Rookie WR Dexter Jackson could get an opportunity to play on Sunday if veteran WR Joey Galloway is sidelined by injury
During three weeks in July and August, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers laid the groundwork for the 2008 season that stretched out in front of them.
Unfortunately for Joey Galloway, his training camp experience has proven to be a harbinger of what lay ahead, too.
Galloway was sidelined for the Buccaneers' entire three weeks at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex by a groin strain, running wind sprints between fields while the rest of the team practiced. The cautious approach helped Tampa Bay's deep-threat wide receiver return to health in time for the regular season, but two weeks in he has been bitten by the injury bug once again.
The Buccaneers hope that the foot injury Galloway suffered while executing a block in Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons does not linger as long as his previous ailment. However, as the week of preparation began on Wednesday for next weekend's game at Chicago, Galloway was a question mark.
"We don't think it's a real serious, serious thing but he's unable to go today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after a Wednesday afternoon practice that was shortened a bit by rain. "All I can say is, his status is in question and we'll just have to let you know later in the week.
"He did some rehab inside and still is sore. Right now he is in question."
Galloway is usually held out of Wednesday's practice anyway as part of an ongoing program that has kept the receiver fresh and on the field in recent years. Thus, his participation — or lack thereof — in the workouts scheduled for Thursday and Friday will probably be more telling.
The Bucs had plenty of fresh legs for practice on Wednesday, as the Bucs' other five receivers participated without limitation. In addition to those five — Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard, Dexter Jackson and Maurice Stovall — the Bucs are also aided in the middle of the week by practice squad receivers Micheal Spurlock and Brian Clark. If they must go into action on Sunday without Galloway, the Buccaneers at least have had plenty of practice doing so.
"He didn't play very much late in the season last year, and it wasn't rest, it was injury," said Gruden. "He had a shoulder injury and didn't play very much in San Francisco or [against] Carolina, and I think the Atlanta game he was somewhat idle. We've been through this for awhile now. Guys are going to have to step up; that's just the nature of the business and in some ways it's really exciting to see how we all handle it."
One aspect of the Bucs' preparations at receiver that began even before Galloway ran into injury difficulties was a wider swath of cross-training between the different wideout positions. Most of the Bucs' pass-catchers, for instance, know the requirements of both the split end and flanker positions, the former of which is where Galloway usually starts.
Thus, it's reasonable to believe that, if Galloway is unable to play on Sunday, his production could be replaced by any or all of the Bucs' other five receivers.
"Ike was our leading receiver last year," said Gruden. "He's been a part of two division-title teams here and for some reason people don't think he's as, I guess, as good as maybe I do. Ike catches it, he gets open, he can play any position, good blocker, good football player. Michael Clayton I'm sure will get an opportunity to slam down the door and re-arrive here. I think he's worked his butt off and I'm looking forward to seeing him take advantage of this chance. Maurice Stovall wants to play. Antonio Bryant is a good player and I'm just promising Buc fans this guy's a talented guy that has a real chance. We've got to rally around our guys and we'll try to get Dexter in there a time or two."
Additional Injury Updates
In addition to Galloway, the Buccaneers also held linebacker Derrick Brooks and guard Davin Joseph out of practice on Wednesday. Brooks is still treating an injured hamstring with caution while Joseph is nearing the end of his recovery from a preseason foot injury.
Brooks sat out all of Tampa Bay's practices last week but was able to play on Sunday against the Falcons, an outcome that was even a bit surprising to the veteran linebacker. He is once again reserving judgment early this week — and leaving the more detailed updates up to Gruden — but appeared to be in good spirits on Wednesday afternoon.
"I do feel a lot better than I did last week," said Brooks, who made his 210th consecutive appearance on Sunday against the Falcons. "I'm going to go out there and see how I feel this week."
Gruden referred to Joseph as "questionable to doubtful" on Monday, and even though those official designations won't come out until Friday that's an indication that his rehab process will likely cause him to miss at least one more game.
Three other Buccaneers were limited in practice on Wednesday: defensive end Gaines Adams, running back Warrick Dunn and cornerback Aqib Talib. Adams (ribs) and Talib (hamstring) are dealing with minor injuries suffered against Atlanta, while Dunn was simply following a pattern of rest similar to Galloway's.
"We held Gaines today; he's got some irritated ribs," said Gruden. "We think he'll be okay. And Warrick is a guy that will not practice on Wednesdays. He'll take the majority of walk-through reps in the morning and he'll take some reps late in practice but he's limited on every Wednesday. [Talib] is obviously a little bit sore but he's improving."
The Bears' injury report begins with two players — safety Brandon McGowan (ankle) and tackle Chris Williams (back) — who have already been ruled out for Sunday's game. Williams was Chicago's first-round draft pick this past April, the 14th overall player selected.
Two other Bears were held out of the week's first workout, as center Olin Kreutz was given some scheduled rest and return specialist Devin Hester was sidelined by a ribs injury. Widespread media reports on Wednesday indicated that Hester would be able to play on Sunday against the Buccaneers. If that proves to be the case, Tampa Bay's coaches will have to determine how they wish to approach a return man who has, incredibly, scored 12 special teams touchdowns in just over two seasons in the league.
Take your chances with Hester or kick it away from him?
"I might just go for it on fourth down," said Gruden, jokingly throwing out a third option. "He is so fun to watch. He is a guy that you have great respect for. He's on the cutting edge of being one of the all-time [greats]. What he's accomplished already classifies as possibly the best returner ever. If we do kick to him, we've got to be selective in how we do it and we've got to cover our brains out. That goes without saying. He's phenomenal."
The Buccaneers will be without cornerback Elbert Mack on Sunday in Chicago. Mack was suspended by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson on Tuesday as the result of a pair of flagrant hit violations in the Buccaneers' last three games, one each at Houston and against Atlanta.
Gruden acknowledged the gravity of the situation that led to Mack's suspension but made a point of defending the rookie defensive back's honor.
"We take it very seriously," said Gruden. "At the same time, we're going to look into the situation and support Elbert. He's a good kid. They take hits like that seriously, the league does, and we respect, certainly, the policies that the league has. I'll just say this: Elbert Mack is a great kid. There's nothing malicious about him. That's about the best way I can put it right now."
Mack's suspension will open a spot on the Buccaneers' 53-man roster for the remainder of the week and through Sunday's game. The team has yet to fill that spot and is still determining the best course of action.
"We obviously have to see what the health of the team is here in the next 24 hours, Aqib's status and some of the other guys," said Gruden.