Bucs' Dirk Koetter says priority should be public safety, not football

"I'm a little nervous about the hurricane,'' said Dirk Koetter, who will remain in Tampa. "I've never been through one. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
"I'm a little nervous about the hurricane,'' said Dirk Koetter, who will remain in Tampa. "I've never been through one. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sept. 6, 2017

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says he is nervous about riding out his first hurricane in Tampa as Irma, an historic cyclone with its 175 mile per hour wind, zeroes in on the state of Florida and is expected to make landfall this weekend.

"I'm a little nervous about the hurricane,'' said Koetter, who will remain in Tampa. "I've never been through one. The football part, I'm not nervous about the football part. I'm nervous about what's going to happen. All you have to do is turn on the TV and look at Houston and we should be nervous.''

The NFL informed the Bucs and the Dolphins that their game scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium has been postponed until Nov. 19, or Week 11, when both teams were scheduled to have a bye week.

As a result, Bucs players scattered after practice Wednesday morning and will not return to work for a week to begin preparations for the Sept. 17 home opener against Chicago.

Koetter said he agreed with the NFL's decision, even though it means that Tampa Bay and Miami will be the only teams forced to play games for 16 straight weeks.

"It is nice to have clarity more than anything else,'' Koetter said. "The No. 1 thing anyone should be thinking about is safety for everyone involved. Not just our people, but everybody's families and communities. This is a natural disaster. Football takes a backseat to all that.

"This isn't going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11. You know, if we're 10-0 or 0-10. We'll be feeling different about ourselves. If we're 10-0, we probably will want to keep playing. If we're 0-10, I probably won't be standing here. Let's just be real about it. We've got a hurricane. We're dealing with it and move on.''

Preparations for Irma aside, there are positive and negative ramifications for the Bucs to the league's decision to postpone the game, rather than play it at a neutral site such as New Orleans, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, which had been discussed.

First the negative. The Bucs will have had only two full practices in 12 days when they return next week. Starters such as Jameis Winston did not play in the final preseason game, meaning their timing and conditioning could suffer.

"I think the biggest concern right now, take the hurricane out of it, would just be that Chicago will have played a game and we haven't, so I think your conditioning level, we've been off for a few days,'' Koetter said. "But that's things we don't have control over and we've got to do the best we can.''

The other unknown is what impact playing 16 straight weeks will have on the Bucs? There is precedent for the NFL's decision. In 1992, the Patriots were scheduled to play at Miami for the regular-season opener but Hurricane Andrew forced the league to postpone the game until their shared bye week.

"I just know how it is when we get ready for a game, it's a lot on our bodies,'' said Bucs defensive tackle Chris Baker. "To go 16 straight weeks without a break is really tough. You look forward to that bye week just to get away from football a little bit, let your body rest.

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"A lot of us have families so it wouldn't make sense for us to leave our families and go play a football game when we couldn't fly back with the hurricane coming. It's a really tough situation for the NFL and us players also. But I think they should make a better decision than to just say, 'Just deal with it.' You guys don't see us Monday through Friday when we're in a lot of pain. Our wives have to help us up and down the steps. Our knees are hurting, elbows are hurting. To say suck it up and play, you don't know what we go through.''

The other impact of the decision surrounds Doug Martin, who is suspended the first three games for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy. Martin would have returned for the Oct. 1 game against the New York Giants. Because of the postponement, he will have a short week to prepare for his return in an Oct. 5 game against the New England Patriots at Raymond James Stadium.

"There's all kinds of sidebar issues like that. I'm sure there's more than that. Our guys are going to scatter here this afternoon and who knows when we'll be able to get them all back? There's lots of little things that are going to come up. Just like anything else, just like a football game. Guess what? We've got to adjust and we've got to deal with it. No one is going to feel sorry for us. I've talked to a ton of people today and there is a precedents for teams playing 15 or 16 games in a row. And you know what? Most of those teams have done pretty well.''

The positive to not playing this week is that the Bucs will have more time to get some injured players healthy. Tackle Demar Dotson (groin), linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and defensive end Jacquies Smith (knee) all may have played Sunday but will benefit from more time off.

Also, newly signed safety D.J. Ward, who joined the Bucs Monday after being dumped by the Denver Broncos, will have an extra week to get into the playbook.

"We do have three or four guys who are banged up,'' Koetter said. "T.J. Ward is a new player. Positives are what you make of it. Okay, we've got longer to get ready for Chicago. More time to study Chicago tape. We get to watch them on film and they don't get to watch us. Right now, it's been a hectic morning and you know, everyone wants to make sure their families are safe.''

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