G Davin Joseph hasn't played since suffering a knee injury in practice before the opener, but he could return soon
After missing the team's first three games of the season with an injured right knee, Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round draft pick Davin Joseph might see action against the New Orleans Saints this weekend but won't be in the starting lineup, Head Coach Jon Gruden revealed Friday after practice.
"I think [Joseph] is going to be a great player; he's just got to get active," Gruden said. "He has a chance to be active for this game. He won't start but there is a chance he'll be active. He's closing in on his return. He's made some real leaps and bounds in his recovery and we're really impressed with what we see."
The announcement apparently ends speculation – at least for this week – that the Buccaneers would start three rookies on offense for the second time in two years. Last season, the Buccaneers started running back Cadillac Williams, tight end Alex Smith and left guard Dan Buenning. Sunday, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and second-round pick Jeremy Trueblood will make the first starts of their respective careers.
Though the Buccaneers will not announce their starting lineups until Sunday, guard Sean Mahan is expected to again start in place of Joseph.
Unable to play, the past five weeks have been tough for the ultra-competitive Joseph who has worked hard rehabbing the knee he injured in practice four days before the team's season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. At the time, Gruden called the mishap a rare occurrence where a defender landed on Joseph's extended leg. Fortunately, an MRI revealed no extensive damage to the rookie's knee, and since then Joseph has committed himself to rejoining his teammates on the field.
"His conditioning is not a problem," said Gruden, commenting on if Joseph would be in "football shape" after missing the first quarter of the season.
Already having lost Buenning in the team's final preseason game, the Buccaneers were forced to scramble their offensive line when Joseph – the slated opening day starter at right guard – went down. The result was a less-than-stellar performance against the Ravens by an offensive line that suffered from a lack of continuity. Since that time, the offensive line has steadily improved, buoyed by the return of Buenning in Week Two.
This week, the offensive line continued to suffer its share of injuries, with Gruden announcing starting right tackle Kenyatta Walker's move to the injured reserve list after undergoing knee surgery during the team's bye week. In his place, Trueblood will start, meaning the Buccaneers could have the right side of their offensive line manned by rookies if Joseph does enter Sunday's game.
And while the Buccaneers may not have planned for the inexperienced Trueblood and Joseph to be side-by-side so early in the season, the potential pairing might provide the team's fans a glimpse into the future of the Buccaneers. Between the second-year Buenning, third-year left tackle Anthony Davis, Trueblood and possible Joseph, the Buccaneers offensive line will undoubtedly be the youngest in the league. That fact may lead to some miscues, but it also means that these young players can begin building much-needed continuity and getting a feel for one another this Sunday.