Reidel Anthony was the only Buc receiver to sit out Friday's practice, but how the unit will shape up on Sunday is unclear
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn has an NFC-high 76 receptions this season, no small portion of them on routes across the middle. The hard hits he is guaranteed to take each Sunday have earned him time in the training room nearly every week, overcoming one injury after another.
But Johnson has started every game for the Buccaneers, and he has caught no fewer than five passes on any game day.
The rest of the Buccaneers' receiving corps has not been as lucky. Injuries have already cost Karl Williams and Jacquez Green playing time, and Reidel Anthony could be next. First-year wideout Frank Murphy was inactive for three of the first four games but has been needed for at least a portion of every game since.
The uncertainty at that position will apparently continue right up until game time this week, although the Bucs could conceivably have all of their receivers available. Though Williams started the week as the least likely of those five to play, it now appears to be Anthony that has the most to overcome in order to be ready in time.
"Reidel Anthony is still having a little problem with his hip flexor," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, referring to an injury that Anthony suffered near the end of Wednesday's practice. "He'll have to run on Sunday before the game and we'll see how that goes. Karl Williams did better today. He was able to participate in everything, so we'll have some decisions (to make). Other than Reidel, we're probably close to full strength."
Williams also has a hip injury, sustained on November 18 against Chicago. Because Williams was bent back fiercely during a muffed punt and had to be taken off by a cart, it was thought that he might miss several games. However, after sitting out the Monday nighter in St. Louis, he appears on the verge of returning already. Williams practiced at near full speed Friday and went through all of the drills, so he is likely to remain 'probable' on the injury report. Still, the team is reserving judgment on his availability until Sunday.
"The movement doesn't look like it's going to be a problem," said Dungy. "Now we'll see if we can just get him padded up where he's not restricted too much."
That would give the Bucs two things they were missing against the Rams: the receiver who had started the previous two games opposite Johnson and the team' best punt returner. If Williams is not 100 percent on Sunday, the team could elect to use him primarily in just one of those two roles.
"We could," agreed Dungy. "We could have him just do the punts and use him just as an emergency receiver, or vice versa. We'll just have to see how he and Reidel are."
For the first time since October, Green is not even listed on the injury report, and he could be a candidate to reclaim his starting position if Anthony is unable to play. Green started the first five games of the season and had 22 receptions for 256 yards, a pace that would have led to 70 receptions for 819 yards over the course of a full season. However, groin and abdominal strains kept him out of four straight games and he played somewhat sparingly in St. Louis.
Dungy said that Green is in better shape heading into the Cincinnati game than he was on Monday.
"He's getting closer every week," said the coach. "The season may be over before he's truly back to where he was, but he's functioning well and, I think, is pretty much over it."
Since it seems a bit unlikely that all three of Anthony, Williams and Green will be at full strength on Sunday, it will probably be another interesting day for Murphy, who has taken over on kickoff returns and has been a hard worker in practice all season.
"Frank's doing fine," said Dungy. "He's getting some good work in and handling kickoff returns. He'll probably get to play a little bit at receiver."
The Bucs only other injury concerns of note on Friday were at running back, where Warrick Dunn was held out but Aaron Stecker returned. It appears the team will have both of them to work with on Sunday.
"Warrick Dunn we held today, but that was just the Friday routine and he should be okay," said Dungy. "Aaron Stecker did fine today, too."
Dunn has been taking it easy during Friday workouts for about a month as the team looks for away to help him deal with a persistent turf toe injury. Dunn has maintained that he can't fully rid himself of the ailment without a month or two of rest, so the team will probably remain cautious with him through the rest of the season. Stecker pulled a hamstring early in Wednesday's practice and had to sit out on Thursday, but had made substantial progress by Friday. However, he remains as 'questionable' on the Bucs' injury report.
Overall, Stecker is in the same position as Anthony and the rest of the receiving corps – they will all have to wait until Sunday to find out who's playing.
"We'll see how Reidel and Aaron do in terms of running," said Dungy in summary. "They've still got about 48 hours."
Pewter Power Hour Returns with Rich McKay, Tim Ruskell
The Pewter Power Hour, a unique fan call-in show on Buccaneers.com on alternating Monday nights, was postponed earlier this week because the Buccaneers were involved in another Monday broadcast of some significance.
So, yes, we stepped aside for Monday Night Football, but the Pewter Power Hour is back and is doubling the excitement with two prominent guests.
On Monday night, Buccaneer fans anywhere in the nation can speak directly to General Manager Rich McKay and Director of Player Personnel Tim Ruskell simply by calling the Pewter Power Hour beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Pewter Power Hour's toll free phone number is: 1-866-783-2680. Callers who get through are able to ask their questions of or directly their opinions to McKay and Ruskell, and the audio results are broadcast live on Buccaneers.com.
McKay has been with the Buccaneers since 1992 and became the team's general manager in 1995. Since, he has helped build the team into a perennial playoff contender and has stocked the team with Pro Bowl players.
Ruskell, an integral part of the club's scouting efforts since 1987, was promoted to his current position this season after Jerry Angelo departed the club to become the Chicago Bears' general manager.
Talk to them both live Monday night on the Pewter Power Hour!
Much of the focus in practice this week was on stopping Bengals running back Corey Dillon, considered the team's top offensive weapon. However, the Bucs are not forgetting about another Bengal threat, one that thrilled crowds in the state of Florida not too long ago.
In his second season, wide receiver Peter Warrick has emerged as Cincinnati's top passcatcher, grabbing 44 passes for 446 yards through the first 10 games. The Bengals made Warrick the fourth player chosen overall thanks to the big-play ability he showed at Florida State, but his 10.1 yards per catch and one touchdown this season are more the marks of a workhorse.
However, Dungy knows that Warrick is still capable of electrifying moves and breakaway plays, even if he is being employed as more of a 'possession' receiver.
"They're running him across the middle," said Dungy. "He's catching a lot of inside balls. His big plays seem to be coming off the reverses and the kicking game. But we know what he can do and we know he can get deep. Darnay Scott is probably the guy they've used the most to get deep, but they've got capable guys."