WR Joey Galloway will likely have to play through pain from his groin injury for the rest of the season
Jon Gruden passed out candy and critiqued costumes on Sunday night, but he didn't dress up for Halloween himself. The only extra accessory Gruden wants to wear on a Sunday is a headset.
The bye week has never been a real favorite for Gruden, who would just as soon keep the football rolling all fall and into the winter. Still, he understands the importance of using the midseason downtime to full effect for his football team. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned to practice on Monday morning, Gruden was just glad to be back on the field, but also pleased to see a re-energized group of players.
"We're pretty refreshed and recharged, I think," he said. "We had a good turnout, got good work done today and we're looking forward to the challenge ahead."
That challenge is the Kansas City Chiefs. As part of their long and restful weekend, before the trick-or-treaters started making the rounds, the Bucs got to watch their next opponent topple Indianapolis in a wild, 45-35, shootout. That comes a week after the Chiefs demolished Atlanta, 56-10.
While the Bucs were getting a little juice back in their legs, their most immediate task was becoming very well-defined in front of their eyes.
"That's back-to-back incredible shows they've put on offensively, and I think their defense is much improved, although Peyton [Manning] made some big plays yesterday," said Gruden. "They entered the game, I think, seventh or eighth in the league against the pass. With [Defensive Coordinator] Gunther Cunningham at the helm, they've improved tremendously, in my opinion.
"Their offensive prowess is well-documented. They can run it, they can throw it, they can pass-protect and they've got star power at a lot of key positions, which is going to be a challenge for us."
Tampa Bay's Monday morning workout was a 'bonus practice,' preceding the usual Wednesday-Friday preparations that will zero in more specifically on the Chiefs and the problems they pose. Before taking their three-day weekend off, Buc players also practiced twice last Wednesday and Thursday, focusing internally on fundamentals and new chapters of the playbook. That work could be as important as this week's practices in the long run, according to linebacker Derrick Brooks.
"You respect, obviously, what Kansas City has done," said Brooks. "But as always, the issue is about us. We worry about the things that we control, and that's how we play. We respect what they've done, but at the same time, those teams [that lost to Kansas City] are not us. That's where our focus has been, getting back to the basics of what we do and making sure we operate and execute our offense, our defense and our special teams."
Last year, the Buccaneers came out firing after their bye week, building a 35-14 lead over Indianapolis on Monday Night Football before memorably falling in the face of a stunning Colts comeback. That 38-35 loss marked the first time a Gruden-coached team has lost coming off a bye; he won all four such contests as the head man in Oakland (1998-2001) and his first at the Bucs' helm in 2002.
That would seem to be evidence that Gruden and his staff knows how to handle the off week, how to balance the ideas of extra work and extra rest. Gruden knows his team has to confirm this all over again, though, and with a very tough opponent waiting at the other end.
"You have to prove that you managed the bye properly to get some men healthy and obviously advance your team a little bit on the upcoming opponent," said Gruden. "Hopefully, we've done that. We know we've got a great challenge coming in here Sunday, a juggernaut on offense and a much improved, confident defense."
"I think the bye week is what it is. You can use it as an excuse to play bad or a reason to play good."
Green Light for Galloway?
Every team hopes to come out of its bye week with a healthier roster, and it's almost certain that the Bucs have. What is less certain is how quickly its more prominent injury concerns will be erased.
Most notably, wide receiver Joey Galloway returned to practice last week and was on the field again on Monday. An opening-day starter and one of the fastest men in the NFL, Galloway was hurt in the first half of the season's first game, at Washington. A torn groin muscle has kept him out of action since, but the Bucs have long hoped that he would be ready to return some time after the bye.
It's not yet certain whether that will be this week.
"I would say he's very questionable," said Gruden, who doesn't have to release an official injury report until Wednesday. "His status is very much in limbo. We're pleased to have him out here moving around. He's still somewhat methodical and the chances of him playing in this game are probably very, very questionable."
Galloway, a 10th-year veteran, has twice been through the long rehab process necessary to heal a torn knee muscle, but his current injury and its demands are new to him. He doesn't expect to be fully healed for six months and believes he'll play the rest of the season in some degree of pain.
On Monday, he also wasn't ready to make a prediction about Sunday's game.
"I'm getting there," said Galloway. "I'm still sore. I've got to work my way back into it. This is my third practice, so I think it's way too early to say whether I'll be ready to go or not."
Quarterback Brian Griese, who will be making his third start as a Buccaneer on Sunday, has not yet worked with Galloway in a game. Brad Johnson was the starter during the opener before being replaced by Chris Simms in Week Five. When Simms went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter of that contest in New Orleans, Griese took over and has been exceedingly sharp ever since.
He would welcome a chance to utilize Galloway's unique gifts during a game, but he has been wary so far about stretching out the speed receiver in practice.
"If he's healthy, it gives us a deep element, no doubt," said Griese. "But Joey's game is speed and he needs to be at 100% to go full-speed, and hopefully he'll be that."
He will, or he won't be on the field.
"As I run and as I do things out here, it hurts," said Galloway. "I think that's just going to be part of it. When it's ready to go, when the trainers and I decide it's ready to go, then I'll be out there full-blast."
Since his injury, Simms has been limited on the practice field to running through mental reps with assistant coaches after the main workout was done. He still hasn't fully tested out his injured throwing shoulder, but that process will begin this week.
"He's able to throw and we think on Wednesday we'll put him through his first rigorous workout in some time," said Gruden. "We'll get a much more defined picture on where he is at that stage."
The Bucs will also bring guard Matt O'Dwyer back to practice on Wednesday. O'Dwyer has been on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list since suffering a weight-room injury to his chest, which meant he wasn't eligible to return until at least six weeks of the season had elapsed. Now that he is returning to practice, the team will have 21 days to determine whether to make a spot for him on the 53-man active roster or put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Wide receiver Charles Lee, who suffered a knee injury in St. Louis and didn't play in the Chicago game that followed, will be on Wednesday's injury report, probably under the questionable heading. He practiced in limited fashion on Monday. Fullback Mike Alstott is in the early stages of recovery from a knee injury that will keep him out at least four weeks.