Head Coach Raheem Morris will not know for certain whether several of his players are available for the Giants game until Sunday morning
Jeff Faine and Kyle Moore will sit out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game against the New York Giants on Sunday, and they're almost certain to be joined by Maurice Stovall.
After that, the Buccaneers' injury list for Week Three remains long but inconclusive.
Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris released Friday's injury report with a more detailed game status for each player, but didn't spend much time worrying about the names on the list, even if they did include some of the team's core contributors.
"I don't know if anybody is luxurious enough to have a full deck of cards anyway," said Morris. "Everybody in the league goes through the same problems. I don't want to act like my problems are any worse than anybody else's. We all have them. The Giants have gone through their fair share of problems at safety, they've gone through their fair share of problems with the same guys on their injured list at receiver."
Still, because the final status of several players on the Bucs' Friday list will significantly impact the lineup on Sunday, the report is worth a brief look.
Faine is recovering from a triceps injury suffered in Week One and was expected to miss several weeks; Sean Mahan will make a second consecutive start in his place. Moore had arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday. Stovall hurt his knee in Buffalo and hasn't practiced all week.
There are four questionable players on the Bucs' report: wide receiver Antonio Bryant, linebacker Matt McCoy and running backs Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham. Of the four, Williams would appear to be most on track to play because he practiced fully on Friday. McCoy also practiced on Friday but he was downgraded from probable later in the afternoon. Bryant and Graham took part in Friday's workout in a limited fashion.
The Bucs have been eagerly awaiting Bryant's return, as he is considered one of the most dangerous weapons in their offense. He sat out the fourth quarter of the season opener when his knee, which required arthroscopic surgery in early August, began to bother him, and he was held out of the Week Two contest in Buffalo. He'll have to perform well in a pregame workout on Sunday to get back onto the field.
However, while Bryant finished last week as doubtful on the injury report and didn't even travel with the team to Buffalo, he appears to at least have a shot to suit up this week. Morris has seen improved mobility from Bryant this week on the practice field.
"He's one of those guys, he's got to do it at the stadium and we'll find out that day," said Morris.
Running back Clifton Smith, the Bucs' Pro Bowl kick returner, made it back to full participation in practice on Friday after being limited the previous two days by a quad injury. Smith is averaging 26.5 yards per kickoff return and 8.0 yards per punt through two games, and while he has yet to break a long one as he did several times as a rookie, he is still the man the Bucs want deep on all opponent kicks.
"If Clifton's up, Clifton's the returner," said Morris. "If something happens to Clifton then obviously [Sammie] Stroughter is our backup. We've got some other options back there, too, so we'll just have to see."
As Morris indicated, the Giants have some pressing injury concerns of their own. They begin with starting strong safety Kenny Phillips, who was placed on injured reserve on Thursday due to a knee ailment. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by fifth-year veteran C.C. Brown, who started 47 games for Houston from 2005-08. The Giants also claimed former Green Bay safety Aaron Rouse off waivers this week.
Five other Giants who remain on the 53-man roster have already been ruled out for Sunday's game due to injuries: defensive tackle Chris Canty (calf), wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot), cornerback Aaron Ross (hamstring), running back Danny Ware (elbow) and linebacker Clint Sintim. From that list, only Ross is a starter on New York's depth chart (and he has yet to play in 2009), but Nicks and Sintim were the Giants' first two draft picks this past April.
Two other players listed as starters by the Giants are considered questionable for the game: wide receiver Domenik Hixon (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (shoulder). Tuck is part of the Giants' fearsome three-man rotation of ends with Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka but New York may have to do without his services this week. Like Hixon, Tuck has not practiced all week.
Also questionable for the Giants: cornerback Kevin Dockery (hamstring, did not practice Friday) and offensive lineman Adam Koets (ankle, limited participation. Wide receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) returned to full participation in practice on Friday and is considered probable to play on Sunday.
