Second-year passer Chris Simms led the first-team offense in practice on Wednesday with Brian Griese out due to injury
For an NFL quarterback, missing a Wednesday afternoon practice during the season isn't necessarily a cause for alarm. Some weeks, two days of rest, whirlpools and deep-tissue massages aren't enough to bury the more enduring aches from a tough Sunday game.
Brian Griese didn't practice on Wednesday for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That was the chief topic of conversation after the afternoon's two-hour session, and not because Griese was the only player on the active roster to sit out. Griese's health this weekend will determine whether he plays in the season finale or the start goes to left-handed second-year passer Chris Simms.
Griese's absence on the practice field to start the week doesn't offer any concrete evidence on what the decision will be.
"He's missed several Wednesday practices," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "A lot of quarterbacks still have lingering effects from games, at least the ones I've been around. But if he's healthy, hopefully he'll be ready to go on Sunday. If not, I get a strong feeling that there are some people who want Lefty to go. If that's the case, that's the case."
Gruden termed Griese questionable for Sunday's game in Arizona but also said he expects him to play and hopes to have a better feel for the situation by Friday. As an indication of how rapidly these circumstances can change, the team was more concerned about Griese's hip strain on Monday but is now keeping an eye on his right foot. Griese said his hip injury, which has lingered for about a month, is not bothering him, but the sprained ligaments in the bottom of his foot currently make it hard for him to plant and push off.
Griese has every intention of getting himself ready to play the season finale, but wasn't sure on Wednesday how quickly his foot would respond to treatment.
"Each day it keeps getting better; hopefully, it will continue to do that," he said. "But I've never had this injury and I don't really know how fast it's going to come back."
Griese, who has started the last 10 games after relieving an injured Simms one quarter into Game Five, considers health the only factor in the equation. If he is cleared to play, he believes it his obligation to perform in the season finale, even if the game has no playoff implications.
"There are a lot of guys each and every week who go out there and put their health on the line by playing hurt, banged up, and I was one of them," he said. "This game is no different. If I'm able to go out there and play and be effective, then I should go out there and play and be effective.
"I've always prided myself on being able to go out there and play with injuries and fight through the pain. But it's different if you're going to hurt your team, and that's the last thing that I want to do. So I'm going to make sure I'm able to move around, plant and throw the ball like I normally do before I go out there and play."
Simms would like to get the start, obviously, and he directed the first-team offense on Wednesday with Griese on the sideline. He looked sharp in his only start, that Week Five game at New Orleans, but he went out at the end of the first quarter with a shoulder sprain and hasn't seen the field on game day since, save for a brief mop-up appearance in a blowout win over San Francisco, in which he did not throw a pass.
"It would be great for me, just to get out there again and get that experience," said Simms. "I really haven't played a full game yet, maybe two quarters or three quarters if you add it all up. Like I said, it's whatever Coach decides. I'll be ready."
Simms does not believe it would be hard to get back into the flow, given a good amount of reps on the practice field this week. However, he wouldn't have any difficulty accepting Gruden's decision if Griese comes back at the end of the week and makes the start.
"It won't be hard," said Simms. "I've had other weeks this year where I've prepared to be the starter because Brian was banged up. I'll be ready, like I said, and you never know. You're always one play away, so you've got to be ready. I'm an example of that."
Simms is eager to play, of course, but even a shot on Sunday would only be a one-game cameo, since the season will be over when the Cardinals game comes to an end. More importantly, both Simms and Gruden know that the young passer will get every opportunity to earn the job next year.
"He's not going to get any charity appearances because this game is the final game or it doesn't matter," said Gruden of Simms. "We're going to continue to try to get Brian Griese ready to be great, and when Chris Simms earns the opportunity he'll play, whether it be because of injury or performance. We're working with Chris very hard. A lot of people don't see that. I'm encouraged by his progress and I consider him a threat next year to win the job."
Other Injury Updates
As mentioned, Griese was the only Buccaneer held out of practice on Friday. Starting center Sean Mahan, who has a quad strain and was thought to be a midweek question mark, was on the field, as was starting left tackle Derrick Deese, who has a sore foot.
Mahan is listed as probable on the Bucs' injury report and Deese wasn't even included on the list. Both are expected to play against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals' injury report was lengthier and, as expected, it included starting left tackle Leonard Davis in the 'out' category. He and cornerback Renaldo Hill (back) have been ruled out for the season finale.
Davis has played for several weeks with a knee injury but made it significantly worse last Sunday against Seattle and won't be able to finish the season. In the Seahawks game, left guard Reggie Wells slid over to tackle when Davis left the game.
Seven other Cardinals appear on the injury report, but only third-string quarterback John Navarre is considered questionable or worse.
The Buccaneers' offense obviously faced a formidable task last weekend against the surging Carolina Panthers' defense, but according to the league rankings, this weekend's game is an even bigger challenge.
The Panthers have the league's 18th-ranked defense. The Cards are at number 13.
That's a significant step up for Arizona, which finished the last three years ranked 26th, 28th and 29th, respectively, in defense. Much of the credit has been aimed at new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who came to Arizona to join Dennis Green's staff after coaching linebackers in Cleveland in 2003.
Pendergast has proven to be an innovative coordinator, and his defense has shown a wide variety of looks. They play both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and give opposing offenses a lot for which they must prepare.
"Arizona's got a lot of scheme issues that are a challenge to get ready for and we've still got plenty to clean up," said Gruden after Wednesday's practice.
Of course, Pendergast isn't the only newcomer making a difference. A pair of 2004 free agent signees, defensive end Bertrand Berry and cornerback David Macklin, lead the team in sacks and interceptions, respectively.
Berry, in particular, has been a critical addition. He leads not only the Cardinals but the entire NFC with 12.5 sacks, more than a third of the 34 sacks Arizona has recorded overall.
"I played with Bert with Denver and he's a great guy," said Griese. "I've been happy for him and he deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. He's had a great year. They do some unorthodox things on defense. They've been playing a little bit better the past two games, so it's going to be a challenge for us."