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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Healthy Defense

The Bucs hope to be at full strength defensively against a dangerous Bengals offense on Sunday, and Friday’s practice was encouraging in that regard

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CB Juran Bolden practiced on Thursday and Friday, increasing his chances of playing on Sunday

Despite a lengthy injury report, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense has a chance to be intact on Sunday when the Bucs take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium.

Three defensive starters and the primary nickel back are on Tampa Bay's official injury report for the week, which runs 11 men deep. Three of those four – defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerbacks Juran Bolden and Brian Kelly – are considered questionable to play. However, all three made progress at the end of the week.

Bolden, who has a hip ailment, was held out of Wednesday's practice but was back on the field Thursday and Friday. Kelly, who has been playing through a turf toe injury but has missed two of the Bucs' first four games, was out for the two workouts of the week but returned Friday. Both could play on Sunday.

"They practiced today and I believe they'll be ready to go," said Gruden of Bolden and Kelly. "I'm confident they will; we'll see what they do in the morning."

Gruden also confirmed that Rice returned to practice on Friday after sitting out the Wednesday and Thursday sessions. He, like Bolden and Kelly, will remain on the questionable portion of the injury report but will be aiming at suiting up against the Bengals.

Of course, the Bucs are hoping to be at full strength on defense given the opponent that's on tap. The Bengals may currently be ranked just 17th on offense, but they have one of the most impressive collections of talent on that side of the ball in the NFL: Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and a strong offensive line anchored by tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones.

The Buccaneers believe their own defensive ranking (20th) is misleading, too – not in terms of how they've played this season but the level at which they expect to play. With much of the same personnel, Tampa Bay finished first in the NFL's defensive rankings in 2005, extending its near-record streak to nine consecutive placements in the league's defensive top 10.

The Bucs' struggles in 2006 have come mostly against the run, where they are allowing 163.3 yards per game through the first month. Poor tackling plagued the team in its narrow loss at New Orleans, and that in turn led to speculation that the Bucs might make some changes to the starting lineup. Gruden didn't specifically confirm or deny that thought on Friday, though he seemed to indicate that he remained confident in the personnel the team has been putting on the field – and for good reason.

"I can't comment on that other than you'll see the same cast of characters and we might shuffle them around a little bit to try to do some new things here and there," he said. "We're going to go with our guys. We've got a lot of confidence in them and we expect them to play a great game Sunday."

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