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Nickerson still has the respect of Bucs

Linebacker Hardy Nickerson will be on the other sideline Sunday for the first time since leaving the Bucs as a free agent after the 1999 season. And to add a pinch of irony, he'll be wearing the uniform of the Packers, the Bucs' biggest rivals during Nickerson's heyday.

But Nickerson, who signed with the Packers this offseason after two years in Jacksonville, still is deeply respected in his former locker room.

"It will be different seeing him, whether it is the Packers or whatever uniform," safety John Lynch said. "Every now and then I will have a flashback to a certain play and remember guys that I played with. He was certainly one of the favorite guys I have ever played with. This week we're competing against him and he's going to want to beat us and we're going to want to beat him."

Competitive juices aside, almost all the veterans in the Bucs locker room say Nickerson's contribution to the franchise was critical and his influence on the young players was more important.

"He meant so much off the field to this football team, as well as on the field," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "He's a proven leader of a young team that was growing."

Added Lynch: "When he came in 1993, he was the one who showed everyone around here how to be a pro. How you show up every day and compete. He certainly showed guys like myself and Derrick how to compete."

BARBER UPDATE: Starting cornerback Ronde Barber returned to practice two days after having surgery on his broken left thumb. Barber, who wore a black cast on his hand, said he plans to play Sunday.

"For me, it's not an issue," Barber said in a statement. "The doctor addressed the injury, the surgery went well. I am playing, and for me it's business as usual. Practice went well. It was a good productive practice for me (Wednesday)."

Barber is listed as questionable on the injury report. Coach Jon Gruden said he was encouraged by Barber's return but said the team would wait until later this week to make a final decision.

"We'll see how this next couple of days goes," Gruden said. "But again, if there's anybody who can play with a broken thumb and a cast at corner it would be Ronde Barber."

SAPP RETURNS: Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who missed practice time last week with back spasms and sat out the final minutes of the win against Carolina, returned to practice and appears to be ready for Sunday.

"He practiced very well today, and that's exciting for us," Gruden said.

Right tackle Kenyatta Walker (right ankle sprain) did not practice but is listed as probable.

FAVRE ON THE DEFENSIVE: The Packers haven't beaten the Bucs in their past four trips to Raymond James Stadium. Packers quarterback Brett Favre said the team's struggles in Tampa have had more to do with the Bucs' top-rated defense than anything else.

"With their defense, (Tampa) is a tough place to play. If we played this game on a beach in the Bahamas, it would be a tough place to play," Favre said. "That's just the way it is. Their defense is tough to beat (even in Green Bay) and we've hung on by the skin of our teeth here.

"When teams play (against the Bucs defense), regardless of where they play, it's a huge challenge and a tough one. I mean, it doesn't get any tougher than that. You throw in their home turf, and it's even tougher."

ANOTHER ROSTER MOVE: Defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks and safety Dwayne Stukes were added to the practice squad. Claybrooks was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 7 and promoted to the 53-man roster on Nov. 15 before being released three days later.

Stukes is making his third appearance on the practice squad. He spent training camp with the Bucs but was cut Sept. 1. He had two other stints with the team, Sept. 4-10 and Oct. 9-22.

FOOD FOR A CAUSE: The Glazer Family Foundation, the charitable arm of the Bucs, will join Raymond James Financial and four area food banks for a food drive. Canned food will be collected at the stadium gates when they open at 2:15 for Sunday's game. Canned items needed are meats, soups, fruits and juices and peanut butter.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's the ultimate weapon versus the immovable object."

Sapp describing the matchup between Favre and the Bucs.

_ ROGER MILLS, DARRELL FRY

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