Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Still In Question

Friday Notes: The Bucs and Saints release detailed injury reports with a total of 14 questionable players for Sunday's game…Gaines Adams looks to roll his strong 2007 finish into a hot start to 2008…Plus, more from Coach Gruden

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QB Jeff Garcia is considered probable to play on Sunday despite a sore little finger on his right hand

Jeff Garcia's little finger was the big news on the detailed injury report the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released on Friday. Or at least it would have been if Garcia's throwing hand was more significantly injured, or if Garcia himself was a new addition to the report.

The Buccaneers included Garcia's sore pinky on their report Friday out of obligation to NFL injury report regulations; in reality, the ailment doesn't appear to be having much effect. Garcia was listed as probable on the report, where he was already expected to land due to the calf strain he has recently overcome. The Bucs' starting quarterback is still expected to play on Sunday in New Orleans.

Moreover, Head Coach Jon Gruden doesn't believe the jammed finger is affecting Garcia's throw. If Garcia wasn't a quarterback or if the injury was on his non-throwing hand, it might not have been worth including on Friday's report.

"He's got a sore pinky, I guess," said Gruden. "Since he's a quarterback and he does have a jammed pinky or whatever it may be, we put him on the injury list."

What is of more interest on the report is the "questionable" section of the list. Most of the Buccaneer players who were limited in some respect during practice this week ended up under that designation, including fullback B.J. Askew (foot), wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin) and defensive tackle Jovan Haye (groin).

Guard Davin Joseph, who is recovering from a foot injury suffered during the preseason, is the only Buccaneer player who has been ruled out for Sunday's game. The remainder of the injury list may have an impact on which eight players are chosen to be inactives on game day.

"We've got to look at not only are they going to be able to play, but how much can they play," said Gruden. "We can't have a bunch of guys active that aren't going to play for extended periods. We're only allowed to dress 46, so there could be some inactives that are somewhat surprising or might not be. We'll hope there isn't."

Also considered questionable for Sunday's game: wide receivers Antonio Bryant (knee) and Michael Clayton (chest), linebacker Matt McCoy (groin), safety Sabby Piscitelli (knee) and defensive tackle Ryan Sims (thigh).

That means half of the Bucs' six-man receiving corps is on the questionable list. That's not necessarily an enormous problem, given that the team often carries six receivers on the 53-man roster but frequently makes two of them inactive on game day.

"We're probably going to have four or five receivers up and somebody will be out," said Gruden. "That's the way it's always been. I don't know if it's trouble or whatever it may be, but we're going to try to dress five guys that can play on special teams, contribute as receivers and it'll be a call we make based on the health of the guys we have."

The presence of rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson could push the Bucs' number of active wideouts to five on Sunday, if only to make sure Jackson is around to return punts and kickoffs. Gruden confirmed on Friday that the return job belongs to the rookie second-rounder for this week, at least.

"Yeah, he's going to be up based on last week," said Gruden, referring to Jackson's 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in the preseason finale at Houston. "He'll be up. He'll have a hard time sleeping the night before the game. I know he's really excited, but what he did last week will get everybody's attention. Hopefully that's an area that we can show tremendous improvement in."

The Saints' more detailed injury report on Friday followed a similar pattern, as most of the New Orleans players who had been sidelined for or limited in practice ended up as "questionable." That list includes linebacker Troy Evans (ankle), running back Deuce McAllister (knee), cornerback Mike McKenzie (knee), linebacker Mark Simoneau (back), running back Aaron Stecker (hamstring) and defensive tackle Brian Young (foot). McKenzie and Simoneau are listed as starters on the last depth chart published by the Saints.

Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas (triceps) has been ruled out for the game.

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Gaines Ahead

Last season, Buccaneers defensive end Gaines Adams led all NFL rookies in sacks (6.0) despite having just 1.5 QB takedowns at midseason.

In defiance of the usual "rookie wall" pattern, Adams came on very strong in the second half of the 2007 campaign, with 32 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the Bucs' last seven games. Not only did that strong finish helped build Adams' own confidence, it gave his teammates reason to believe in him.

And that latter result is coming full circle this year, as his teammates' attitude towards him is fueling Adams even more.

"It gave me tremendous confidence, just having that vibe from the players, 'Knowing that he's coming on and he's doing a better job,'" said the former fourth-overall draft pick. "Just having that respect from those guys can help a lot."

Adams wants to come out of the gates hot this year, thereby putting together a full season of impactful play. Unlike last year, he's in the starting lineup on opening day, and it feels like a fresh start to him.

"Coming into this position, I know I had a lot of expectations and I had a key role in this defense," he said. "I started off slow, but as the season went on, things started to get better. I can see a change right now. It's having a little more smiles and not the frown faces now.

"It just feels good to know that the coaches are behind you. I know they were behind me last year, but they just wanted me to do well. It just feels good knowing that all that is behind me right now and I can move forward."

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More from Coach Gruden

The Buccaneers' coach touched on a variety of additional topics after the team's final full-scale practice of the week on Friday.

On if he has a feel for how good the team is at this point: "I think we have a great work ethic. It was a good preseason and good practices, a good week of practice. I've seen a lot of guys perform pretty consistently well. We've got to put it all together and see how we stack up against another team that's had a pretty good preseason also. I've got a pretty good idea. We've got some talent and we've got some guys that need the experience of game day. The football team is not the same as it was last year on opening day, and they need to have the experience of game day together. That's what's always exciting about opening day to me."

On if the defense will be strong: "I hope so. Second year players usually show dramatic improvement. Not just Gaines Adams and Greg White, Tanard Jackson, but guys like Kevin Carter and Cato June that are in their second year in the system. We want to get better in red zone defense, we've got to get better in third down defense. Giving up yards and total defense is just a stat the media uses. There are some areas we've got to get a lot better at, and hopefully we do. But second year players usually show significant improvement, and we hope some of our seasoned veterans continue to get better to."

On getting better at pressuring the quarterback and if a solid secondary helps with that: "I think so. I think the potential for that is always there. I feel good about our four corners. I feel good about our four safeties, honestly. We've got eight athletic guys that can not only play our traditional zone scheme, but they can do a lot of things. They're all capable blitzers and willing tacklers, so there's some deception there that maybe we can use. If man-to-man and more pressure is part of that, than so be it. But Monte [Kiffin] does a great job of creatively using his people."

On if the league is evolving and teams are copying other successful schemes: "You break down this protection. You're going to send four guys out on a route. Four guys are out on a route, you have six blockers. Let's bring four to this side, break that protection down and smash the quarterback or make him throw it hot. It's not a perfect science. It's overload blitzing, zone blitzing. It won the Giants the Super Bowl or had a big reason. They profited greatly from that scheme and normally the next year people say, 'Hey, what are they doing that's so good? Maybe we ought to take a look at it.' Philadelphia and Jim Johnson have done it for years. A lot of teams are playing Tampa-2, snap after snap for a while there and they still do. But there are some bizarre blitzes going on and that's why it's hard to change players and change quarterbacks, because you just can't stand there and get blitzed your whole life or you're in for a long, ugly year."

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