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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Toeing the Line

Monday Notes: After missing the Atlanta game with a turf toe injury, Brian Kelly is a good bet to play against Carolina…Plus, the reasons for Michael Vick’s explosion and a show of resolve


CB Brian Kelly missed Sunday's game in Atlanta but is considered probable for the coming contest with Carolina

Three things to know about "turf toe," a term most of us only hear when considering the NFL's weekly infirmary report:

  1. The proper medical name for this injury is metatarsalphalangeal joint sprain; 2. The pain caused by this injury is not actually in any toe, but in the joint and connective tissue between the foot and toe; and 3. It can be a confounding and unpredictable ailment, particularly for a football player who is constantly asked to cut, turn and accelerate.

Thus, it should be considered good news that Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brian Kelly has been judged "probable" to play in next weekend's game against Carolina despite suffering from this injury. Kelly sat out Sunday's contest at Atlanta after experiencing much more discomfort than expected on the morning of the game.

That's the unpredictable side of turf toe. Kelly was actually probable on last week's injury report, too, but the problem worsened on Sunday. Hopefully, the forced day of rest will make it more likely he can return against Carolina, but he has been dealing with the injury since training camp.

"He was unable to go yesterday," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He came to the stadium and didn't feel he could perform on his foot. We'll get some further information on that. He'll have some other people look at it. But at this stage we expect him to play unless we find out otherwise."

Juran Bolden moved into the starting left cornerback spot when Kelly was deactivated, making Torrie Cox the nickel back. For a brief period in the Atlanta game, the Bucs were a bit thin on the corner after Bolden left the game with an injury, though he did return.

Kelly's deactivation snapped a string of 33 consecutive starts by the veteran cornerback.

Guard Davin Joseph is still trying to get his streak started. He was slated to open the season as the starting right guard, only to see that assignment put on hold by a knee injury suffered on the practice field before the opening game. The team is hoping Joseph can return shortly after its bye in Week Four, but Gruden has already ruled the big rookie out for Sunday's contest against Carolina.

Tight end Dave Moore, the team's long-snapper, has also been ruled out for Sunday's game. He missed the Atlanta contest due to a rib injury suffered in the opener against Baltimore. First-year long-snapper Andrew Economos, signed to the active roster from the practice squad on Saturday, performed well in Moore's place, according to Gruden.


Rocket Man

Gruden commonly refers to Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick as Starship Seven, a nod to Vick's otherworldly athletic skills, particularly his foot speed and open-field elusiveness. Vick might be the most dangerous running quarterback the NFL has ever seen, and Gruden thinks he might qualify as one of the best running backs in the NFL if he were so classified.

Still, the Buccaneers have had more success stopping Vick's jaunts out of the pocket than almost every other team in the NFL, which is a major reason that they've had the upper hand in the overall series with the Falcons since the NFC South was formed. Last year, Vick ran for "just" 80 yards in two games against the Buccaneers.

On Sunday in the Georgia Dome, however, Vick was all over the field, rushing for 127 yards on 14 carries, almost all of them designed runs. Not coincidentally, Atlanta snapped the Bucs' three-game winning streak in the series, taking a 14-3 decision while running for a team-record 306 yards overall.

The Bucs have much of the same defensive personnel that has stopped Vick from running silly in previous games – including Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and Shelton Quarles – but may have fallen victim to the best Vick-centric game plan the Falcons have unleashed on Tampa Bay so far. That and a few defensive missteps – some of them understandable given that Warrick Dunn (134 yards) had also been established as a legitimate threat – combined to create the Bucs' bad day.

"They have a little bit different running game right now then they have had," said Gruden. "I think the NFL is finding out that Michael Vick is at times, a running back. From a shotgun, to a one back option series, these are designed runs. They caught us off guard a couple times with their scheme, showing some new things. We got to take responsibility for that as coaches. And certainly there were some times that we got out of our gaps maybe a little bit too aggressive. And we got out flanked. It was a combination of those two things, but we expect much, much better certainly. And I tip my hat to Atlanta, they did a hell of a job. They're a very, very good football team."

It may turn out that the Bucs were just one of the first teams that will get a serious taste of Vick's running this year. The Falcons also rang up 260 rushing yards against Carolina in the season opener. They certainly were not shy in running Vick on Sunday, and they did it out of some unexpected sets to great effect. Atlanta Head Coach Jim Mora said that his staff draws on many inspirations in designing the offense around Vick, including some from the college ranks.

"One of the series that they caught us off-guard in was a shotgun situation where they had an offset back," said Gruden. "Obviously, our mindset might not be to be looking for that option series in a trips formation with an offset back. That's something that they did. They've got a couple wrinkles in their attack that got after us pretty good yesterday from a structure standpoint.

"And there were a couple times that we had a guy in relative position, but this guy's a rocket ship, man. I mean, this guy's not looking to throw the ball on the boot. These are full-speed assaults on the perimeter. I don't know what he runs on a watch but I promise you he's as fast as most guys I've seen. We got a little too aggressive at times. I think the early success of Warrick Dunn, in all reality, makes you be a little bit apt to be aggressive on the back side, because Dunn was hurting us as well."


A Long Way to Go

The season may be a week older, but the Buccaneers' axiom of a week ago is still valid: There is a lot of season left.

Thus, the Bucs went back to work on Monday morning with their goals for the season unchanged: Defend their NFC South title and play much deeper into the postseason. As painful as 0-2 feels, it is still an ailment that can be remedied.

"I am going to say this; I'm not going to throw in the towel," said Gruden. "We're going to get back to work today, Carolina comes in here 0-2, and their not feeling to good about themselves either. We are very young into the season."

Gruden didn't try to spin the Bucs' situation or diminish the impact of the first two losses, but he repeated a claim he has made about this particular Tampa Bay team on several occasions. It has determination and a burning desire to win.

"I take the game extremely seriously and I take it very hard when we lose," said Gruden. "I take it very hard. At the same time, you've got to do what you've got to do. You have to do what a man has to do. You've got to keep working and you've got to show resolve and by God you can't give up. That's one thing I'm proud of with our coaching staff and with our football team. I don't believe they're going to throw in the towel and give up. I think they're going to fight their way out of this hole and we've got to prove we can do that. And so does Carolina – that's why it's going to be a hell of a game Sunday."

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