Practice makes perfect? For Bucs, it depends on your age

Tampa Bay has the oldest roster in the NFL. It also may lead the league in days off.
Bucs wide receiver Julio Jones runs with the ball during last Sunday's game against the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Jones is questionable for Sunday's game in New Orleans with a knee injury.
Bucs wide receiver Julio Jones runs with the ball during last Sunday's game against the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Jones is questionable for Sunday's game in New Orleans with a knee injury. [ MICHAEL AINSWORTH | AP ]
Published Sept. 17, 2022|Updated Sept. 17, 2022

TAMPA — We’re talking about practice. Not a game. We’re talking about practice. How silly is that?

With all due respect to Allen Iverson’s famous rant, in the NFL practice matters.

But because of the physical demands of the sport, teams always walk a fine line between giving a player time to recover from various injuries and the need to work during the week on the game plan and improve communication.

On Wednesday, the Bucs had 10 players on the injured list. Six did not practice at all, while four were limited.

The list included five receivers: Julio Jones (knee), Chris Godwin (hamstring), Mike Evans (calf), Russell Gage (hamstring) and Breshad Perriman (knee). Also hurt were tackles Donovan Smith (hyperextended elbow) and Tristan Wirfs (oblique).

Quarterback Tom Brady had a veteran’s day off Wednesday for body maintenance. Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks did the same on Friday.

A reminder: It’s Week 2.

Smith is doubtful and probably won’t play Sunday against the Saints. Godwin is out. The rest of those players are questionable.

The Bucs have the oldest roster in the NFL at 27.15 years of age. Of course, a chunk of that belongs to Brady, the oldest player in the league at 45. Jones is 33 and missed at least seven games in each of his past two seasons.

More than that, Jones rarely practiced even during the weeks he played.

As we continue to say, the Bucs aren’t buying any green bananas with Brady likely in his final season.

But if practice wasn’t important, they wouldn’t devote so much time to it. Heck, why not hold walk-throughs the entire season and show up each Sunday as refreshed as possible?

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said older players know how to miss practice and still prepare for games.

“It’s always different,” Leftwich said. “Hopefully, you’ve got veteran guys who know how to miss days and still show up for the games. As the season gets longer and as we add another game, there’s elements of that in football. Football is a violent game, and sometimes when you’re watching it on TV you don’t understand that.

“There’s a lot of sore bodies on Monday, so you have that throughout the year. That’s part of it, that’s part of the year, that’s part of the season, that’s part of being in the National Football League, honestly. That’s part of it — being able to have longevity with the beating that everyone takes every week.”

Head coach Todd Bowles said he agreed that the longer a player has performed in the league, the less practice time is required of him.

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“For most players, it’s important, but I think when you play in the league a certain amount of time and you prepare a certain way, it’s not necessary to practice that guy all the time,” Bowles said. “You’re going to practice, but you’re not going to practice all the time. You’ll get a day off here and there, because it is a long season.”

Even so, a lot of Bucs aren’t practicing. They’re practicing load management.

Yeah, we’re talking about practice. But even Iverson relented: “I know it ‘s important. I do. I honestly do.”

Impressive start for offensive line

For all the hand-wringing that went on about the Bucs’ rebuilt offensive line prior to their win at Dallas, it turns out there wasn’t much to worry about.

Yes, the Bucs gave up two sacks to Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. One came against Josh Wells, who had just replaced Smith.

But for the most part, the line with center Robert Hainsey, and guards Luke Goedeke and Shaq Mason not only protected Brady, it created some huge rushing lanes for running back Leonard Fournette.

Much of Fournette’s 127 yards came on the perimeter, with some athletic efforts led by Hainsey, Goedeke and Mason.

“Not just that, but their toughness and their intelligence, just understanding the game plan and knowing what to do — those guys can play,” Bowles said. “They just haven’t played, and no one has seen them play. They know how to play football, and we try to do what they did best.”

Punting with authority

Nothing flips field position like a good punt, and rookie Jake Camarda got off to a fast start in his first NFL game.

On his first attempt, he hit the scoreboard at AT&T Stadium, forcing a re-kick. On the next, the Cowboys were penalized for running into the kicker. Finally, he bombed his first official punt 63 yards. He finished with three punts for a 50.7 average, including two inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“I thought he did a great job booming (punts) down the field,” Bowles said. “I thought we covered them very well. Again, they’ve got a dangerous return man. I thought the gunners and the interior men did a great job, kickoff team as well. He can put it out there and he can boom it, but when he does that we need to make sure we cover it and they did that this week.”

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