Though QB Jeff Garcia has overcome his injuries to return to the lineup, G Arron Sears (78) is now dealing with a knee ailment
The Seattle Seahawks will arrive in Tampa this weekend looking part football team, part M.A.S.H. unit.
Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has already been ruled out for Sunday's game and backup Seneca Wallace isn't 100 percent healthy himself. The Seahawks' top two receivers, Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, each missed the team's first three games, and Branch injured a knee in his first game back, missed the Week Five game and may or may not be able to suit up Sunday. Of course, this is all in addition to the regular bumps and bruises every team deals with each week.
Understandably, the Seahawks have struggled on offense and have gotten off to a slow start, entering the Week Seven matchup in Tampa with a 1-4 record.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also dealt with their fair share of injury woes. The Bucs have started two quarterbacks, Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese; saw their starting right guard Davin Joseph miss the first four weeks of the season and are now concerned about their starting left guard, Arron Sears; have played less than two full games with a healthy Joey Galloway; and now have their top two fullbacks on the shelf, just to name a few.
The difference between the two clubs' records? The Seahawks have struggled to find production from reserve players stepping into more prominent roles, while the Bucs – much like they did during their run to the NFC South title last season – have seen contributions from every corner of their depth chart. The same may yet come true for the Seahawks, who are well-coached and have shown the ability to handle adversity in the past.
"It's a credit to our players and our assistant coaches, and we've been through this before," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We lost a lot of players last year. We were able to overcome it. We lost a lot of players, including our quarterback, among other guys last year. I think our guys have been trained that way. When someone goes down, you're here to play better than the guy you're replacing. If you don't, we're going to have to find somebody that will.
"But we're all in this together. Our coaches have done a great job with our players, I think, creating versatility, asking the linebackers to play versatile roles [and] the receivers have all been cross-trained. If adversity strikes, we do have people that are conditioned, physically and mentally, to go out there and perform. They're pretty good players too. That's a credit to them. [General Manager] Bruce [Allen] and [Director of Pro Personnel] Mark Dominik and [Director of College Scouting] Dennis Hickey deserve a lot of credit."
Gruden went on to praise the Seahawks, saying they still feature a wealth of talented players, especially on defense. But as for the Bucs internal situations, the head coach said he has been extremely pleased with how the club has approached this season's ups and downs.
"I'm really proud of them," Gruden said. "We've got a hard-nosed, great-work-ethic group of people. They do what they're asked to do and they do more than that. And they like each other and they respect each other and they push each other, and that's sometimes something you can be most proud of. That's where I am right now. I want more. They want more. To do that, we've got to play better. We've got to continue to improve and work at it."
Speaking of dealing with injuries, Gruden took a moment Wednesday afternoon to update the Bucs' injury status.
One newcomer to the injury report this week was starting left guard Arron Sears, who injured his knee in the win over Carolina on Sunday.
"He was limited today," Gruden said. "Hopefully he can do more tomorrow."
Another player who was limited in Wednesday's session was Galloway, who has been working tirelessly to return from a nagging foot injury. Unfortunately, Gruden was unable to shed any light on Galloway's prospects for playing Sunday against his former team, saying only that it was "very much in question."
As for the remainder of the Bucs' injury report, quarterback Brian Griese (right elbow) was limited yet again after injuring his arm against the Broncos. Linebacker Barrett Ruud, who suited up against the Panthers last Sunday, was limited with his knee injury and running back Warrick Dunn received his usual lightened Wednesday workload.
A new name on the limited list, however, was kicker Matt Bryant, who is dealing with a right hamstring issue.
Fullback B.J. Askew and wide receiver Maurice Stovall were both held out of practice with hamstring injuries, and linebacker Derrick Brooks was again a full participant in practice with a hamstring injury of his own that he has played through in recent weeks.
The litany of banged up Bucs is a concern, Gruden said, but the team is taking some steps to prevent any further damage and hopefully speed up the recovery process for some of the team's injured players.
"We're taking the helmets off," Gruden said. "We're taking off the helmets, the pads. A lot of guys are limited. A lot of guys are injured. We've got a lot of injuries. I'm not saying we're the Lone Ranger [in terms of injured players]. We need to get our work done. We need to simulate our opponent and learn about them. The only way to do that is by getting the reps and obviously we got a lot of reps today, but we changed the attire and we changed the tempo a little bit to accommodate some of our players."
Even though the Bucs are doing their best to minimize them, injuries are a part of life for any NFL team, Gruden said, and it's all about rolling with the punches.
"We're still making dramatic changes," Gruden said. "We don't have either fullback on our team that went to mini-camp and training camp. That's a real adjustment. A lot of people, they don't see the fullback on the stat sheet and they assume that's not a big responsibility. But that's a huge adjustment for us right now. We lost Stovall, we're still missing Galloway. We've had a real bite taken out of our receiving corps. We're concerned about it. We are coming together in other areas. I'm concerned about Sears now, but we'll see what happens."
Welcome Back, Jameel
Fullback Jameel Cook spent his first five seasons in the NFL (2001-05) as a member of the Bucs, so he has a level of familiarity with the team's offensive scheme.
However, now that he's back for a second stint in pewter and red, Cook's timeframe to get reacquainted with the Bucs' playbook is a short one. With a prime-time matchup against the Seahawks just a few days away, Gruden said the team is relying on Cook to get comfortable in a hurry and Wednesday's practice was his first step.
"He took a crash course getting re-acclimated with the words and some new terms that we've added since he left," Gruden said. "We're happy to have him back. We certainly need his help at this point."
Although Cook's previous experience in Tampa will likely help him transition more smoothly into the offense, Gruden stressed that the most important part of the process was on-field production.
"It'll be convenient if he plays good," Gruden said. "We need [him] and he's got to play well for us. Acquisition of players is one thing; the performance is another. We need him to play well for us. We're really counting on him."
Gruden was asked if Cook would be a member of the starting lineup on Sunday. While he wasn't able to definitively answer that question (sometimes, the Bucs don't even use a fullback in their starting lineup, depending on the formation used on the first offensive play of the game), Gruden did reiterate that the team would be leaning heavily on the recently-returned fullback.
"We have no idea who's going to be starting the game, what personnel group we'll be in," Gruden said. "But we do expect him to be active and compete in the game."