After a layoff of about a month, rookie G Davin Joseph is happy simply to be mixing it up on the practice field once again
Will Davin Joseph make his first NFL start against Cincinnati on Sunday, one week after getting his feet wet with a few snaps in New Orleans?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden says "that's the plan," but Joseph himself wasn't willing to confirm any such thing on Wednesday afternoon. Still, the gregarious rookie had a big smile in the locker room after practice (as usual), and he couldn't hide his excitement about being back at work.
"It's a heck of a chance to play football for a great team and for a great head coach," said Joseph, when asked how it would feel to make his first start. "It's one of those things you dream about, and now it could possibly come true. But just being out here with the guys, playing every day…I had that taken away from me for awhile but now I've got it back."
Joseph won the starting right guard job on the Bucs' offensive line with an outstanding training camp that confirmed the scouting report that led to his selection in the first round of the 2006 draft. Four days before he was going to make his first regular-season start in the opener against Baltimore, Joseph suffered a right knee injury on the practice field and had his efforts shunted to the rehab room.
After three games and the Bucs' bye week, Joseph was cleared to play last weekend in New Orleans. He didn't start, but he was used in a few short-yardage situations, filling in at right guard as starter Sean Mahan moved down to the end of the line as an extra tight end. That went well, Joseph was no worse for the wear after the game, and the plan to put him back into the lineup, as originally intended moved forward.
"Provided he has a good week of practice and no set-backs, the plan is to start him," said Gruden. "We're anxious to see him play, obviously. We had big hopes for him, obviously, leaving training camp. He had a great camp for us and he's a good football player. He's a little bit rusty, obviously, with the layoff, but he's practiced well here the last five or six days and to have him back gives us a guy we think is going to be a heck of a football player for us for a long time."
Joseph was just anxious to get his feet back under him on the practice field. His NFL dream was deferred by a month, but things have felt right again the last two weeks.
"You're out there hearing the calls and seeing how fast everything goes," said Joseph. "It's a combination of mental and physical preparation that everybody goes through every week.
"I knew I would be back soon. It didn't keep me down too long because I knew it wasn't going to be a season-ending type of deal. I knew I was going to come back and hopefully be stronger than I was."
If Joseph does start, the Bucs will have an all-rookie right side of the line. While Joseph was dipping his toes into the water against the Saints, second-round tackle Jeremy Trueblood was diving fully into action, playing right tackle against skilled pass-rusher Charles Grant and more than holding his own. Trueblood's own timetable to crack the starting lineup sped up considerably when starter Kenyatta Walker was placed on injured reserve due to a knee ailment during the bye week.
The Bucs would be happy to see Joseph have as strong of a debut as his fellow rookie.
"He did some good things," said Gruden of Trueblood's efforts in New Orleans. "I was very pleased with him. That's a hard place to play. It was very loud. Charles Grant's an excellent player and has been for a long time. [Trueblood] had some very good snaps against him and we were able to do some things offensively. When you have a day like that, it's usually attributed to the guys up front. I was really pleased with his first start."
As pleased as the Bucs are with Joseph's progress, there was less promising information on the rest of the team's official injury report, which Gruden rattled off after practice. The team's longest injury list of the season includes eight players who are considered questionable to play or worse.
Quarterback Chris Simms, obviously, has been ruled out of the game following the spleen injury he suffered against Carolina on September 24 and his subsequent splenectomy. The team still has no specific timetable for Simms' return and rookie Bruce Gradkowski remains the starter for the foreseeable future.
While Joseph and linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) are both considered probable to play, seven others are questionable, including starters Brian Kelly and Simeon Rice. Kelly has already missed two games this season due to a nagging turf toe injury but was able to play in New Orleans. Rice is dealing with a shoulder injury but has appeared in every game so far.
Tight end Dave Moore, the team's opening-day long-snapper, has been upgraded to questionable as he seeks to return from a significant rib injury suffered against Baltimore on September 10. That issue is complicated by the sudden appearance on the injury report of replacement long-snapper Andrew Economos, now questionable with a knee injury. Rounding out the list of questionables are cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones (hamstring) and rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall (back).
In addition to Simms, obviously, Bolden, Jones, Kelly, Rice and Stovall were held out of the full-team portions of practice on Wednesday. That slimmed-down roster made it a bit more difficult for the team to complete all of the work it had hoped to do on Wednesday, including drills to work on tackling, which was something of an issue against the Saints.
"We're not going to have open-field live tackling on the practice field with [all] the guys I just mentioned who are hurt," said Gruden. "We emphasize it the best way that we can."