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  1. Bucs

Lovie Smith misses Bucs practice for funeral

TAMPA — Coach Lovie Smith left the Bucs Thursday to travel to Ohio to attend the funeral of his father-in-law, Robert A. Ford, 91, who died last week.

Mr. Ford served three years with the Army in World War II, according to his obituary. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Margaret Ann, as well as five children, including Smith's wife, MaryAnne.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier ran practice in Smith's absence. Smith was scheduled to return Thursday night.

"I know you're aware of coach's situation and our prayers and thoughts are with him and his family," Frazier said. "They're going through a difficult time."

DT Gerald McCoy said players also were thinking about Smith's family. "He's kind of left it on our leaders to keep things going today and that's what we're going to do," he said. "We're definitely thinking about him and we're going to do everything we can to make sure we have a great day."

Said Frazier: "We had a good, spirited practice this afternoon. A lot of enthusiasm by a lot of our guys who are anxious to get back on the field and get a home win in front of our fans."

INJURIES: CB Johnthan Banks and WR Vincent Jackson were sidelined from a second straight day of practice, putting their status for Sunday's home game against the Ravens in doubt.

Banks had soreness in his neck after Sunday's loss at New Orleans, and Jackson is dealing with a rib injury, coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday. Three other players — S Dashon Goldson (ankle), QB Josh McCown (thumb) and LB Jonathan Casillas (hamstring) — were held out Thursday as well.

On the recovering side, rookie WR Mike Evans (groin) and LB Mason Foster both practiced, an encouraging step toward them playing against the Ravens after being sidelined last week. Foster has missed the past three games with a shoulder injury.

STRATEGY HURTS KOENEN'S AVERAGE: Michael Koenen, who ranks last in the NFL with an average of 42.5 yards, says the team has shifted its punting strategy. "We've put a little bit of an emphasis on getting fair catches, to get the ball out of their hands, trying to limit returns," Koenen said. "Definitely the less chances they get to return the ball, the better for us."

Bucs opponents have seven fair catches in Koenen's 20 punts this season — that 35 percent ties for the seventh-best mark in the NFL, so to that extent, the Bucs have followed their strategy. But in net punting — which calculates the opponents' starting position from where the ball was kicked, factoring in returns — Koenen still averages just 35.5 yards, ranking 30th out of 33 punters in the league.

"Your net's not as high, but I've never been a statistical punter," Koenen said. "It's hang the ball up, get it on the sideline, cause fair catches, take the ball out of their hands. I'm more than willing to do that."