G Davin Joseph (right) will finally rejoin his fellow 2006 draftee T Jeremy Trueblood in the starting lineup today
Third-year G Davin Joseph still has three-quarters of the 2008 season to make the big impact that was expected of him.
For the first time in this '08 campaign, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will field their intended front five, as Joseph has returned to man his right guard position and make the offensive line complete. The third-year guard, a mauler the Buccaneers view as a fast-rising star, hasn't played since suffering a foot injury in the second week of the preseason.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, rookie Jeremy Zuttah, a third-round pick out of Rutgers, filled in admirably during Joseph's absence, helping the Buccaneers go two straight games without allowing a sack. Zuttah obviously has a bright future in the NFL, but the Bucs are pleased to have one of their best players back on the field.
"We have the youngest offensive line in football, and they've played well," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We've been good, but we need to get better, and I think we will. Davin Joseph is a heck of a player and we're happy to have him back. I can't say enough about how Jeremy Zuttah played."
All three players who were listed as "out" or "doubtful" on Friday's injury report – FB B.J. Askew (hamstring), WR Joey Galloway (foot) and S Sabby Piscitelli (elbow) – are indeed out for today's game. However, all three Bucs listed as "questionable" will be able to play, including Joseph. Linebacker Derrick Brooks (hamstring) will also suit up, extending his career-long streak of consecutive games played to 213, and reserve DT Ryan Sims (groin) will return after a one-game absence.
With Galloway out, Antonio Bryant will once again move from the flanker spot to split end. WR Michael Clayton will get the start at flanker after Bryant's switch. Second-year man Byron Storer will make his second consecutive start at fullback in Askew's absence.
In addition to Askew, Galloway and Piscitelli, the Bucs have named the following five players inactive: QB Josh Johnson, G/T Anthony Davis, T James Lee, DT Greg Peterson and designated third quarterback Luke McCown.
That inactive list reveals several other depth chart notes. For the first time since he was replaced as the starting quarterback by Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia will be active on game day as the primary substitute.
Davis has been deactivated for the first time this season, and that's apparently part of the decision to start Joseph. Since the team has to be prepared for the possibility of Joseph's injured foot not reacting well to his return, it will keep both Zuttah and fellow interior lineman Sean Mahan active. With both Davis and Lee out, the Bucs' depth chart appears to be empty behind starting tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. Presumably, if one of the tackles has to leave the game, the Bucs could rely on Zuttah, Joseph or Arron Sears, three players who manned the tackle position in college.
The only change to the Broncos' starting lineup is at fullback, where Spencer Larsen will start in place of injured rookie Peyton Hillis. Hillis is one of Denver's eight inactive players for today's game; the others are RB Ryan Torain, T Erik Pears, G Dylan Gandy, WR Darrell Jackson, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Josh Shaw and DE Tim Crowder. Torain, Jackson and Shaw are also out due to injuries.
Today's game will mark the Bucs' first time they have faced young Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, who is fast developing into one of the league's top passers. Cutler has already thrown for 1,275 yards and nine touchdowns through Denver's first four games, and Gruden expects the former Vanderbilt star to continue his prolific ways this season.
"We loved him at Vandy," said Gruden. "He's a great quarterback. He's a young Brett Favre. He's got great charisma, he's very mobile and a big arm. He's got a quick release and great torque. He can make all the throws. I think his team loves him, which is big."
The Broncos have the league's number-one offense through the first quarter of the season, and their passing attack, with young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, has been particularly potent. But the Buccaneers are as confident as always on defense and intend to counter aggression with aggression.
"They're a very good team, a very good offense, but you can't be a basket case coming in here," said Gruden. "We just have to play our game. We're going to face a lot of good offenses this year, and if we can't stop them, then we don't deserve to win."
The Buccaneers and Broncos will kick off at 4:05 p.m. ET. You'll find the NFL.com Game Center, complete with live play-by-play and statistical updates, at this location once the game has begun. On the Buccaneers.com home page, 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.