No position has been hit harder through the first 10 days of training camp than the Buccaneers offensive line. Injuries to Derrick Deese (foot) and Kenyatta Walker (knee) have forced Tampa Bay to sign three more tackles in training camp - Sam Lightbody, Jeff Hatch and Todd Steussie - just to get through practice.
But two out of those three new linemen succumbed to injury themselves during Monday morning's practice.
"Hatch, an offensive lineman, left today with a lower back strain," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "Matt Stinchcomb has a lower back strain; he was unable to finish practice. Sam Lightbody has a lacerated hand; he had to go in early. And Dan Buenning still has some issues with his calf. So we're still struggling for numbers on the offensive line."
Tampa Bay has all but permanently moved rookie right guard Jonathan Clinkscale to center to fill in for the injured Scott Jackson (hand). Over the last two days, Sean Mahan has had to play almost exclusively at right and left guard with the injuries to Buenning and Stinchcomb.
Gruden said that Walker is expected to return to practice on Tuesday morning, which will help the numbers at the beleaguered offensive tackle position.
"We're going to try to be smart," Gruden said. "He's got some fluid on the knee, as he has in years past, so we're just trying to take precautionary measures. We'll pick him back up tomorrow morning and get him ready for the game."
The silver lining of so many injuries along the offensive line has helped the coaching staff evaluate many young offensive linemen such as Clinkscale, Mahan, Anthony Davis, Jeb Terry and Doug Buckles, due to the increased reps they have been getting.
"We got all of our reps in, so we had over 113, 114 plays that we ran," said Gruden. When you want to practice and evaluate, you want to be realistic and I don't want to overwork some of these guys. That's something we've got to continue to look at.
"You've got to have linemen to play, obviously, so when you have four, five or six guys in the tent unable to compete, certainly it is a concern. You bet."
BUCS READY TO CLASH WITH THE TITANS
After 10 days of beating up on each, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and coaching staff are eagerly awaiting Friday night's game at Tennessee where they will have the chance to bang helmets with the Titans.
Offensive line coach Bill Muir said that they have done about all of the evaluating they can do in practice, and now it's time to see how the Buccaneers perform in game conditions against an opponent.
Gruden indicated that the Bucs won't be doing much preparation for the Titans.
"For the most part it will be training camp as usual," Gruden said, regarding the practices for the rest of this week. "Offensively, you have to do a little preview to try to familiarize your players with the new fronts; they have a lot of different defenses that we don't have here. So we'll spend a little time [on Tennessee] but we won't lose the rhythm of training camp, although we will do a little bit to prepare the offense for the fronts and the style of coverage in which Tennessee is expected to play."
Gruden said he wasn't sure how long the starters will play in Friday night's preseason opener.
"Oh, I don't know yet," Gruden said. "It depends on who you call a starter. We've got some jobs open and we'll substitute freely early in the game as we always have. There will be some positions that play longer than others."
Although he is listed as a starter on the depth chart, Michael Pittman has been getting the majority of carries and touches with the first team in practice. Still, Bucs fans are eager to see first-round draft pick Carnell "Cadillac" Williams run the ball on Friday night. While Gruden indicated Williams will see plenty of action, he also said that he wants to see what the team's other young running backs have as well.
"We'll see when it all settles here in the next 24, 48 hours, the health of the football team, what we want to try to accomplish," Gruden said. "There are other backs that we want to see in this game as well, so we're going to meet as a staff later this evening and try to come up with some tentative rotations. Obviously, those will be impacted by the health of this team."
WIDE RECEIVERS NEED TO SEPARATE (THEMSELVES)
Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton have clearly established themselves as starting wide receivers for the Buccaneers, and new addition Ike Hilliard has pretty much locked up the number three receiver spot. But with the Bucs likely to keep as many as six wideouts, at least two or three more receivers must step up and claim roster spots.
Second-year player Edell Shepherd overcame a slow start to camp to position himself for the fourth receiver spot, and figures to see a great deal of playing time against Tennessee on Friday.
"Shep's had a good camp," Gruden said. "It's a much different camp for him this year than it was last year. He's playing three or four different positions, he's more involved in the kicking game. If he's going to make this team, he knows he's going to have to back up Clayton, back up Galloway, step in there for Hilliard and certainly be a factor on special teams. He's going to play a lot in Tennessee and we're looking forward to seeing what kind of player he is."
After Shepherd, Gruden is hoping that one of the team's rookie receivers steps up and begins to make plays with consistency. So far, that hasn't happened.
"No, not yet," Gruden said. "They have their flashes of good and bad. I'm disappointed, really, from the standpoint that we haven't caught the ball better. We had a couple balls dropped again today. I think there's promise there, I think there are some young guys with talent. Paris Warren certainly has done some good things, as has J.R. [Russell], but we need to get more out of those guys. Somebody's got to step their game up as route-runners and as playmakers here.
"[Kevin Youngblood] is in that mix. You can put Chris Davis in there, you can put Derrick Lewis in there. We've got guys who are flickering the light switch on and off, on and off. We just need somebody to turn it on and leave it on."
When asked about fifth-round pick Larry Brackins, who missed the team's mandatory mini-camp and the first five days of training camp due to a torn hamstring, Gruden said, "No, he's not caught up yet. Physically, he's still not ready to compete at his highest level. He's got hamstring issues, and you compensate on a hamstring and the next day your foot's a little sore. So he's had some issues that have really inhibited his ability to compete."
Among the players Gruden has been pleased with through the first 10 days of training camp? Quarterback Brian Griese and Galloway, who have connected for dozens of touchdowns throughout camp, including a couple today.
"[Griese] has been very sharp, very sharp," Gruden said. "I'm pleased with Chris Simms also. I thought Luke McCown turned it up a bit today. He's a mobile guy. But Griese's been a very, very good player here this summer and clearly is ready to start the games.
"[Galloway] is a great player. He had another big day today. He is what he is: If he's healthy, he's really, really good. He's healthy right now and he's really, really good."
Gruden also said that he was pleased with how Steussie looked in Monday morning's practice, despite missing the first nine days of training camp after being cut on the eve of camp on July 28.
"He looked good," Gruden said. "If you watched the drills, he had a very good practice. He has some thump over there on the left side and we're excited to have him back."
Bucs kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France have had their share of hits and misses since the start of training camp 10 days ago, but they were a combined 6-of-6 on Monday. Each kicker made three field goals in the morning session.
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