Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Finding a Way

Head Coach Jon Gruden is impressed with the ability of many of his players to continue performing despite nagging injuries, but it's likely that some of the players on the Bucs' injury report won't be able to suit up on Sunday

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WR Ike Hilliard and seven other Buccaneers head into the weekend as question marks on the Bucs' injury report

Though there are some rather notable exceptions on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster — Derrick Brooks, Kevin Carter and Ronde Barber spring to mind — very few NFL players forge a very long career without giving away a few games to injury.

In fact, few men achieve much longevity in the league without playing through minor ailments from time to time. Warrick Dunn did that last Sunday in Dallas, albeit not as much as he had hoped, and he's done it before in his ultra-productive 12-year career.

"These guys have played seven, eight, nine, 10, 12 years," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "There's a reason why they do that. The guys that have had the kind of careers that Warrick has had, they all play through so many different things. That's why you talk about them, you write about them, you know about them."

That's also why the Buccaneers' depth chart seems to be in limbo every weekend this season. Like usual, the Bucs finished this week of work without fully determining which of its injured players will be able to suit up on Sunday against Kansas City. The availability of such men as Dunn, fullback B.J. Askew, guard Arron Sears, defensive tackle Jovan Haye and wide receivers Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall is still in question because these men will suit up for the game if there is any way they can.

And, of course, if the Buccaneers' medical staff agrees that it's a good idea. Sears, for instance, is trying to overcome a mild concussion sustained, unusually, on the practice field on Wednesday. The NFL now has sophisticated methods of evaluating concussion victims; Hilliard was cleared to play last week after sustaining one seven days prior against Seattle, but that decision wasn't made until the morning of the Dallas game. Sears' status may take just as long to determine.

Sears did not practice on Thursday or Friday, but he is improving.

"He's feeling much better, and he does have the back [injury] which was somewhat of a problem and now he's got the head," said Gruden. "I think it's probably a combination of both. But I did get a chance to visit with him extensively today and he feels better. We hope to have him on Sunday."

Gruden mentioned on Thursday that he believes, in general, in the need for a player to practice if he's going to play. Exceptions occur, however, particularly with experienced veterans, so one cannot rule Dunn out for Sunday's game just yet. He is listed as questionable on the more detailed Friday injury report.

"This is my first experience with him and he's not the most talkative guy," said Gruden. "He's a very reserved guy. We want him to get right, we want him to get healthy and he is doing that. If he can go based on our eyes and our visual evaluation, we'll certainly let him play. In the time being, we've got to do what's right, too, and that's wait until we see it happen."

Gruden was able to be more definitive on Dunn's backfield mate, fullback B.J. Askew. Askew hasn't played since sustaining a hamstring injury in Week Three and probably won't break that string this weekend in Kansas City. But he was able to practice this week, which was definitely encouraging.

"I don't know what percent you would qualify him at, but it's not 100% and it's not 90%," said Gruden "It's coming back to him. It was good to have him out there three consecutive games. It doesn't appear that he'll be ready for this game but hopefully with the bye week looming here and another opportunity against Minnesota he'll be ready."

The bye week should be a boon to the Bucs, who head into this weekend with one player already ruled out due to injury (Phillips) and the eight mentioned above all considered questionable. Still, the team is attempting to put thoughts about the bye on the back burner in order to devote all of its attention to the Chiefs. The Bucs hope to have as many of those eight questionable players available as possible on Sunday because, even at 1-3 and with inexperienced quarterback Tyler Thigpen at the helm, Kansas City presents another significant challenge.

"I've got a lot of healthy respect for this team," said Gruden. "All you've got to do is look at the game film. The won-loss record does not indicate where this team is. They're a young team getting better and Thigpen is a big reason why they're getting better. I'm impressed with them, honestly. They play hard.

"It will be a real test for us. And I've been to Arrowhead [Stadium] enough times — it never matters what their record is or what the stakes are. They play their butts off in that stadium and we've got to know that."

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