Warrick Dunn took a huge step on the road to recovery Monday, participating in a full practice for the first time this training camp.
Tendinitis in his left patellar tendon had kept the third-year running back out of contact drills.
"We all thought he looked very fresh," coach Tony Dungy said. "He looked like Anthony (McFarland, the team's No. 1 pick) did at his first practice. He looked like he was a half of a step faster than everyone else."
Dunn was happy to return to practice but was concerned about his conditioning.
"It felt like I'd been out for a while," Dunn said. "My wind wasn't there. It's just a matter of trying to get back and a feel. My knee is not as strong as I thought where I couldn't push off on certain things. I think over time it'll all come back.
"Today was good just to get back out there and run around and get tired. That was the biggest thing. It was rough. Believe me, it was rough."
Dunn said the key will be strengthening the muscles around the tendon to give it support. If he can accomplish that, the comeback may be hastened. Dungy said he's hopeful Dunn will see some playing time against Cleveland in the team's preseason opener Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"I hate to miss games," Dunn said. "You see other people competing and if you have the opportunity to compete you always want to compete. But we'll have to wait and see.
"I definitely want to think I can get out there and run full speed. It was hard to do that today. I'm just happy to be able to get back out there and run and hopefully I'm able to sprint consistently. When I do that, I'll know I'm ready to play."
INJURY UPDATE: While Dunn returned to practice, two others moved closer to a return: FB Mike Alstott and LB Derrick Brooks.
"Mike and Derek ran today, ran very well and there's a chance they could get some work at practice tomorrow," Dungy said.
Alstott sprained his ankle in a practice Aug. 3 and has been out since. Brooks hurt his ankle in an off-season basketball game, but did go through afternoon drills. Dungy said DE Chidi Ahanotu could return today after hurting his hip in a scrimmage against the Dolphins.
A number of players missed the morning workout with an assortment of minor bumps and bruises that carried over from the weekend scrimmage against Miami: C Tony Mayberry, WR Dillon Micus and DE John McLaughlin. S Eric Vance and CB Floyd Young were out with strained hamstrings.
"Everybody is kind of just on the pain tolerance, but I would think by Wednesday we would have a good shot of having all of our guys going," Dungy said.
LINING UP: Dungy said he's pleased with the progress of the backup offensive linemen. Adding depth to the unit has been one of his goals, and so far, a number of newcomers have emerged as possibilities: C Eric DeGroh, T DeMarcus Curry and G Andray Spearman.
"It's actually coming along pretty well," Dungy said. "Some guys are doing some good things. I thought our young group of offensive linemen really blocked pretty well on Friday and Saturday, and they got a chance to go against some of their better players and held themselves up well.
"In our second group, we have some guys who have played games and done a good job. We think we're going to be okay. So far, so good."
GET YOUR TICKETS: Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for Saturday's preseason opener against Cleveland. Officials in the ticket office said 8,000 are available for the Aug. 28 preseason game against New England and 3,500 for the Dec. 12 game against Detroit.
ROSTER MOVE: P Eddie Howard was waived and WR Ed Conti signed. Conti is a 5-foot-8, 175-pound University of Delaware rookie who was released by the Jets last week.
_ ERNEST HOOPER, RICK STROUD