WR Antonio Bryant could help the Bucs replace WR Joey Galloway's output during Galloway's absence due to a foot injury
Joey Galloway will not play today for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That's not news. What could be the key piece of new information today, though, is who will step up – if anybody – in Galloway's absence.
The Buccaneers will take on the Chicago Bears today in Soldier Field without their leading receiver of the last three seasons, and their one established deep threat. The candidates to pick up the slack include a quartet of veterans: Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall.
Hilliard, a starter for all of last season, will resume his spot in the opening 11, taking over at flanker, where Antonio Bryant has been starting. In turn, Bryant will move to the split end spot usually occupied by Galloway. It may be the physically gifted Bryant, who has three catches for 43 yards through the first two games, who will emerge as the new big-play weapon.
The Buccaneers signed Bryant this past spring after he sat out the 2007 NFL season. A former 1,000-yard receiver in Cleveland, Bryant has impressed the coaching staff with his natural abilities, which believes he can once again be an impact receiver in the NFL.
"We liked him a lot coming out of Pitt, to be honest," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's a real talent. He's had some issues in his career, but we brought him in for a weekend in the offseason and talked about his future, not his past. He is taking this very seriously. He comes in at 6:00 a.m. and works with [Wide Receivers Coach] Richard Mann. He wants to succeed and he has been blessed with great ability. We're going to need him, today and this season."
The Bucs' receivers and tight ends, including former Bear John Gilmore and the just-activated Jerramy Stevens, could be put on the spot if Chicago's surprising defensive tendencies force the visiting team to the air. The Bears have played an enormously aggressive style of defense so far this year, bringing their linebackers right up to the line of scrimmage and into the gaps between their defensive linemen.
"It's hard to run against that," said Gruden. "It's hard to protect the quarterback, too, if you don't know what you're doing. We're going to have to pick up blitzes and know our assignments, and we have spent tons of walk-through reps working on those things. We have to be ready. A lot of teams have blitzes, but this team has guys that finish blitzes."
Among those pressuring defenders are Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and safety Mike Brown. Those three are supremely good at shooting the gaps and physically dominating their opponents. Gruden says the Buccaneers will counter by applying pressure of its own kind.
"We're going to be aggressive on offense against them, too," he said. "We want to blitz them. Whether we're running the ball or passing it, we have to go into this ready to play a physical game. We want to attack them. We worked on that all week; we're not just going to sit back and let them do what they want to do. It may be tough sledding at times, but we're confident. We think we've got a good team."
Brian Griese, who played for the Bears in 2006 and 2007 will make his second consecutive start for the Buccaneers. Luke McCown will be the active backup and Jeff Garcia, who started the season opener, will be the inactive third quarterback. Tampa Bay's other seven inactives are: Galloway, QB Josh Johnson, CB Aqib Talib, RB Michael Bennett, G Davin Joseph, T James Lee and DT Greg Peterson.
Two Buccaneers will appear in the first games of the season. Stevens sat out the first two games on a league suspension but was added back to the 53-man roster on Tuesday. The team released TE Ben Troupe to make room. The Bucs also made a switch at cornerback, prompted by the one-game suspension slapped on rookie Elbert Mack. First-year CB Marcus Hamilton was promoted from the active roster to take Mack's temporarily vacant spot and will be among the 45 active players today.
Hamilton could play quite a bit, too. With Talib out due to the hamstring strain he sustained a week ago against Atlanta, Hamilton appears to be the primary nickel back. The Bucs could use some other combinations, as well, utilizing third safety Sabby Piscitelli or starting free safety Tanard Jackson in coverage.
The Bears have no changes in their starting lineup today. However, they will be without one of their key players, as dangerous return man Devin Hester will be held out due to a ribs injury. Hester has also been working into the Bears' rotation at receiver but it is on special teams, where he has 12 touchdowns in just a little over two seasons, that he usually makes his greatest impact.
In addition to Hester, the Bears have named the following eight inactives for today's game: S Craig Steltz, G Dan Buenning, T Chris Williams, DT Matt Toeaina, WR Earl Bennett and DT Anthony Adams. Steltz and Williams are also out due to injury.
The Buccaneers and Bears will get underway shortly, with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post a review of all the action at halftime and an extensive game story, with links for stats, photos, scoring information and more, shortly after the final whistle.