G Dan Buenning is expected to return to practice on Wednesday
Davin Joseph and Dan Buenning – the guards expected to flank center John Wade on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting offensive line – were deactivated prior to Sunday's opener against Baltimore, but Head Coach Jon Gruden still had a pregame message for the two of them.
Gruden let his hands do the talking.
"I punched [Joseph] in the mouth yesterday in the locker room," said Gruden who, given that the rookie lineman probably outweighs him by about 150 pounds, was obviously joking. "He and Buenning, I clanked both their heads together."
The coach delivered this motivational message in a figurative manner, of course. In essence, he told the two young players that all of the hard work they had put into building a powerful front line would pay off as soon as the they recovered from their relatively minor injuries.
That should be soon for both guards, though Joseph, while not needing surgery on his injured knee, will definitely not be ready for next Sunday's contest in Atlanta. It looks as if the best guess for his return will be after the Bucs' fourth-week bye. Until then, Gruden needs the remixed line, with Sean Mahan and Jeb Terry manning the guard slots, to make sure there is no drop-off in the team's play.
"I am optimistic that after the bye, Davin will hopefully be close to ready to go," said Gruden. "I need those guys and at the same time I expect a lot better from our whole football team when someone goes down. When someone goes down, whether it be Brian Griese a year ago or Shelton Quarles yesterday, the next guy steps up and plays and you have to play better than the starter, you have to play better than the guy you are replacing. That is what championship football teams do and that is what some of these men are going to have to do. Our schedule doesn't lie, it is tough."
That's true in a large sense and also specifically as it relates to the interior offensive line. The Ravens brought a beefy D-line and complicated scheme to Tampa for the opener, and now the Bucs will travel to Atlanta to take on defensive tackles Rod Coleman and Grady Jackson. Fortunately, this week could see the return of Buenning, who is recovering from an ankle injury that is less severe than Joseph's knee sprain.
"We're hopeful that Dan Buenning will play," said Gruden. "He will return to practice on Wednesday."
That would presumably nudge out Mahan, who started the opener in Buenning's left guard slot. However, the Bucs may instead move Mahan over to replace Joseph at right guard, especially since Mahan started all 17 games at that position in 2005.
"Dan Buenning's status as a 17-game starter at left guard and Sean Mahan's experience at right guard could possibly open the door to us to return to the same group of guys we had last year," said Gruden. "But once again we're in that period of adjusting the offensive line and adjusting the offensive line. We'll do that again if need be, but we have to determine the health of Buenning. When we know what it is, we'll make the decision we think gives our team a chance to compete."
The Bucs may even swap assignments for Mahan and Terry regardless of Buenning's condition. Had Buenning and Joseph gone down at the same time, it's likely that the team would have let Mahan go back to his right guard spot and replaced Buenning with Terry. However, the Bucs began grooming Mahan at left guard as soon as Buenning was hurt against Houston on August 31, obviously not aware that Joseph would also go down the following Wednesday in practice.
"We used the two bonus days to get Sean acclimated at left guard, working with Anthony Davis, a position that's somewhat foreign to him," said Gruden. "When Davin gets hurt on the practice field Wednesday, with Jeb Terry's experience in training camp at right guard, we felt the appropriate thing to do was leave it status quo."
Whichever two of those four guards are surrounding Wade on Sunday in Atlanta, Gruden expects the offensive line to be much more effective than it was in the opener. The Bucs have invested a lot of time and resources into improving the front line over the last few seasons, and they expect it to pay off soon.
"We think we're going to make strides," said Gruden. "As a matter of fact, we know we're making strides. I'm not going to sit here and act like Joe the Optimist here. I'm going to be Jon the Realist and tell you we are making progress. It just was not good yesterday for a lot of reasons. I'd rather not get into every one of those reasons today because in fairness to our players, they're going to come back and play much better this week."
The most significant new injury to arise from Sunday's opener is the rib ailment sustained by veteran tight end Dave Moore, the team's long-snapper for punts and placekicks. The Bucs are still evaluating Moore's status, but they aren't wasting any time in working on a backup plan. By Sunday evening, the team had several long-snapping candidates on red-eye flights to Florida.
One candidate for the job is already on the roster. When the Bucs traded for New York Jets tight end Doug Jolley on the day of the preseason finale in Houston they got the bonus of a player who has some experience in that role. Jolley handled those duties, in fact, after Moore was injured on Sunday.
Still, the team is checking out its options.
"That was a big part of last night," said Gruden. "We flew in four or five candidates so we could work them out this morning. Doug Jolley did a good job in an emergency roll yesterday. But we will take a good look at these men today carefully. If there's a guy we think can help us, we'll certainly have to make a change given Dave's status."
Gruden did say that he does not consider Terry a candidate to replace Moore. Terry filled in at long-snapper during the 2004 season finale after an injury to Moore.
Additional Injury Updates
Quarles, who missed the season opener with a groin injury that has been bothering him for approximately two weeks, is expected to return to practice on Wednesday. That should increase his chances of playing in Atlanta, though the team will have to see how the veteran linebacker responds to Wednesday's workout before having a better feel for his availability.
Gruden does not consider running back Cadillac Williams an injury concern, though the second-year runner was limited at times on Sunday due to a bout of back spasms.
"Obviously, he took some hits," said Gruden of Williams' back issue. "I don't speak for him, but I think it was a combination of a lot of things. Misfortune is probably one of them. Sometimes guys do cramp, sometimes back spasms do flare up in a football game. Particularly in a guy that plays that position."
When pressed repeatedly on Williams' status – perhaps the chunk of time the then-rookie missed in 2005 was on some minds – Gruden made it clear that his starting back was not in danger of missing any time.
"I'm not here today to say there is anything to keep him out of practice or the game on Sunday," said Gruden. "He's going to be okay and he is going to be a key part of what we do. But I am not concerned about him whatsoever after talking with our training staff."