Ward Gets the Start
Derrick Ward started just three games while racking up 1,000 yards for the Giants last year. Coincidentally, his first start as a Buccaneer comes against his former team.
Or perhaps not so coincidentally.
Morris decided early to move Ward up in the team's running back rotation this week specifically because it was the Giants coming to town. That Graham and Williams subsequently missed practice time this week was actually the coincidental part of the situation.
"I told the team at the beginning of the week that we were going to start Derrick," said Morris. "[I told them] on Wednesday when the team came in. Derrick's going to get the first crack at his old boys. Like I said and like we all know down here, I don't really know if we have a starter. We've got a three-headed monster. They all see the same amount of time, they all see the same reps, they all see what they've been doing and we're going to try to get even more in depth into that this week."
The Bucs still hope all three backs will be available on Sunday but wouldn't mind seeing Ward run wild against the Giants.
"Ward might get a full dose of his former teammates," said Morris. "We'll see what we've going on with that. We've still got some other guys working, B.J. [Askew] back there and things of that nature. We'll just have to go see."
More from Coach Morris
The Bucs coach addressed several other game-related topics on Friday as he stood on the edge of the practice field following the team's 90-minute workout.
On not scoring in the first quarter yet: "I hate to say you've got to get off to a good start. It's just not what we have to be as a team. You have to finish, you have to play the whole game. It's nice to get off to a good start. It would be nice to get out there and jump out to an early lead so we can really see what this team is made of, but it's not the most important thing. But we'd like to."
On how much a win this week would mean: "It's all about wins. We enjoy our wins the same, we enjoy them all no matter how they come, no matter when they come. A win is a good deal. I always hear people talk about ugly wins and I don't know what an ugly win is. They're all pretty. You're very fortunate to get them in this league. It's hard to win in this league and we respect them all."
On playing a "big-time" team: "The fact that a big-time team is coming in is awesome. We love that. The challenge of playing against a team that you respect, a team that you want to model yourself after somewhat, a coach like that, a team like that, a team not far removed from the Super Bowl. That's an awesome challenge. That's an awesome thing to have coming in here and we look forward to the challenge."
On if other teams are more prepared for Clifton Smith this year: "Are you talking about kickoff returns? I'm not sure, but we are leading the league in that category, as far as field position after kickoff returns. A lot of it is people kicking it away from him, a lot of balls on the ground. We've seen some squib kicks, we've seen some high shots. That's smart coaching across the league. I wouldn't want the ball in his hands as much either. But it's been good, but it's been productive for us because we get the ball in good field position. We get the ball on the 35, 40-yard line and that's pretty good. If you look at it from the kickoff perspective, that's pretty good not giving Clifton Smith an opportunity to take it back on you. It is what it is. It factors in. Him being back there is a factor. He's always been a factor. He gets the ball back for us and gets pretty good field position."
On if Corey Lynch would be active on Sunday: "We'll find out on game day. We call him 'HBO' around here. HBO will be a game-day decision. He knows all the positions. I give the kid credit – he's come in here and he's really locked in. He's a really serious guy. He's learned everything we do, he's back there making calls and he's really sharp guy. He's locked in with our special teams coach and our defensive backs coach."
On if Torrie Cox was a backup plan at safety: "Torrie's been out there practicing and playing at both positions. He's kind of been a dash-and-slash and whatever else you want to call him. That's what you've got to be in this league. The more you can do, the more valuable you are, and Torrie has definitely proved that he's valuable and proved to be a reliable guy at whatever we ask him to do."
On if this is a big game for Mike Nugent: "They're all big for Mike Nugent. The kicker – all these games in this league are usually decided by three. They're all decided by some form of a field goal, some form of a special teams play. They're all big games for Mike."
On developing a confidence in Nugent: "I'm not going to let anything that happened in the past shake my confidence. I've just got to believe in what I believe in right now, and right now Mike's my kicker. I've got to go out there and let him kick."