By Alex Butler
MIAMI, Feb. 6 (UPI) — The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers simulated the speed of each other’s respective playmakers, prepared for changes in game tempo and altered their play-calling techniques this week for Sunday’s Super Bowl LV.
Tampa Bay and Kansas City remained at their home facilities throughout the week as a safety precaution for COVID-19. The Buccaneers will play in their home stadium for the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are to arrive in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday.
Despite the major changes in the format for a typical Super Bowl week, the teams have used the time to progressively ramp up their energy so they are at peak performance levels when the game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EST at Raymond James Stadium.
The Buccaneers and Chiefs must not only be in great physical shape, but also in top mental form when they compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
“It’s a slow build-up, I think, for this game,” Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady told reporters Thursday during Zoom conference call. “It’s two weeks of preparation.
“You feel like the physical stuff is pretty much done. At this point, it’s just going through in your head different situations, scenarios, all your different calls that you have, just thinking about how they’re going to play us. … You really can’t leave any stone unturned.”
Buccaneers simulate speed
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill is one of the toughest matchups in the NFL for opposing defenders. Hill is lightning-fast and has freakish lateral agility, which allows him to run past defenders often forces missed tackles.
Not many teams have been able to contain the 5-foot-10, 185-pound playmaker, but the Buccaneers prepared to handle the All-Pro in an inventive way.
Tampa Bay used practice squad wide receiver Cyril Grayson as a clone for Hill in practice. Grayson, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound LSU product, won four national championships as a college track star.
“He a 4.25-second guy,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said in a Thursday practice pool report, referring to Grayson’s time in the 40-yard dash.
Hill had a career-high 17 touchdowns this season. He also led the NFL with an average of 14 yards gained every time he touched the ball. NFL Next Gen Stats clocked Hill’s sprint at nearly 22 MPH during a 44-yard catch he made in Week 14.
The Buccaneers will need to limit Hill if they hope to keep up with the Chiefs’ offense. Hill had 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ win over the Buccaneers on Nov. 29.
“It didn’t work out the first game, as far as what we did and our game plan, but we’ve corrected it and we’ve got a great game plan going in,” Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis told reporters Tuesday in a Zoom conference.
“I’m going in with the same mentality and that’s to dominate.”
Tampa Bay also used practice squad tight end Codey McElroy as a clone of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. McElroy is a 6-foot-6, 255-pound former college basketball player. Kelce is 6-foot-5, 260-pound former high school basketball player.
Teams prepare for pauses
The Buccaneers and Chiefs also simulated stoppages in play.
Teams will have more downtime after pregame warmups. They also will have an extended halftime because of the halftime show. Players must remain limber at those times so they could get injured during the game and hurt their respective teams’ chance to win the game.
Arians on Wednesday stopped practice midway through the session and had players stay indoors for more than 25 minutes before they resumed activities.
“We wanted to go over the exact timing of the pregame, how long we’re out on the field just standing there,” Arians said in Wednesday’s pool report.
“[We went over] how long we’re going to be in the locker room at halftime and how we’re going to handle our stretching and going back out.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said his team also rehearsed for the interruptions. The Chiefs, however, were forced inside Thursday for another reason: snow in the Kansas City, Mo., area.
Changes in play-calling
Kansas City and Tampa Bay will play in front of the largest crowd they’ve seen this season, when 22,000 people visit Raymond James Stadium, about 30% of the stadium’s capacity.
The Buccaneers blared recordings of crowd noise through speakers at their Thursday practice session. Arians said the team will use hand signals more frequently to relay play calls from the sideline and on the field because it will be too hard to hear coaches’ and players’ voices.
Kelce said Reid has had his team’s full game plan in force for two weeks, noting that the Chiefs’ offense has concentrated limiting turnovers and consistently scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
Reid said that the Chiefs will strategize for the Super Bowl as if it were a typical away game before they travel to Tampa.
“It’s similar. We just won’t be [at practice] the whole day [on Saturday],” Reid told reporters on a Thursday Zoom call.
“We’ll come down in the afternoon and we’ll go through our normal procedure that we do for a road game. That’s kind of the card that you’re dealt here, and that’s O.K. We’re good with that.”
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