TE Will Heller is one player who will see more action this week due to injuries
Revamped starting lineups don't happen on a whim on game day. They are debated early in the week, evaluated on the practice field on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and either put into play or onto the backburner in the days before the game.
Last week, for instance, the Bucs used Jameel Cook a lot more with their first-team offense during the midweek practices, and Greg Comella less. Then, on game day, Cook and Comella switched places between the active and inactive lists and the younger fullback saw his first action of the regular season.
So if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are destined to make any lineup changes on their 26th-ranked offense this week, they would be considering their options at practice. Are they? Head Coach Jon Gruden doesn't have any changes to report at this moment, but he does point out that the team has already explored a good percentage of the possibilities.
"We're going to look at every avenue we have," said Gruden. "But I don't know how many more personnel changes we can make, quite honestly. We used Jameel Cook last week at fullback, Mike Alstott more and more at halfback. We're using Will Heller this week at tight end. We've used every receiver that is on our roster and we might look at some guys at some other positions also. We'll make those decisions as the week closes out."
Of course, there are dozens of potential alterations that don't necessarily affect the announced starting lineup, such as the Cook-Comella swap last weekend. Given the loss of such producers as Joey Galloway, Charlie Garner, Rickey Dudley and Joe Jurevicius, the Bucs are going to continue to be looking for contributions from virtually every skill-position player they have. Those who show a spark on the practice field could find their roles increased on Sundays.
"Offensively, there are some guys who have been thrust into roles they really didn't expect to be in, quite honestly," said Gruden. "Hopefully they'll get acclimated to that and start performing to the highest of their abilities and help us out."
As for the men up front, a team is more likely to use its fourth receiver or its third tight end than any of its backup offensive linemen, even when everything is clicking. A switch up front truly takes more preparation and Gruden didn't report any impending changes. However, he did laud the team's four O-line backups for their recent work on the practice field, which is encouraging in case any of those players figure in the team's plans down the line.
"Kenyatta Walker is practicing better," said Gruden, referring to the fourth-year tackle who started camp on the non-football-injury list due to a stomach illness. "He appears to be improving physically. And Sean Mahan is making strides, as is Anthony Davis. Our young player, Jeb Terry, is getting better. There might be a point in time when we get them in a little bit, but we'll see."
Over the last two years, most Buccaneer offensive players have simply had to bide their time, as a seemingly endless string of injuries has forced the team to give every man a look, whether it was time or not. Wide receiver Marcus Knight, for instance, could be an option on kickoff returns four days after re-signing with the team if the designated man for that job, Frank Murphy, is still battling a hamstring injury.
Murphy practiced on Thursday and is on the injury report is probable, but he is still not a sure bet to play against Denver.
"He still looks to be lingering a little bit," said Gruden. "We'll have to see how it goes tomorrow, then we'll take him out early before the game and run him hard. He'll have to pass a test before we activate him."
Even if the Bucs aren't contemplating any lineup changes, they can still set the groundwork for a change in fortunes on the practice field. It was blazing hot and almost ridiculously humid on Thursday afternoon, but the Bucs got in another productive, two-hour workout in preparation for the Broncos. The coaching staff and the team remain very confident.
"The bottom line is, we have to go out and play better football together for 60 minutes – offense, defensive, special teams, all three areas," said Gruden. "To do that, we've got to practice well and we've got to take it to the grass on Sunday.
"We are focused and motivated. We've got a lot of character on our football team. We have a lot of confident guys who believe we can turn this thing around. We know it's not going to be easy."