QB Brian Griese is looking forward to his second trip to a former home in the last three weeks
During their first practice of the week on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave reserve quarterback Jeff Garcia an increased number of reps, then noted on the official injury report that starter Brian Griese had been held out for part of the session.
On Thursday, as planned, Griese was back at full participation and in full control of the Bucs' offense. He was not injured nor was he in danger of losing the starting spot he had assumed three weeks earlier. The Buccaneers commonly devise extra-rest programs for some of their more seasoned veterans, and Griese had thrown a total of 128 passes during the team's three-game winning streak.
Head Coach Jon Gruden said there had been no substantive change in how the team prepared its quarterbacks this week as opposed to previous weeks.
"Reps always go the same," said Gruden. "We don't have any quarterback controversy. Griese took all the reps. Jeff took a little bit. Obviously Luke [McCown] takes his turns, but Griese is the starter."
In Griese, Garcia and McCown, the Buccaneers have three quarterbacks who have started and won games for the team over the last nine regular-season weeks, dating back to last December. That depth of experience gives Tampa Bay a number of options each Sunday, and the team is comfortable with either Garcia or McCown backing up Griese on the 45-man active list. During the last three games, that role has fallen to McCown. It's not yet determined who will be the number two passer on Sunday in Denver.
"We'll make that decision when we get to the stadium," said Gruden.
Griese will be starting in the same venue that he called home during his fourth and fifth NFL seasons. He actually entered the league as a third-round pick of the Broncos in 1998, but Denver moved from its former Mile High Stadium home into Invesco Field in 2001. Griese was 27-24 as a starter for the Broncos from 1999-2002 and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 after posting a 102.9 passer rating.
If he's anxious about facing the Broncos' passionate fan base from the other sideline, it hasn't showed this week. The operative word for Griese leading up to this contest has been the same one he used prior to the Bucs' Week Three game at Chicago, where he had spent the 2006-07 seasons: fun.
"It's going to be great I think; I am really looking forward to it," he said. "I think it will be a lot of fun for our team to go on the road in a hostile environment and play and it will be a lot of fun for me personally to go back and compete in that environment.
"Chicago was different because I knew all the players on the team. I don't know any of the players on the Broncos team other than I think Ben Hamilton is still there and he is a guard that was there when I was playing. Obviously the coaching staff [is familiar] and I know a lot of the front office people. It will be different but I think it will be a lot of fun."
Under the Weather
While Griese and running back Warrick Dunn – another veteran on a routine pattern of extra rest – were removed from the Bucs' injury report on Thursday, the team did have one player to add.
Fortunately, it's likely to be a temporary addition: Aqib Talib was limited on Thursday due to illness. Gruden said the team expects the rookie cornerback to be fine.
The rest of the Buccaneers' injury report stayed the same, with fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring), wide receiver Joey Galloway (foot) and safety Sabby Piscitelli (elbow) unable to return to practice. Askew and Galloway missed last week's game; Piscitelli was injured against the Packers.
Three other Bucs continue to be limited: linebacker Derrick Brooks (hamstring), guard Davin Joseph (foot) and defensive tackle Ryan Sims (groin). Brooks has played through his injury for most of this month and has reported feeling better each week. Joseph, on the other hand, hasn't played since he suffered his injury in Week Two of the preseason.
Joseph has been practicing the last two weeks, however, in the hopes of returning soon. Last week, he had a strong practice on Wednesday to open the week but then went downhill the rest of the week. Joseph tried out the foot again yesterday and may have had a better reaction this time around.
"I thought he looked alright," said Gruden. "He looked better today. He's got a chance to play."
Joseph, a budding star on the Bucs' rapidly-improving front line, is eager to play. He doesn't yet know if this is the weekend for his return, and if he will be playing full-time or starting out in a platoon with rookie Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah has started all three games at right guard in Joseph's absence and has filled in quite well.
"We don't know yet," said Joseph, when asked about the plan for this weekend. "It's still kind of early. That's [the coaches'] decision. Whatever they'll give me, I'll take it. I'm just happy it wasn't a season-ending injury. You've got to count the blessings."
Joseph's rookie season was interrupted in a similar manner, as the 2006 first-round pick sustained a knee injury during practice before the season opener and was forced to miss the first three games of the year, as well as a fourth start. This year's preseason mishap is disappointing in a different way; after the Bucs' young offensive line began to jell late last season, Joseph was hoping the entire unit could hit the ground running in 2008. The Bucs' offensive line has indeed started this season well, but Joseph would like to be a part of the progress.
"We really turned the corner last year towards the end, found our identity as an offensive line, and as an offense in general," he said. "We were able to jump back on the same page, not particularly in the first game but throughout the rest of September. Of course I miss it. I plan to make all the effort I can to get back."
The Buccaneers have a core of good, young special teams players who make up the bulk of the team's kick-coverage units. The average fan might be hard-pressed to guess, however, which of those young players leads the team in special teams tackles through a quarter of the season.
It's not last year's breakthrough special teams player Maurice Stovall, though the third-year receiver is once again excelling in that phase of the game. Nor is it Quincy Black, Will Allen, Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli, Geno Hayes or Adam Hayward.
Second-year fullback Byron Storer, an undrafted free agent out of Cal 18 months ago, is the Bucs' leader on special teams with six tackles. He had three stops this past weekend against Green Bay and received a "Hammer Award" from the coaches for his efforts.
In addition, Storer has temporarily assumed the starting fullback duties with Askew on the shelf. The young back typically doesn't say much, but he certainly is doing a lot for the Buccaneers this season.
"He comes in and starts at fullback and no one knows he played," said an appreciative Gruden. "He doesn't show up on the stats but he's a really good player. We ran behind him in short-yardage four times. We're really happy for him. He's a good kid and he's really played well here. He's one of the unheralded guys of our team, but we have others."