Sunday that the Bucs are the "best team in the NFC" drew plenty of headlines, he said the statement was misunderstood. He was just trying to motivate his team.
"I think everybody took it the wrong way," Morris said Thursday. "I think everybody took it as me bragging. That was not bragging. That's a mentality we set up for these guys."
Morris remembers when former Bucs assistant and current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin used to tell him that some team had to be No. 1 at the end of the year and "Why not us?" That's the idea he wants his Bucs to embrace, considering they're 4-2 and a half-game behind the Falcons (5-2) in the NFC South.
"It's like it is with your kids. When you send them out into the world or to do whatever it is they're going to do in this competition in sports or in school or whatever, you tell them to go be their best," Morris said. "And that's what I'm telling my guys. I tell them there's no reason we can't be the best. It's always a mentality before it's a reality, and we're setting our mentality up to be the very best."
MEDICAL MATTERS: The good news for the Bucs is that CB Aqib Talib (calf) returned to full participation at practice. But T Jeremy Trueblood (knee), G Keydrick Vincent (back) and LB Geno Hayes (knee) missed practice. Hayes' injury appears to be relatively minor; Morris said it's lingering swelling. But Trueblood and Vincent could miss Sunday's game against the Cardinals.
Morris said it's possible another linemen could be promoted from the practice squad if depth is needed. He praised rookie G Ted Larsen, a Palm Harbor University product, for how he fared in his first NFL start Sunday, despite picking up two penalties.
"He went out there, played tough, played physical, showed us all the attributes he showed in practice," Morris said. "He had a few mistakes, very correctable mistakes."
TOUGH TASK: Though Talib has been beaten for some touchdowns this season, Cardinals star WR Larry Fitzgerald says he considers the cornerback a formidable foe. Talib will likely get his share of matchups with the four-time Pro Bowler on Sunday.
"If you think about the touchdowns (Talib has) given up, they've been mostly in the zone (coverage)," Fitzgerald said. "He does a fantastic job. He's got unbelievable feet. He's got great makeup ability. He plays the ball tremendously well. … The more I watch him, the more impressed I am with his physical gifts."
PENN PRAISE: Morris said he has been impressed with how LT Donald Penn has performed. "He's been playing really well," Morris said. "He's playing with a nasty demeanor, playing tough, playing physical, he's doing all the things we've asked him to do, protecting well. … He's been what we've expected of him, and more."
HEAT WAVE: The Bucs had a more physical practice, wearing shoulder pads, and the temperature in the 90s didn't help. Several players felt the effects afterward.
"I thought it was October and it was going to cool off," Morris said. "Everyone is cutting up pumpkins. Tampa will fool you. Tampa brought back July on us, and we were right in the middle of training camp."
MISCELLANY: The Bucs donated $50,000 to Faces of Courage, a nonprofit organization that provides life-enriching experiences to children, women and families touched by cancer and-or blood disorders. CB Ronde Barber and LB Adam Hayward presented a check after practice.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com