Head Coach Jon Gruden and the Bucs' staff will likely be faced with several game-day decisions when it comes to setting the lineup
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have contingency plans in place regarding whether or not kicker Matt Bryant chooses to play this weekend — the decision, clearly and correctly, is his to make — but Head Coach Jon Gruden is not interested in discussing those plans just yet.
Bryant's status is uncertain after the passing of his infant son, Tryson, on Wednesday morning.
"We'll address that when the time is right. Right now we're getting ready for the Green Bay Packers and dealing with a tough situation," said Gruden. "We're doing our best. We'll have a plan, but right now we're very much supporting our kicker, our friend. We will have a contingency plan if we have to. It's a tough situation. There are a lot of things that are involved and I don't really care to get into it at this point.
"We're dealing with it the best way we can right now. The big thing right now is to support Matt. It's a very, very tough situation."
There are, of course, other injury and lineup considerations for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers that can be discussed with less uncertainty.
For instance, two offensive starters — fullback B.J. Askew and wide receiver Joey Galloway — were held out of practice for the second straight day. Askew suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday's win over Chicago while Galloway is still recovering from a foot injury that held him out of the last game.
Guard Davin Joseph participated in practice again but was "very limited," according to Gruden. Joseph, the designated starter at right guard, hasn't played since injuring his foot in the second week of the preseason.
"He's coming back," said Gruden. "It wasn't perfect yesterday, it wasn't perfect today. It's a work in progress. His status for the game is still very questionable."
Defensive tackle Ryan Sims (groin) returned to the practice field in a limited fashion on Thursday after sitting out the week's opening workout. Linebacker Derrick Brooks (hamstring) was limited for a second straight day but was on the field. Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib had no problems practicing for the second straight day after missing the Chicago game with a hamstring strain.
The Packers will be without starting cornerback Al Harris, who has already been ruled out of the game due to a spleen injury suffered against Dallas on Sunday night.
Green Bay also held four other players out of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday: safety Atari Bigby (hamstring), fullback Korey Hall (knee), running back Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe). Bigby, Hall and Woodson are all starters.
A third member of the Packers' starting defensive backfield, safety Nick Collins, was limited on the practice field due to a back ailment. The same was true for starting left tackle Chad Clifton (knees) and reserve wide receiver James Jones (knee).
Gruden also addressed speculation that the Bucs might try out some new options in the return game, especially on kickoffs. In Chicago, wide receiver Michael Clayton drew the last three kickoff returns of the game after rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson slipped on each of his first two runbacks.
Gruden said that Jackson remains the primary option for both types of returns.
"No, I'm not really thinking about [making a change]," he said. "We'll have some other guys that will contribute. Whether Dexter does it exclusively or not will be something we decide when the ball is kicked Sunday afternoon. But he's a big part of our plans and we have some other guys — you've seen Ike [Hilliard] back there, you've seen Clayton back there. You might see somebody else. We're going to do it on a situational basis and we'll have a plan for each return."
Battle on the Edges
The Buccaneers' defense has recorded eight sacks through three games, which is a fine total, if not necessarily as high as the team would like it to be. That rate of sacks per game puts the Bucs on pace to get 43 this season, which would be 10 more than they totaled last year and their highest mark since they had 45 in 2004.
In terms of the NFL, that rate is middle-of-the pack; Tampa Bay's defense ranks 14th in the league in sacks recorded per pass play.
The Bucs had three sacks of Chicago's Kyle Orton on Sunday, one of which was recorded by cornerback Ronde Barber, the veteran blitzer who timed his invasion perfectly and dropped Orton for a loss of seven on the Bears' third play of the game. That was a bit of a breakthrough for the team; a wide variety of blitzes against New Orleans and Atlanta in Weeks One and Two had failed to generate any sacks.
Where the Buccaneers are getting consistent pressure from, however, is defensive end. Of the team's 8.0 sacks, 6.5 are the work of ends Greg White, Gaines Adams and Kevin Carter. White leads the way with 3.5 and has at least one in each game so far this season. Adams has added 2.0 and Carter 1.0.
White, who made a rapid rise from relative obscurity to the Bucs' leading sack artist last year, doesn't start but subs in frequently. Like Adams, he has seen action at both left and right end as the Bucs have tried to match their rushers' talents to the situation at hand. If White and Adams — the team's top speed rushers — are on the field at the same time, White will play left end if their in a base defense. In obvious passing situations, the two usually switch, with White going to right end and Adams taking over on the left.
White thinks he's a more natural fit at right end but it is expanding his game by playing both sides.
"I learn to play the run better, because that's where the ball usually comes — to the offense's right side," he said. "It gets me in the feel of the game and then I move to the right side. It works out well, and I think Gaines is pretty good on the left side, too."
The Packers have allowed only six sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers through the first three games, and if the Bucs' pass-rushing strength is on the outside than Green Bay's own strengths match up well. The Packers' offensive line is anchored by a pair of tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, who have been at their respective posts on the left and right edges for nine straight years.
"They're a veteran offensive line and they get the job done," said Adams. "That's what you ask for out offensive lineman. We have to come prepared to make tackles and be in the gaps and hopefully we'll get things done."
Ryan Sims missed Wednesday's practice, spending that time in the training room in order to receive treatment for his groin injury. Still, it was a productive day for Sims, statistically speaking.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Elias Sports Bureau — for many years, the official compiler of NFL statistics — changed the scoring on a specific play from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win in Chicago. The play received a midweek review after Buccaneers coaches submitted it for another look in order to make sure the proper players were credited for their accomplishments.
The play in question was a sack of Orton midway through the second period. It occurred one snap before Gaines Adams picked off a screen pass by Orton and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
Stat-keepers at Soldier Field credited the sack to defensive end Kevin Carter, and it's hard to blame them. At a full-speed viewing, Carter appears to get the sack without helping, shooting up the middle and running right over Orton. However, Sims could be seen celebrating after the play, and a slower replay shows why. Before Carter arrives, Sims comes around behind Orton and grabs his jersey from behind. By the time Carter is barreling over the quarterback, Sims is already pulling him backwards to the ground by his jersey.
The argument of the Bucs' coaches is that both Sims and Carter should get partial credit for the sack, and the Elias Sports Bureau, upon review, agreed.
Thus, three days after the Chicago game was over, as he reclined on a training table, Ryan Sims came up with half a sack. Carter has also been credited with half a sack.