TE Alex Smith practiced a bit on Wednesday but did not participate on Thursday or Friday and is thus questionable for Sunday's game
Jermaine Phillips participated in all three of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practices this week, but it doesn't appear as if he will play Sunday in Detroit.
Phillips is trying to recover from a forearm fracture sustained in Dallas on October 26, and that injury kept him limited on the practice field during the week. Phillips return to action in any capacity was a good sign, but on Friday he was designated as doubtful on the Buccaneers' week-ending injury report. Second-year man Sabby Piscitelli is likely to make his third straight start at strong safety.
Things appear only a little more promising for starting tight end Alex Smith, who suffered an ankle injury in Kansas City on November 2 while catching the game-tying two-point conversion at the end of regulation. On one hand, Smith is listed as questionable on the injury report instead of doubtful; on the other hand, he didn't practice on Thursday or Friday after trying to give it a go at the beginning of the week.
"He's not well enough to practice," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He tried to go and he was limited and he went back inside. He's not ready to practice and he's very questionable."
John Gilmore got the start in Smith's place last Sunday against Minnesota but the lineup will likely be determined by the specific play with which the Bucs began the game. Jerramy Stevens picked up much of the slack in the passing game versus the Vikings, snagging six passes for 84 yards.
Of less certainty is the makeup of the offensive backfield on Sunday. Running back Warrick Dunn (back) is listed as probable and thus should start at tailback in the absence of Earnest Graham, who was placed on injured reserve with an ankle fracture on Wednesday. However, Cadillac Williams was added to the injury report on Friday with a hamstring ailment. He participated fully in practice but is considered questionable.
Moreover, the decision on whether or not to keep Williams active on game day will be based on factors beyond just the back's health. Among other things, the Buccaneers have special teams decisions to make and could choose to activate recently-acquired running back Noah Herron for additional help in kick coverage. Evaluating how well Herron has picked up on the Bucs' special teams schemes thus becomes part of the decision.
"We just acquired Noah and we just re-signed [Matt] McCoy, so we have to look at the film and make sure that the guys are understand our schemes and their responsibilities," said Gruden. "All of those things have to be evaluated. Carnell has done some good things and I think he'd be ready to play.
"I think we'll meet later today and check out the injury status of everybody and the progress that we feel like the guys have made. There's a lot more to it than just, 'Let's just make a hasty decision here.' There's a chance we get Carnell up. We're hoping we can do that."
Scoring in Bunches
Kicker Matt Bryant has been very busy and very good this season.
It's not common for a Buccaneer kicker to be near the top of the league's individual scoring chart, but that's exactly where Bryant finds himself as December approaches. With 91 points, Bryant is tied with New England's Stephen Gostkowski for second place in the NFL, just three points behind Philadelphia's David Akers.
Tampa Bay's recent problems in the red zone would be more of a problem if Bryant hadn't proven to be so dependable this season. He has made 24 of his 28 field goal tries, including all 23 he's tried from 45 yards or closer. His 85.7% success rate, if maintained, would be the best in team history, just a hair better than the 85.2% mark posted by Steve Christie in 1990.
Of course, neither the Buccaneers nor Bryant have been particularly surprised by the kicker's accuracy this year. In his first three seasons in Tampa, Bryant made a combined 82.5% of his attempts. He has still never missed as a Buccaneer on an attempt between 30 and 39 yards (34-of-34).
He's simply getting called on a little more often this year.
"I've had some good solid years since I have been here in Tampa," said Bryant. "I had a pretty good year the first year I was here and a pretty good year last year. This year has gone pretty well. It's hard for me to look at that. If I only had 18 tries, it wouldn't make me any less [successful]. I've just had more opportunities. I guess you could say that with more opportunities there are more times to fail as well. I have managed to stay away from that and that's good."
If Bryant kept kicking at his current pace for the remaining six games, he would finish with approximately 38 field goals in 45 tries and 146 total points. All three of those would break Buccaneer records established by Martin Gramatica in the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl season.
More from Coach Gruden
Over the last two seasons, Gruden has watched fourth-year linebacker Barrett Ruud blossom into a star. The Bucs coach wonders how many others have seen the same thing.
"I wish he'd get more national respect as one of the up-and-coming stars in the league at that position," said Gruden of Ruud, who has 104 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions so far this season. "Not that I'm sensitive to it or hear a lot of it, I just don't feel like people know about him like they do some of the other middle linebackers that play football in the league. He was a division champion last year, he's our leading tackler, he's a great player. I hope he gets to go to Pro Bowls and I hope he gets the accolades that go with great performances week-in and week-out. He's played hurt, he's played great when he's been hurt, he's playing solid football, he's an every-down middle linebacker and I'm really proud of what he's done. He's a key to our team. He's one of our big-time leaders."
Gruden touched on several other topics as well after the team's practices this week.
On Ruud not being flashy: "We've got some guys that have really played great football here that are just all business, guys like Barrett and Tanard Jackson. I think Earnest Graham was that way. A lot of our guys are that way. We'll keep it that way. I don't mind having guys like Barrett Ruud around."
On if the current defense is forging its own identity apart from the Bucs' recent past: "I don't know. I think they qualify as an outstanding defense. The only thing that matters is winning championships in pro football. That's it. I think we've gotten better as a team, too. I think the better you play on offense, the more you possess the ball, the less the opportunities they have to have it. My point is, every team, whether it be a defensive team or an offensive team or a punter and kicker, the team has to forge an identity. I've been on teams where the defenses have, the offense carries it here, but we just try to emphasize the team and I'm really proud of our guys for being able to do that. But we qualify as an outstanding NFL defense. Monte Kiffin's a big reason for that and our personnel is pretty doggone good. I'm proud of our defense. We'd like to see them play their best defense down the stretch. We need them."
On if the pass rush can heat up: "I've always said, in my opinion, statistics and where you rank, you rank fifth in the league in what? Yards allowed? Is that what we're saying here? No one says that. Where do we rank in terms of gaining turnovers? Where do we rank in terms of victories and impact plays? There are a lot of ways to look at things, but we're playing very good defense. We want more from them because we think they're capable of delivering that – more turnovers, more touchdowns, more of everything, more pass rush. Yeah, we'd like to limit the yards and stay at the top of that category because that's how you're judged by a lot of people. But we want to win the game, and teams that win in this league play great defense."
On RB Noah Herron and if he can contribute right away: "We could sure use some help. That's why he's here. Rich Bisaccia's been meeting with him trying to teach him not only the offense…but he is a quick study. He's a smart guy, played in the league before. With his body, his size, he can help us on the punt team covering kicks and doing a lot of things. He's a guy we're evaluating and trying to coach up and bring up to speed as soon as we can."
On how hard it is for a player like Joey Galloway to adapt to a different role: "I'm sure it is tough on him. It's been tough on us. We've had to make a lot of adjustments not only at running back but on our receiving corps. But he plays the same position that Antonio [Bryant] plays and you can't deny the fact that Antonio's playing great. Not good – he's playing really outstanding football. They're kind of stacked at the same position. We're trying our best to utilize them both and we'll continue to do that. But Mike Clayton's having a solid year. Statistics may not say so, but put the tape on. He's really playing well, as is Ike Hilliard. Joey missed a lot of time late last season, missed a lot of the preseason, all the preseason. He missed five or six games. We're in the process of doing the best we can to use everybody."
On if Jimmy Wilkerson might get more playing time: "Yeah, I think so. He's in our seven-man rotation, plays inside and out. Coach [Todd] Wash has done a good job of using all seven guys. We like his versatility. He can give us some inside nickel rush and he can also come off the edge. He's a good football player. He's a really good addition to our team."