Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Working Towards Sunday

Wednesday Notes: LB Derrick Brooks didn't practice on Wednesday due to a hamstring injury and there's no indication yet if he will be cleared to play on Sunday; Plus, additional injury updates and a welcome return home

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LB Derrick Brooks didn't practice on Wednesday but he can push his streak of consecutive games played to 210 by suiting up on Sunday

Kevin Carter could pull ahead of Derrick Brooks this weekend in a race that has been 14 years in the making. Barrett Ruud is betting it won't happen.

Carter, a defensive end out of the University of Florida, and Brooks, a Florida State linebacker, both entered the league as first-round draft picks in 1995. Carter's career has taken him through St. Louis, Tennessee, Miami and Tampa while Brooks has played one straight line with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but their paths have led them to the same point.

Amazingly, neither of those two veteran stalwarts has missed a game since their NFL careers began in 1995. Each one is working on a streak of 209 consecutive games played that could go to 210 on Sunday against Atlanta. Barring a practice-field injury this week, Carter is sure to start. Brooks? The jury is still out.

And it will probably remain out until Sunday. The Buccaneers' Wednesday injury report revealed that Brooks was held out of practice due to the hamstring injury he suffered on Sunday in New Orleans, but Head Coach Jon Gruden didn't elaborate much further after practice.

"His status for the game will be questionable," said Gruden. "Obviously we have some rotations we're looking at; I have no announcement as to who would start if Derrick doesn't play."

Brooks wasn't prepared to make any predictions at midweek, either. He did insist, however, that his games-played streak (as well as a 193-game starting streak) is irrelevant in the discussion.

"I just take it day by day and we'll see where I'm at on Sunday," he said. "I really don't get into the whole situation about the number of games I've played because I stay day-to-day. Right now I'm going to be where I'm at today, praying again that I'll improve, and we'll see where I'm at on Sunday."

His fellow Buccaneer defenders are no more certain as to whether or not Brooks will be on the field Sunday. However, they can't help but look at his 14-year run and believe he'll find a way.

"It's pretty impressive," said linebacker Barrett Ruud of Brooks' playing streak. "Especially at linebacker, it's a great streak, and I'm betting he'll be still going with that streak."

Ruud referred to Brooks as the "inventor of the weakside Cover Two linebacker" and, indeed, given his central role in establishing that system in Tampa and causing it to proliferate around the league, it's obvious the Bucs could not find a fill-in to match Brooks' experience. However, they believe they will find a way to replace his production if necessary.

"Derrick is a guy who knows his spot so well that maybe you do [feel the need to cover his spot] just a little bit," said Ruud. "He's the guy everybody is compared to. Everybody's got to pick up the slack when someone goes down, but at the same time the person who's playing there has to play even better than Derrick."

Brooks has started every game of Gruden's tenure as a head coach, as well as Tony Dungy's before him. It's difficult to imagine the Bucs taking the field without #55 on defense.

"I was thinking about that driving to work," said Gruden. "I asked him when he was on the treadmill trying to get ready, 'Derrick, what am I going to do? What are we going to do?' It's such a blessing and a luxury that we've had. You're fortunate to come across a guy like that. We just hope he can keep his string alive because we need him. I know if he doesn't play, it will really disappoint him, to put it mildly. At the same time, I know he'll be one of our biggest coaches on the sideline, helping the guys that are his replacement."

The Bucs could go with Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes at the weakside spot, and those two expect to get a lot of reps this week in practice. They could also utilize strongside starter Cato June in that spot and elevate June's backup, Quincy Black, to the starting 11. It's safe to say that all of the Bucs' young linebackers will be putting in a little extra preparation this week, just in case.

"If he doesn't play, the defense is going to be the defense," said Hayward. "We're going to fly around and make plays and do what we've got to do, regardless of who's out there. As far as we know, Derrick is playing. That's how we're looking at it. We're going to practice for him. He's a 14-year vet, he knows this defense in and out, so practicing is not a big deal. But if someone has to go in there do what they have to do, they're going to be prepared. We're going to be ready."

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Additional Injury Updates

Brooks is one of three Buccaneers who were held out of practice on Wednesday. Quarterback Jeff Garcia (ankle) and guard Davin Joseph (foot) were also spectators. Garcia, like Brooks, suffered his injury against New Orleans in the opener. Joseph was hurt in the second week of the preseason and hasn't played since, but may be nearing a return.

As reported earlier, Garcia has been replaced in the starting lineup by Brian Griese, for this week at least. Gruden's motivations for the move go beyond Garcia's most recent injury, all the time off can help in that regard, too.

"We listed him on the injury list," said Gruden. "I just want him to get healthy, physically, emotionally, and hopefully he can come back and get restarted here and be the kind of quarterback I know he is."

Wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who missed about half of the opener with a back strain, practiced on Wednesday but was somewhat limited. Linebacker Matt McCoy participated fully in the workout but is listed on the injury report with a groin ailment. Running back Warrick Dunn and wide receiver Joey Galloway took lighter turns in practice but are not injured.

"Warrick is on a schedule and he did not practice, although he did participate in the walk-throughs," said Gruden, describing the sort of program the team has long used with Galloway. "He'll be full-speed tomorrow."

The Falcons' injury report was as promising as the team's season-opening win. Only two players were listed on the report, and both of them were able to practice on Wednesday to some degree. Reserve center Alex Stepanovich, who was held out of the season opener, was limited on the field due to a back injury. Backup linebacker Coy Wire practiced without limitations but is listed with an ankle injury.

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Ready for Some Home Cooking

The Buccaneers are four days from their first home game that counts since last January's playoff loss to the eventual-champion New York Giants. A loss in the season opener last weekend in New Orleans and the visit from another division opponent only adds to the team's eagerness to perform in front of the home crowd.

"I can't wait to play at home," said Gruden. "There's a certain thrill that comes to strapping on your home uniforms and playing in your own stadium. It's going to be awesome. We're looking forward to it."

A year ago, the Buccaneers used their home field to propel them to a rousing 31-14 victory over the Saints, an outcome that erased most of the frustrations of an opening-season loss at Seattle and kicked off a three-game winning streak. The Bucs would like to repeat that scenario this season. At the very least, the supportive crowd at Raymond James Stadium should make it easier for the team to get into the flow of the game.

"That was a hostile crowd last week," said tight end Alex Smith. "We have a lot of things we like to do with no huddle and all that stuff. When you're on the road, when you're not getting that rhythm, when you can barely hear the plays, it's hard to get going like we wanted to. Hopefully we'll be able to take advantage playing at home."

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