QB Brian Griese will start at quarterback against the Patriots tonight
With wide receiver Joey Galloway nursing a strained groin for most of the summer, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been auditioning a number of players for a temporary starting role. In the preseason opener, it was Maurice Stovall who opened the game at Galloway's split end position (with Michael Clayton also filling in for Ike Hilliard at flanker).
Against New England on Sunday night, it will be Antonio Bryant's turn. With Hilliard returning to his flanker position, Bryant will get the call at split end and will attempt to build on the impressive training camp he recently completed.
"We're excited about what Antonio Bryant has done so far," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We want him to be a great player, and he's shown in his career that he can be. We thought he was a great talent coming out of Pittsburgh and he started as a rookie opposite Michael Irvin. It's easy to pick him out on the practice field; now we want to see him explode on the scene in the games."
Of course, Stovall and Clayton will see plenty of action, as well, as the Bucs are likely to get close to the 74 players they put on the field last weekend in Miami. Like Bryant, the Bucs' two homegrown receivers had strong training camps that must now translate into game success. Clayton nearly had a standout game in Miami, but he dropped what might have been a 40-yard gain on a deep cross and saw a potential touchdown pass sail well over his head on a well-run short post.
"Mike had a good camp," said Gruden. "He has to catch the ball. That's where it all starts, of course. He's going to play a lot, and he's right in the mix. We just need more consistency out of him. He's still just as physical and willing in his style of play as ever, sometimes to a fault. If he's supposed to block you, he will hit you. He really likes the physical side of the game.
"We're asking more of Mike this year, too. He's been a flanker his whole career here, but now we're cross-training him for the first time so he can play split end, he can play in the slot, and so on. He's made a lot of progress and he just needs a break. I'm staying with him, because he's done it before."
In addition to Griese and Bryant, second-year fullback Byron Storer will also get a bump into the starting 11 on offense, as veteran starter B.J. Askew will not play. On defense, Ryan Sims will once again start in place of Jovan Haye at under tackle. Haye is recovering from a groin strain suffered during training camp.
Rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson won't start but he could make an early impact on the game. Gruden intends to give him the first crack at both kickoff and punt return tonight, hoping to get a big play out of special teams.
"That's a big reason why we got him," said Gruden. "We want him in there early so we can see how he handles the pressure, if he makes good decisions and secures the football. We need better field position at the beginning of our drives, and we hope he can give it to us. He has confidence and natural talents, and we think he can make it in the NFL."
The Patriots actually enter the game with many more lineup changes than the Buccaneers, beginning with two new additions to the roster. One of them will be very familiar to Buccaneers fans: safety John Lynch, who signed with the Patriots late in the week and will be announced with the team's defensive starters before the game.
Lynch won't actually start the game, however, as the Patriots are going with Brandon Meriweather and Antwain Spann as the starting safeties, replacing Rodney Harrison and James Sanders.
Lynch replaces OL Barry Stokes, who was placed on injured reserve. In addition, New England released WR Chris Dunlap and signed T Stephen Sene.
Among the other Patriots who will sit is quarterback Tom Brady, who also didn't play in New England's preseason opener last weekend. Brady will be replaced by fourth-year man Matt Cassel.
The Patriots have two changes along the offensive line, as well, with Wesley Britt replacing Matt Light at left tackle and Billy Yates filling in for Stephen Neal.
In addition to the changes at safety, New England will also replace two starters at linebacker, with Pierre Woods taking Adalius Thomas' spot on the outside and rookie Jerod Mayo drawing the start at inside linebacker.
Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. Buccaneers.com will follow with a rundown of all the first-half action at halftime and then provide a detailed review at the end of the game.