Given WR Joey Galloway's success against the Saints the last two years, the Buccaneers are eager to have their number one receiver on the field for the opener
Head Coach Jon Gruden created the nickname of training camp this summer when he compared injured wide receiver Joey Galloway to a rare white tiger at the zoo.
Galloway spent most of training camp on the sidelines, running wind sprints or simply resting his legs in order to recover from a nagging groin injury. When Gruden affectionately called his top receiver the White Tiger, he seemed to be implying that both creatures, while not always on display, are worth coming to see when they finally come out into the open.
Galloway has a different interpretation.
"When you go to see the White Tiger, there are always posted times of when he gets to eat," said the Bucs' veteran wideout, unsuccessfully trying to deliver the line with a straight face. "The zookeeper posts those times, and Coach is the zookeeper. That's what he's trying to say: It's his decision when I get to eat. Now, I hope I get to eat on Sunday, but we will see."
Galloway hadn't been in front of the media for a few weeks, so his chat on Wednesday morning was also a bit like letting the tiger out of the cage. He didn't disappoint, getting off a number of good lines in his usual deadpan demeanor. He wasn't joking with his central point, however; it will be Gruden, with advice from the Bucs' training staff, who will determine if Galloway will play against New Orleans after being shelved for the entire preseason.
It seems likely that Galloway will suit up for the opener. Ostensibly, he and the team took the conservative route in August for the very purpose of getting their deep threat on the field for the beginning of the regular season. Galloway believes he is ready but still must wait to get the go-ahead.
"I'm lobbying to be out there on Sunday," he said. "Again, that's his call. All I can do is prepare and hope to be ready, and at the end of the day on Sunday it will be a game-time decision that he'll make."
Galloway seems relatively unconcerned about the absence of any tune-up action this past month, and it's fair to note that many starters around the league play only a limited number of snaps in the preseason even when healthy. The concern is that it might take any player in that situation a game or two to get back into the flow of the game, but Galloway insists that's not really an option.
"If you're a player, you want to play any time you get a chance to play," he said. "You've got 16 shots at it to try to get to the postseason. So there is no 'get a feel for it;' if you're one of the guys that Coach says is playing on that day, then you're up and ready to go and giving the team the best chance to win.
"I think any time you enter into a season, everybody's going to have a little rust. It's not something that's on my mind. I'm going to go out and I'm going to compete as hard as I can, give it everything I have and hopefully that's enough."
Galloway says he feels healthy, and he has been practicing for more than a week without any hint of a setback. He hasn't had any trouble integrating himself back into the offense or the locker-room scene.
"The funny part is, these guys in the locker room are more understanding than Coach is. These guys sort of smirk and laugh, and they say, 'As long as you're ready on Sunday everything's okay. Now, the zookeeper's a little different. He likes to see you out there. Those days when I didn't practice, boy he would give it to me later at night. These guys in here, I think they trust me."
He might have a little extra motivation to take the field in the Superdome, given the eye-opening numbers he has put up against the Saints over the last two years. In the Bucs' four games against New Orleans in 2006-07, Galloway caught 19 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an incredible 26.4 yards per reception and getting at least 97 yards in each game.
The only game among those four in which Galloway didn't score was the Bucs' most recent trip to New Orleans, in Week 13 of last year. But he did contribute seven catches for 159 yards in that contest and was one of the main reasons the Bucs were able to leave with a 27-24 victory that essentially clinched the NFC South title. Less happily, the Bucs got only one playoff game out of that division championship, falling to the Giants in the first round. Galloway was a non-factor in the game thanks to a significant shoulder injury, and the Bucs' offense clearly felt his absence.
That too might seem to push Galloway to get back onto the field, but he reiterated that such a decision isn't really in his hands.
"My motivation's always the same," he said. "Each and every time we get a chance to compete I want to give the team the best chance to win. Hopefully that's with me on the field. If Coach makes a decision that someone else would give us a chance on that day, then I'll listen to what he says and go with that. But I hope to be playing."