Last year, Tampa Bay wide receiver Michael Clayton carried the Buccaneers offense on his shoulders by hauling in 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. But accomplishing that feat again this year might be tough to do given the injury he's been playing with.
Clayton disclosed Wednesday that he's been playing with a separated left shoulder since the preseason.
"I hurt it again in Green Bay, and I hurt it again against Detroit," Clayton said of his injury. "It's game-by-game. You don't feel anything during the game, but after the game it's different story."
It is not yet known whether Clayton is in danger of doing more damage to his injured shoulder by continuing to play. However, what is clear is the fact that Clayton, who has hauled in 17 passes for 196 yards through four games, will play through the pain until he can't play anymore.
"I've been playing with for a while," said Clayton. "We'll see what happens. I'm not really thinking about that, and I'm definitely not trying to baby it on Sunday. So anything I have to do is going to get done, whether I'm injured or not. If I do injure it, then I'll be injured. Hey, we have guys who can step up and take my place. If not, I'm going to keep on playing. As or right now, I'm going to see these doctors and take a look at it and see what's going on and see what I need to do to be the best I can be on Sundays."
In the meantime, some of Tampa Bay's younger receivers, including Edell Shepherd and rookies Paris Warren and J.R. Russell, are getting ready to play in case Clayton, who is listed as probable for Sunday's game vs. the New York Jets and was seen leaving One Buc Place with his arm in a sling on Wednesday evening, cannot.
"We're just basically trying to get these young guys ready," said Clayton. "I'm not necessarily limited because of the injury. We want to make sure these guys are ready just in case one of us goes down."
Clayton, who missed most of the offseason workouts after undergoing minor knee surgery, said he's not prepared to miss a significant amount of practice time due to his shoulder injury.
"They've tried to get me to skip practice, but when you're out here you want reps," Clayton said. "Given my situation in the offseason, I can't afford to not get reps. Staying in shape is big for me, and I've been trying to do that."
According to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, Clayton's shoulder injury has indeed hindered his ability to play on Sundays.
"Well, he has been in a lot of collisions," said Gruden. "I pointed that out the other day. Certainly it has inhibited his overall game, there's no question about that. You don't play quite as well when you're dragging a shoulder."
CADILLAC NOT READY TO GO?
Bucs rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams was limited in practice Wednesday with a foot and hamstring injury.
Williams, who has rushed for 447 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, said he'd play against the Jets, but Gruden said Wednesday that the team would need to see "significant improvement" from him in order to give him the green light to play.
"If it were up to me, it would be my call," said Williams. "We're just trying to get things evaluated and listen to the trainers because this is what they do and we will see what's best."
If he's going to play against the Jets on Sunday, Williams would like to get at least one day of practice under his belt.
"It's difficult because that's when you get the feel of the game plan," Williams said of missing practice. "You get in that kind of mode. It's kind of tough sitting and then trying to go out and play on Sundays."
If Williams can't play on Sunday, running back Michael Pittman will start in his place.
"I've always prepared myself as a starter even when I knew Cadillac was going to be starting the first four games," said Pittman. "I know I have to be ready to play at anytime, so I'm prepared to play and ready to go."
In other injury news, Tampa Bay left tackle Anthony Davis (shoulder) practiced Wednesday and is expected to start vs. New York on Sunday.
However, the same can't be said for safety Jermaine Phillips, who missed Wednesday's workout with a thumb injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Gruden suggested second-year defensive back Will Allen would start at strong safety if Phillips were unable to play vs. the Jets.
Defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (illness), Clayton (shoulder), Davis (shoulder) and safety Dexter Jackson (hamstring) are listed as probable on Tampa Bay's injury report. Williams (foot/hamstring) and Phillips are questionable.
TAMPA BAY PLACES OL STINCHCOMB ON IR
After watching him miss most of training camp, preseason and all four of Tampa Bay's first four regular season games with a lower back injury, the Bucs decided Wednesday to place offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb on injured reserve.
The Bucs promoted center Scott Jackson from their eight-man practice squad to the active roster to fill the void left by Stinchcomb, who was inactive for the first four games of the season.
Jackson's practice squad spot was taken by tackle Stefan Rodgers, who entered the NFL last April as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans.
GRIESE FEELING GOOD, READY TO GO
Tampa Bay starting quarterback Brian Griese said he is feeling good after taking a wicked hit on a scramble against Detroit on Sunday that knocked him "woozy."
"I feel good," Griese said. "Thanks for asking. I appreciate your concern. I was in the cold tub a couple of times the last few days, but I feel good. The body feels good today."
Griese said that he and head coach Jon Gruden had a philosophical discussion about taking too many chances and about his turnovers this season. Despite the Bucs' 4-0 start, Griese has thrown six interceptions, including three against the Lions on Sunday.
"I talked to him yesterday and we had a good talk about some of the things that went on in the game. We just wanted to make sure we were on the same page about everything, as far as the game plan and the reads are concerned, all those different types of things. It was a good talk."
There is a fine line between quarterbacks taking the right chances and taking too many chances in games. Griese acknowledged that the need for taking chances, but also said there was a time to play conservative.
When there are plays to be made, you don't win football games in this league if you don't make plays," Griese said. "I see a lot of offensive football teams around the league right now that are playing really conservatively, not making plays and not scoring points. But I think we have playmakers on this team offensively, and it's my job to take the chances when plays are there, and make the decisions to be more conservative when plays are not there. I'm going to continue to work on that and hopefully make more plays than I do mistakes."
Griese said that the problem with his recent spate of interceptions is not necessarily a result of not knowing the intricacies of the Bucs offense, but rather seeing the field and reading defenses better.
"I'm working hard to understand not only our plays offensively but understanding defenses," Griese said. "There are new defenses every year and we're going to continue to see new looks, and I just have to be able to see the whole field. You never, as a quarterback, want to look at your receivers. You want to be looking at the defense and reading defenses. Case in point: Last week when I threw that pick in the fourth quarter I didn't key the free safety. I had a guy down the field that was open that I should have thrown the ball. Those are things I'm going to learn from and, trust me, I'm the most critical person on myself. I know that game shouldn't have been as close as it was on Sunday, and I'm going to try to do everything I can to give our team the best chance to win. And not just win by one or two points - we want to win by two touchdowns, three touchdowns. We understand that, yeah, we have a lot of work to do, I have a lot of work to do, but it's a great feeling to be 4-0 and still have a chance to go out and improve and get better as a team."
"I'm going to try to eliminate interceptions. I understand my role on the team and that's something I'm going to work on, bottom line."
BUCS NOT COMPLACENT AFTER 4-0 START
Tampa Bay has a chance to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1997 by defeating the 1-3 New York Jets on Sunday.
Despite their fast start to the 2005 season, the Bucs, who were 0-4 this time last year, have stayed grounded by reminding themselves that it's a 16-game season.
"We feel good, but we also know that 4-0 means absolutely nothing at this point," said Bucs cornerback Brian Kellly. "It's a good start and a good way to get the season going. It puts you that much closer to your goal. But when you look at the big picture, we haven't accomplished anything, so we've got to go out there week in and week out and keep establishing ourselves."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan on preparing to face Jets 42-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde and running back Curtis Martin
"Vinny has been there, done that. He's a very smart quarterback, and still has a very strong arm. We know he'll sit in the pocket. But first and foremost that offense is run by number 28. Let's not get it wrong, Curtis Martin the past 10 years has had 1,000 yards every year. He got the rushing title last year. What more can you say about the guy? The guy is a workhorse, he's an iron man. First and foremost, we have to stop him."
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