|Bucs get back on field after hurricane disruption, face Bears|
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just three practices in a 15-day span due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Irma. Many key starters didn't play in the final two preseason games, so the Sunday home contest against the Chicago Bears will be their first action in 22 days.
Rest or rust?
We are about to find out.
The Bucs' scheduled opener at Miami was moved to November because of Irma's approach toward South Florida, and many players fled the state to protect their families. Now they will begin the franchise's 42nd NFL season with plenty of fascinating unanswered questions when the Bears (0-1) visit Raymond James Stadium after a 23-17 home loss against the Atlanta Falcons.
Do the Bucs have a preparation edge? Are the Bears better equipped, mentally and physically, because of the Bucs' disjointed schedule? Then there is the X-factor: Have the Bears acquired valuable intelligence from quarterback Mike Glennon, who played in Tampa Bay from 2013-16?
Bears coach John Fox said he believes the Bucs gained a strategic advantage. He has mostly seen vanilla film of his opponent, while the Bucs already have carefully dissected Chicago's opener.
"We saw them and they didn't see us," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "But most people think teams make the biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. So it's all talk.
According to Koetter, "The body was sort of telling you we should be out there playing" as he watched the NFL's opening weekend. At the same time, he has made his peace with the league's decision to move the original opener, which means the Bucs must play 16 consecutive games without a bye week.
He said he was happy with the pace and spirit exhibited during Tampa Bay's Wednesday practice.
"First and foremost, it's good to know that everyone and their families are safe," Koetter said. "Football sort of takes a back seat. A lot of people got it worse than we did (in the Tampa Bay area).
"Now we're back and working. We can't buy more time, and we can't overwork them. We just have to get ready. It is what it is."
Koetter joked that Tampa Bay's injury report "will never be this clean again" because the only listing was limited practice participation by reserve linebacker Devante Bond.
The Bucs are healthy. But are they ready?
"It's not going to be perfect," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "But we're professionals, so it doesn't matter."
Third-year Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who didn't play in the team's final preseason game, is the only player in NFL history with 4,000-yard passing performances in each of his first two seasons. He has a new target in 10-year veteran DeSean Jackson, who will team with Mike Evans (96 catches for 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016).
Jackson and Evans sat out the team's final two preseason games.
"It's not like we forgot how to play football," Evans said. "I think at the end of the day, we'll be all right."
The precision of the Winston-led offense will be a focal point, but the real intrigue could lie in how Glennon attacks the Tampa Bay defense.
Glennon, who was 26 of 40 for 213 yards against the Falcons, started 18 games for the Bucs in 2013-14. After Winston's arrival as the draft's No. 1 overall pick, Glennon didn't play at all in 2015 and attempted just 11 passes in the 2016 regular season.
"It's a really good defense, obviously one I've gone up against with the scout team," said Glennon, who signed with the Bears as a free agent. "I feel like I know their defense well, but it's a little different when you start game-planning. They know my strengths and weaknesses, and that adds another dimension to it."
Koetter praised Chicago's backfield duo of rookie Tarik Cohen (113 yards from scrimmage against Atlanta) and Jordan Howard (52 yards) but said Glennon's presence "adds a little bit of mystery" to the matchup.
"When Mike left, we had an oath that he was sworn to secrecy," Koetter said with a wry smile. "But we'll see."
Regardless of the opponent, Koetter said he is grateful to have a real game -- finally.
"Let's play some football," Koetter said. "That's what we all came here for, right?"