WR Charles Lee, who made this catch for a gain of 33 yards, impressed the Bucs' coaches in his '04 debut
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were reporting one minor injury after another during the second half of training camp, the positive spin on the situation – the silver lining, if you will, or the glass-half-full approach – was that most of the hurt players could and should be back for the opening of the regular season.
Sure, some veteran Bucs were missing big chunks of practice time, and perhaps a chance to jell, but the additional playing time was suiting the young players well. When the preseason experiments ended, the starters would be back in place for the games that counted.
Lo and behold if that isn't exactly what happened. It appears as if the Bucs will have a very short injury list for the regular-season opener, and both of their starting units intact. As for the lost opportunity for the starting units to come together through a series of preseason cameos, it's hard to find a consistent opinion on how much that really matters. For better or worse, the Bucs will find out on Sunday, September 12 in Washington.
The handful of players who were held out of Thursday's preseason finale in Houston, including Joey Galloway, Charlie Garner, Shelton Quarles, Brian Kelly and Kenyatta Walker, are not expected to be limited in the upcoming week.
Galloway, for instance, is no longer slowed by a groin strain, thanks to the cautious approach the team used toward his playing time in August. Galloway should start against the Redskins.
"He's fine," said Gruden on Friday. "He will practice tomorrow and he's going to be ready to roll. He's running extremely well."
Walker didn't even make the trip to Houston, prompting some concerned inquiries into his status, but his injury is not serious. Walker has dealt with knee swelling throughout the preseason, and the team thought a plane flight could make it worse. By staying behind, he put himself on course to be ready for the Redskins.
"We think he's going to be okay," said Gruden. "He's much better today, we think he's going to be ready to go and he'll practice on Monday."
The Bucs also had two players return to action on Thursday after missing the first three games of the preseason: tackle Derrick Deese and wide receiver Charles Lee. Deese is the team's starting left tackle and Lee is fighting for a spot on a suddenly-crowded receiving corps. Gruden was pleased with the play of both men against the Texans.
Lee's return was important in the team's evaluations at receiver, of course, but Deese's return allowed the team to put its presumed starting offensive line on the field for the first time. The 13th-year veteran looked good in his Buc debut despite spending the past three weeks or so rehabbing from foot surgery.
"He did a good job," said Gruden. "He played about 24 or 25 plays and we're pleased with what he did. He feels good today and it was a good sign for us."
The Bucs have taken a few hits. Guard Matt O'Dwyer, who played with the starting line during the team's late-June mini-camp, tore a pectoral muscle working out several weeks before camp and was recently placed on the physically unable to perform list. He'll miss at least the first six games of the season. Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, nearing a comeback from his long struggles with a 2003 knee injury, came down with a herniated disc in his lower back and had to have surgery to correct it. Soon, the team must decided whether to put him on the PUP list with O'Dwyer or reserve an opening-day spot for him on the 53-man roster.
But for the most part, the Bucs are ready to go and they have a better feel for such young players as Michael Clayton, Anthony Davis and Marquis Cooper. The glass really was half-full.
An Optimistic View
K Martin Gramatica missed one of his two field goal tries on Thursday in Houston, thus finishing the preseason with six successes in 10 tries. That follows on the heels of a very encouraging three weeks of training camp. A struggling kicker makes any head coach's job tougher, but Gruden remains upbeat about the situation.
"I'm going to try to use a more optimistic approach then to keep talking about it," he said. "I'm confident in his abilities. Obviously, we're disappointed that he's had some misses, but we're confident he's going to be a heck of a kicker for us. We've just got to keep working to resolve any problems that are in his game right now. We still think he's going to be a real positive asset to our team. We think he's a great kicker, he's just got to make his kicks."
Pittman to Start Suspension
RB Michael Pittman was one of the busiest Bucs on Thursday night, carrying the ball 12 times and catching three passes. It was a good chunk of action for a player who will not be suiting up again until October.
Pittman is about to start serving a three-game suspension. It will begin as soon as the Bucs make their final round of cuts on Sunday afternoon. Pittman will not only be barred from playing in the Bucs' first three games, but he will not be allowed to visit team headquarters or work out with his coaches and teammates in any way. While he is suspended, Pittman will not count against the team's 53-man roster limit.
Pittman will head to Bradenton to work out and keep in shape while he's away. The Buccaneers have helped him devise a program to follow during the three weeks.
"We have a routine that we've tried to work out with him that he can [use] while he's gone," said Gruden. "He's got to work in pads, even though he'll probably be working individually. The contact, [and] the timing of things are three weeks out of the question right now. He won't be able to get any of that stuff done. But he's got to continue to work hard on his conditioning and when he comes back obviously we have to give him a lot of reps."
Pittman gained 96 yards on his 15 touches against the Texans and looked to be in mid-season form. The Bucs are certain he will be an asset to the offense upon his return.
"He's going to miss the competition and all the things that a football player loves to do," said Gruden. "But I think he showed last night what kind of back he is. He's an all–purpose runner, receiver and protector."