QB Luke McCown (left) will start for the Buccaneers but his older brother Josh (right) will not play tonight for Miami
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived in Miami without their front-line men at quarterback, fullback, split end and under tackleâ€¦and still feel fortunate regarding the health of their roster as the preseason gets under way.
The fact that starters usually play only a few snaps in the preseason opener obviously tempers any concerns the Bucs might have about leaving Jeff Garcia, B.J. Askew, Joey Galloway and Jovan Haye back in Tampa. Those four are taking the weekend to get some extra rehab work in at team headquarters while the Bucs focus on getting some extra exposure for their younger players.
Luke McCown will start at quarterback and perhaps play as much as half of the game, albeit with a rotating cast of first, second and third-teamers. Galloway and Haye will be replaced by Maurice Stovall and Ryan Sims, respectively. Rather than replace Askew with another fullback, the Bucs plan to start two tailbacks in the backfield, with Warrick Dunn joining starter Earnest Graham.
Further easing any worry is the belief that all of the injured players will only be shelved for a few more days. An altered training camp schedule — multiple practices inside a tent, more walk-throughs and fewer full-speed sessions and even one night workout — has helped the team avoid some of the injury scourges that have plagued past camps.
Head Coach Jon Gruden believes the Bucs have made such changes without conceding any of their necessary preparation.
"We have fewer players in the training room and more in the middle of every rep," said Gruden. "We may be sacrificing a few full-speed reps, but we're getting more out of our players above the neck. I think if you ask them, they'll say they like it, and that it's working."
For the most part, it has been the afternoons that have been easier in Camp '08. That in turn has allowed the players to go harder in the mornings, when they typically put on the pads and jack up the tempo. Gruden has seen as much grit and determination out of his players this summer as in any camp in the past.
"In one word, the atmosphere has been competitive," he said. "We have more competition at every position than we've had in recent years, and the players have responded. We're working with confidence, and hopefully you'll see that on the field tonight."
If tonight's game follows the pattern of previous preseason openers, most of the starters will hit the bench after a series or two. The Dolphins, of course, will do the same. That won't change the competitive nature of the game; in fact, the players fighting for the ball in the second half could also be fighting for their spots on the roster, so there should be no decrease in effort.
"Football's a tough game no matter when you're playing," said Gruden. "They're not going to give us yards; we're going to have to earn every one of them. We have to play hard-nosed football and deal with some things we haven't seen yet, like the Dolphins' 3-4 defensive front."
The game could have been a matchup of two quarterbacking brothers, but the Dolphins have elected not to play Josh McCown, who is listed first on their depth chart. Instead, reserves John Beck and Chad Henne will split time, McCown potentially entering the game late.
The Dolphins had several other lineup changes to announce before the game, as well. On defense, Matt Roth will move from left end to strongside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 front, with Kendall Langford moving up to the starting left end spot. Also, Phillip Merling will replace Vonnie Holliday at right end.
On offense, Miami will give the start at flanker to Derek Hagan, who replaces Ernest Wilford. At right guard, Donald Thomas will move into the starting spot in place of Trey Darilek.
For the Buccaneers, what matters is not the names on the backs of the jerseys tonight but the logos on the helmet.
"We're playing together for the first time tonight, not against each other," said Gruden. "This isn't our offense versus our defense, it's someone new. I know our players are looking forward to that."