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Thomas relishes his new role

Ricky Thomas' promotion to tight ends coach had not changed a lot for the players, but like a master chef, he's brought his own recipe to the job.

"It's like making gumbo," said Thomas, who spent two years as an offensive assistant before taking over for quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.

"I put a little different seasoning in it, my own flavor. I've kind of added to what's already there. It's nothing totally brand new, not a new scheme or system, I just add my own personality to it."

The move is a refreshing change for Thomas. As the offensive assistant, he often had to handle a lot of the "grunt work," but he persevered thanks to the support of the other coaches, wife Kimberly and children Kaitlyn and Ricky Jr.

"You have to stay focused, take care of the job at hand and not think so far ahead in terms of your career," Thomas said. "I always had enough faith that it was going to work out."

Thomas is excited about the tight end corps. He termed Dave Moore a jack of all trades, John Davis the most talented player the team has at the position and Patrick Hape a fierce blocker.

In fact, Hape's blocking skills might again come into play in the backfield. With the departure of Lorenzo Neal, Hape might return to being a part-time fullback.

"If you're not a starter, you have to be able to play other positions," Thomas said. "This is nothing new for Patrick. His rookie year, he lined up back there."

TICKETS REMAINING: Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Saturday's game. Director of communications Reggie Roberts anticipates a sellout.

I WISH IT WOULD RAIN: Intermittent rain fell on both practices Thursday, but coach Tony Dungy said as long as it wasn't lightning, the showers were welcomed.

"That's okay," he said. "You get to see who can keep focusing, who can concentrate when there aren't perfect conditions. It's not bad as long as we can stay out there and practice, we really don't mind."

ADVANCED PLANNING: Here is some early information on the Bucs schedule in 2000. Based on the NFL's scheduling formula, Tampa Bay will face four AFC East teams: Buffalo and the Jets at home, and New England and Miami on the road.

The Bucs also will have their four traditional opponents home and away. The remaining four games will be determined by where the Bucs finish in the division this season.

INJURY UPDATE: WR Bert Emanuel and RB Warrick Dunn are doubtful.

"We'll see what happens tomorrow, but if they haven't gone full speed by game time we're not going to play them," Dungy said.

LB Al Singleton (back), CB Floyd Young (hamstring), WR Dillon Micus (hamstring), Eric Vance (hamstring) and LB San Gibbs (knee) also are likely to miss the game after sitting out practice Thursday.

LB John McLaughlin (foot) and C Tony Mayberry (knee) also were slowed at practice, but should play.

_ ERNEST HOOPER

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