WR Charles Lee looked sharp in practice on Wednesday after struggling with a sore leg last week
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' life without Joey Galloway – a four-to-six week condition that beset the team with miserable quickness – began on Wednesday as the team rolled into yet another contingency plan.
As Head Coach Jon Gruden puts it, the Bucs have not been 'blessed with continuity' in their offensive personnel of late, and with apologies to the offensive line that is particularly true at wide receiver. Galloway's injury cycles Charles Lee back into the mix, though Lee is still feeling some lingering effects from a preseason hamstring injury.
Lee at least played for the Buccaneers in 2003, emerging as a legitimate threat over a five-week audition down the stretch. None of his four current receiver mates – Tim Brown, Michael Clayton, Bill Schroeder and Frank Murphy – were with the team last year.
Of course, what the corps lacks in quantity, the Bucs believe it makes up in talent. Galloway's downtime will be troublesome for the team, as he was one of the league's scariest deep threats, but the team is confident in the rest of its receivers in the meantime, and plans to utilize all of them.
"We're going to use the receivers that we have who are healthy," said Gruden. "Michael Clayton's off to a good start; we'll try to get him more and more involved in the game. And Tim will be a part of it as well. We'll see. Charles Lee, Bill Schroeder, even Frank Murphy might see some snaps."
The efforts to rearrange the receiving duties began on Wednesday afternoon as the Bucs held their first practice in preparation for Sunday's home opener against Seattle. Lee, who struggled a bit during practice last week due to that leg ailment, was back in action on Wednesday and looking much nimbler.
"He'll play," said Gruden. "He'll be active for the game and he had a much better practice today. We're confident he'll be ready to go."
Last season, Lee stepped into the starting lineup when Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated and was very productive down the stretch. However, he didn't dress out for last Sunday's game, and Gruden wasn't certain that Lee would cycle all the way from the inactive list to the starting lineup, like a volleyball player rotating from the back line to the front row.
"I don't know what we'll do there yet," said Gruden. "We'll use tomorrow to see exactly where he is. We'll push him two days in a row to see how the leg feels. But we do look for him to play and we'll see how big a part."
Brown knows that all five of the Bucs receivers can expect to see some action.
"Everybody's going to have to step up," he said. "Obviously Joey was going to be the guy. We certainly look forward to having him back but Charles Lee was walking around all last week with his head down because he knew he wasn't going to be playing this last weekend but it's a whole different week for him now. Now you have to get going and just come in and chip in. With what Gruden is doing nobody is going to be asked to come in and catch 15 balls a game. You're going to have the opportunity to catch two or three and you have to get it done."
Elsewhere, the Bucs were actually fairly healthy, setting aside the usual sets of bumps and bruises. The only player beside Galloway on the Bucs' injury report was safety Dwight Smith, and his bruised ribs looked a lot less troubling on Wednesday than they had on Monday. Gruden thought Smith might be questionable for Sunday's game when the week began but now has him listed as probable on the official report.
"I'm sore but that's what is expected playing in this league," said Smith. "This is the NFL and you are going to have bumps and bruises. I guess that's why they pay us the money they do to come and perform regardless of how you feel."
The Seahawks actually have a much more lengthy injury list than the Buccaneers, with one player (linebacker Chad Brown) listed as out and three more designated questionable. Among the questionable players is star running back Shaun Alexander.
Alexander, who had more touchdowns from 2001-03 than any player beside Priest Holmes, scored three more times in the Hawks' season-opening win at New Orleans but left the game before it was over with a knee issue. The injury has been described as a bone bruise and Seattle has suggested that the back could miss a game or two. However, there are many who predict Alexander will suit up for the Bucs game on Sunday.
Count Gruden among them.
"He's been questionable before and I'm sure he'll be questionable again," said the Bucs' coach. "He's a feature horse in their attack and you've got to prepare for him, no question about it."
If Alexander can't go, it would mark the first game he has missed in his five-year NFL career. Over the last three seasons, he has averaged 310 carries for 1,309 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus 48 receptions for 366 yards and two touchdowns.
Ready for Pressure
The Bucs' practice preparations this week will include numerous periods devoted to the blitz. Washington used the strategy to some success against Tampa Bay in the season opener and the Seahawks were similarly aggressive in their opener in New Orleans. Seattle was able to sack Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks twice and hold him to a completion percentage just below 50%.
Still, it's not as if the Bucs are in scramble mode on the practice field. They put in a significant amount of blitz pickup work every week. It's a necessity.
"Everybody blitzes," said Gruden. "It's just part of pro football. We're preparing for pressure. Seattle did blitz a lot in New Orleans; I'm sure their plan is to blitz again. So we've got to work hard at picking the blitzes up and delivering some plays."
Actually, the Seahawks' defense could have any number of plans on tap for the Buccaneers this Sunday. Under defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who has been either a head coach or a defensive coordinator for half of his 24 years in the league, the Hawks may or may not be as aggressive as the Redskins were.
"He's a guy who can do it all," said Gruden of Rhodes. "I've seen him play maximum zone, maximum pressure, the under front, the over front, the hot front, the nickel. He's a diverse coach, a great motivator – players play for him. That's undisputed over the course of his career."