WR Joey Galloway practiced without limitations on Monday
Jon Gruden liked what he saw from Joey Galloway on Wednesday afternoon. Most of all, he liked where he saw Galloway.
For most of the past month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach has had to crane his neck to one practice field sideline or another to see how his prized speed demon was making out. Limited by a groin strain that didn't want to go away, Galloway most often used practice hours to run increasingly demanding sprints on the edges of the team's work.
Occasionally, Gruden saw encouraging signs, such as the four consecutive all-out 50-yard dashes Galloway ran at the end of last week. Nothing was as good, however, as seeing the Bucs' starting receiver smack dab in the middle of practice reps on Monday.
For the first time since before camp began, Galloway was fully involved in a team practice.
"He looked good today and we're encouraged to have him back," said Gruden. "He ran some good routes, showed good quickness in and out of his breaks and showed good speed down the field. So we were pleased to have him back."
Gruden said that Galloway was an "option" to play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Houston, but that is probably only a minor concern. Gruden estimated that Galloway played less than 50 snaps, total, during the 2006 and 2007 preseasons, so a cameo against the Texans probably wouldn't make a huge difference. But Galloway did need to get back into the mix on the practice field in order to get him ready for the start of the regular season.
So far, so good.
"I didn't see any limit on him whatsoever. We didn't go extremely long today given the fact that we played Saturday night and we've got a number of players still a little bit banged up. But he looked good today; I was pleased with him. He looked good today and hopefully he gets better tomorrow."
After Monday's practice, Gruden also provided updates on several other injured Buccaneers. To summarize our earlier report on Buccaneers.com, linebacker Antoine Cash has only a muscle injury in his neck, thankfully, and should be out only a short time; cornerback Marcus Hamilton has a hip pointer and likely won't play in Houston; fullback B.J. Askew (foot) will return to the practice field next Monday; and wide receivers Michael Clayton (chest) and Antonio Bryant (knee) were held out on Monday and are question marks for Thursday's game.
Everyone Be Ready
If he is to play against the Texans Thursday, Galloway won't have a lot of advance notice. Neither will any of the team's other veteran players.
The preseason finale is usually contested almost exclusively by reserves, as teams look to make a final round of depth chart evaluations and simultaneously protect their starters from injury. Often, starters come out after just a series or two, or are held out of the lineup entirely.
The Bucs various injury situations, however, could cause some minor alterations to the plan. Should they play quarterback Jeff Garcia, since he has seen less than two quarters of live action this summer? Should they take the wraps off Galloway? How will they divvy up the snaps at receiver, with the intense competition taking place at that position?
Gruden and his staff likely have a strategy, at least one its formative stages, but they aren't necessarily going to share it before Thursday. The main reason the team plays its plans close to the vest in the preseason finale is to make sure all of its players stay on point.
"I want everybody to be prepared to start and finish the game," said Gruden. "I think what happens normally is that you tell a guy he's not going to play and naturally the attention span isn't as strong as it might be normally. That's why I don't try to make a lot of announcements about who's playing and how long.
"We're telling everybody to go about their business as if they're starting. We'll make those decisions as we get to the stadium. We'll make all the decisions on starters when we get to Houston."
Gruden says he listens to his players' opinions on how the snaps should be divided, though his own feelings on the matter are likely to win out.
"Some guys … request not to play. Some guys want to play the whole game," he said. "I'm a great listener. I don't always agree and always give in to what everybody wants, but I try. I do my best."
The Buccaneers will trim five players from the roster on Tuesday but have a much larger set of decisions to make next Sunday, after the Houston game. Then, they will need to remove 22 more men from the list, paring down to 53 for the regular season. Obviously, that means the Houston game is a final showcase for many of the players who are battling for the final spots on the roster.
"There are a lot of ways to look at the last preseason game," said Gruden. "It's the final evaluation before you make your roster cutdowns. Obviously you want to try to play some guys and see what they can do. Obviously you'd like to come out of the game healthy. And we want to pick up our execution; that's the big thing."
No Secondary Concerns
Tampa Bay's 2008 defensive backfield has a lot to live up to: A number-one pass defense ranking in the NFL in 2007, five top-five finishes in the last seven years and the weighty expectations of a veteran leader – Ronde Barber – who knows the Buccaneer defense like the back of his hand.
Judging from its play so far in August, the Bucs' current secondary is ready to meet that challenge. Perhaps its best feature is its depth; Barber is as good as ever but far from the only standout in the backfield.
"Phillip Buchanon, no one talks about him," said Gruden. "Elbert Mack is throwing a show here but Phillip Buchanon has had a great camp. And I hate to tell everybody, but Ronde Barber is a bear. He is one hell of a football player. So we really feel good about our corners. [Safety] Sabby Piscitelli has come back and really given us some depth, and [safety] Will Allen has had a very good camp as well. So we feel good about our secondary, and that's a good thing."
Gruden didn't even mention the team's starting safety duo of Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips, two notable standouts from 2007. He did, however, have some thoughts, when asked, on the newest member of the secondary, rookie first-rounder Aqib Talib.
"He's a hell of a player," said Gruden. "I can't say enough about him. He's done well here every day and made some impact plays at the position. He's a big corner that can run and cover, and he's a confident guy and I like that about him. I'd be hard-pressed to say he's not going to be a big part of our football team."