WRs Chas Gessner (left) and Micheal Spurlock (second to left) are the newest additions to the Buccaneers' oft-shuffled offensive lineup
On the Monday after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Seven game at Detroit, Wide Receivers Coach Richard Mann spent some extra time on the practice field with the three receivers then on the practice squad – Taye Biddle, Chad Lucas and Micheal Spurlock. Mark Jones and Michael Clayton had gone down with injuries against the Lions, and it appeared possible that one of those three young pass-catchers would get a call up to the active roster.
The Buccaneers did, in fact, promote Lucas to the 53-man squad that Wednesday. Lucas played in Tampa Bay's loss to Jacksonville this past Sunday, returning two kickoffs for a total of 35 yards.
Now it's Spurlock's turn.
On Thursday, the Buccaneers promoted the first-year wideout to the active roster, following a string of moves made the day before. The team had opened two spots on the roster by placing cornerback Torrie Cox on injured reserve and releasing Lucas; the first spot was filled with the re-signing of wide receiver Chas Gessner, while the second remained open until Spurlock was bumped up on Thursday.
After he cleared waivers, the Bucs also re-signed Lucas to the practice squad.
Like Gessner, Lucas could help the team immediately on special teams even if he isn't utilized significantly on offense. In fact, he could potentially be an option for the Bucs' twice-vacated kickoff return job. Cox had just inherited that job from the injured Mark Jones before he, too, was lost for the season with a knee injury this past Sunday. In Spurlock's one previous regular-season NFL game he returned three kickoffs for 54 yards.
If Spurlock does get to play this weekend, it will be against the team that first brought him into the league. He signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2006 after playing quarterback and running back at Mississippi. He landed on Arizona's practice squad at the beginning of his rookie season and stayed there until the final week, when he was signed to the active roster. In his NFL debut against San Diego, he tied for the team lead with four receptions for 31 yards and, as mentioned, also returned kickoffs.
Gessner, meanwhile, proved to the team in training camp that he can fill a variety of roles in the kicking game, such as the gunner on punts and the man who blocks the gunner on punt return.
"He gives us a guy that can play not just on one phase or two phases," said Head Coach Gruden. "He can play on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. He gives us a guy that can play on just about every unit. That's what he gives us."
The additions this week of Gessner and Spurlock and the subtraction of Lucas give the Bucs' six receivers on the roster, though not quite that many healthy ones. Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard were limited on the practice field on Thursday due to ankle and calf injuries, respectively. Hilliard has performed through minor injuries for much of the season and hasn't missed any time, but Clayton hasn't played since suffering his injury on the second play of the Detroit game.
All of the injuries have forced the Bucs to try a lot of different options at receiver, and they still may be looking for the right combination.
"We haven't stopped tweaking, so we're not going to stop," said Gruden. "We'll continue to tweak and bend and twist until we find what we need here. Unfortunately we've lost a lot of guys. But we have [Joey] Galloway, we have a healthy Maurice Stovall and we hope Ike's ready to go. We'll see what happens."
The addition of Hilliard is the only change to the Bucs' injury report on Thursday. The team had seven other players who were limited during Thursday's workout: Clayton, linebacker Quincy Black (hamstring), defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder), cornerback Brian Kelly (groin), running back Michael Pittman (ankle) and tight end Alex Smith (ankle). In addition, defensive end Greg Spires has not practiced at all this week due to the calf strain he incurred against Jacksonville on Sunday.
Of those hobbled players, Smith might be inspiring the most optimism with his recovery. He hasn't played since being carted off the field against Tennessee.
"Alex Smith is moving around better," said Gruden. "I don't see any improvement in Clayton, but today's another day and tomorrow's another one, so we'll update you as we go."
Of those recovering players, Kelly has missed the most time. He played in half of the season opener before sustaining a groin injury and has appeared in only two games since. With the loss of Cox, the Bucs could go into Sunday's game against Arizona with only three cornerbacks, if Kelly can't play. That's enough to populate a nickel package for the game, but leaves the team thin if any more injuries occur during the game. If that unfortunate situation were to arise, the Bucs could press one of their safeties into coverage.
"Tanard Jackson has some experience playing there," said Gruden. "We would find a way to play the game."
Jackson, who was a cornerback at Syracuse before the Bucs converted him to safety, may end up as the latest player on the roster to take on a new role due to injuries. That has become something of a trend this season, and it hasn't made things easy on the 4-4 Buccaneers.
"It's a great challenge," said Gruden. "I'm really proud of our coaches and players, the guys who are out here in those situations trying to get ready to play. It's a challenge indeed, but that's the challenge we have."