Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott was held out of practice on Wednesday morning with what head coach Jon Gruden referred to as “soreness.”

Gruden suggested after the practice that Alstott could be held out of the preseason game against the New England Patriots on Friday night. B.J. Askew likely would start in his place.

“He’s sore right now and he will be out for a couple days,” Gruden said.

This is not an unusual occurrence during training camp, especially with a veteran like Alstott. Since many of the veteran starters will see limited action against the Patriots, it won’t be a surprise if Alstott is a spectator on Friday night.

Alstott, who enters his 12th season with the Buccaneers, re-signed for one year at $1.5 million to return to play fullback. He has received a limited amount of reps at fullback during training camp and is battling Askew for playing time. Alstott stated on the first day of training camp that he came back this year because he believed that he still has some football left in him.

Alstott, however, has seen his role in the Bucs offense diminish in the past couple of seasons. He is now mainly used as a blocking fullback on running plays and carries the ball strictly on short-yardage or goal line plays.

SEARS CATCHING GRUDEN’S EYE
Rookie left guard Aaron Sears was drafted in the second round out of the University of Tennessee to add more depth to Tampa Bay’s offensive line. However, Sears has been so impressive during training camp that he’s now challenging for a starting position.

Sears, who is 6-foot-3, 319 pounds, has had to step in at left guard because Anthony Davis had to move back to left tackle with the recent back injury to Luke Petitgout. Davis was moved to left guard during the OTA’s and mini-camp with Petitgout manning the left tackle position. Sears missed the OTA’s and mini-camp because of a knee injury so the Bucs didn’t get to see much of what he could do until training camp.

Gruden likes what he sees from his second-round pick and hasn’t ruled out the notion that Sears could be the starting left guard when the season begins.

“If he does what he’s doing out here, it’s not going to be a question,” Gruden said. “He has to go out and do it against New England against Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and [Vince] Wilfork, these are good players and when you are up on the second level and you meet Tedy Bruschi, it’s a little different deal. We are really pleased, really pleased with what Aaron Sears has brought to this team. Real thump, real athleticism and versatility for a young guy that rare and he’s still got a long way to go but he’s doing really well.”

Sears has received all the reps at left guard with the first team offense for more than a week and has showed good balance and great power on running plays. He’s also done a good job moving his feet and hasn’t been fooled by many of the moves he’s seen from defenders during pass plays.

“He’s got power and real good anchor and I think if you ask the inside guys on defense they will tell you that he’s a powerful guy and he doesn’t get fooled by the first move a lot,” Gruden said. “He hasn’t made a lot of mistakes we are throwing a lot at him defensively different alignments. He’s seeing different kinds of rushers and he’s responding well every day.”

SMITH PROUD TO BE REGINING MADDEN CHAMP
Third-year tight end Alex Smith has some impressive moves on the field with the ball in his hands and makes some impressive moves with a game controller in his hands as well. Smith has showcased his skills in participating in the EA Sports Madden Bowl that includes many of the NFL players in the league.

Smith is the two-time defending champion of the Madden Bowl and doesn’t plan on relinquishing his title any time soon. Smith also doesn’t mind the exposure that he is receiving from participating in the annual tournament for NFL players.

“It’s good to get your face out there, especially when playing in a sport where you always have a helmet on,” Smith said. “Any time you get exposure any other way it’s always good for you.”

Smith defeated Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton in 2005 and put a muzzle on the trash-talking mouth of Chad Johnson last season. Smith got a first-hand look at the Madden ‘08 game on Wednesday as EA Sports was out at Bucs practice to debut the game to the players. Smith enjoys competing in the tournament and brings the same competitive spirit to the controller as he does on the football field.

“It’s just something I’ve been playing for a long time,” Smith said. “It’s just one of those things where you are able to compete against guys and gives you bragging rights and it’s just a fun game to play anytime you have that competitive spirit.”

INJURY UPDATE
The list of injured Bucs is beginning to get longer and longer with every practice. Left tackle Luke Petitgout and quarterback Chris Simms have already been ruled out of Friday’s game against the New England Patriots. Linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee) and rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli (hamstring) have missed significant practice time, but are hopeful to see some playing time on Friday night.

Add wide receiver Michael Clayton to that list as Clayton was seen leaving Wednesday morning’s practice early. Gruden confirmed after practice that Clayton had pulled a muscle and was being evaluated. Clayton said after the afternoon practice that he pulled his hamstring. The injury, however, is not considered serious.

Clayton has struggled with injuries the past two seasons so the Bucs are looking to keep him healthy throughout training camp. Clayton had a knee injury last season that landed him on the injured reserve list and has also dealt with turf toe and shoulder injuries.

“He’s being looked at by the trainers and the doctors, but I believe he pulled a muscle and we will see what his status is,” Gruden said.

Several players were held out of this afternoon’s practice, including Alstott (soreness), tackle Petitgout (back), Ruud (knee), Piscitelli (hamstring) and Michael Clayton (pulled muscle).

In addition to those players being held out due to their respective ailments, the Bucs withheld several players from the afternoon workout in an effort to rest them. The list included offensive linemen Arron Sears and Dan Buenning, cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, running backs Michael Pittman and Cadillac Williams and defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg Spires.

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