Tampa Bay is making their trip to the West Coast with relative health and should be almost at full strength when they take the field at Monster Park.
Bucs fullback B.J. Askew and linebacker Ryan Nece have been ruled questionable for Sunday's contest vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Askew has been nursing an ankle for more than a month and Nece had battled a groin injury for the last couple weeks. Tampa Bay defensive end Patrick Chukwurah is doubtful vs. the 49ers with a hamstring injury.
Chukwurah has had an injury-plagued season with knee and shoulder injuries and now has to deal with a set back with his hamstring. Chukwurah was signed in the offseason as a free agent after playing four years with the Denver Broncos. Defensive end Greg Spires, who has been able to practice for the past couple of weeks, is listed as probable and could see some action on the West Coast on Sunday. Spires sustained a calf injury vs. Jacksonville and has missed six games.
"We are anxious to get him back," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "We think he's a good player, an excellent player so we will see how he feels when we get to California. Again, we will make the decision who is up or down when we get to the stadium."
Askew practiced this week in a limited role and stated earlier in the week that the decision to play would be up to Gruden. He has either had to wear a walking boot or a hard cast for several weeks before a game, but somehow found a way to play on Sunday. He sat out last week's victory vs. the Falcons and fullback Byron Storer did a good job filling in for Askew.
Running back Michael Pittman is listed as probable as well after returning last week from a ankle injury that he sustained in Week 5 vs. Indianapolis. Pittman played in last Sunday's 37-3 victory vs. Atlanta and gained 50 yards on 13 carries. He joined running backs Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett in gaining 190 yards combined in the NFC South division clinching win.
For San Francisco, former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer is out with a concussion, which means Shaun Hill will make his second career start on Sunday. Cornerbacks Marcus Hudson (knee) and Shawntae Spencer (quadriceps) and running back Michael Robinson (shoulder) are listed as questionable. Wide receiver Arnaz Battle (ankle), running back Frank Gore (ankle) and linebackers Roderick Green (illness) and Jeff Ulbrich (ankle) are listed as probable.
GRUDEN REMEMBERS TIME IN SAN FRANCISCOGruden got his first opportunity to coach in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990 under former head coach George Seifert. His title with the team was offensive assistant to the head coach and he worked closely with then-offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren.
Gruden also was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders for four seasons, including leading the Silver and Black to two playoff appearances. So Gruden has some found memories of his time on the West Coast, especially with San Francisco.
"I was with the 49ers and it all started for me there. I had great memories and unbelievable memories from 4949 Centennial Boulevard," Gruden said. "I just get a rush to be honest with you walking out in that stadium. There have been some of the damndest games in [that stadium]. There have been some great memories and traditional games there."
Gruden hasn't been too successful on the West Coast during his tenure with the Bucs with a 0-5 record when traveling to Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco. Gruden has a 1-2 record in the regular season vs. the 49ers in his six years with Tampa Bay, but did beat San Francisco 31-6 in the playoffs in 2002.
WHITE ENJOYING SUCCESS, HOLIDAY SEASONLast year at this time, Bucs defensive end Greg White was far from an NFL franchise working at Best Buy during the Christmas holidays. This season, however, White is the one purchasing merchandise instead of assisting customers with their last-minute holiday shopping.
White has stepped into the spotlight of the Bucs defense as he leads the team with eight sacks and seven forced fumbles. He is one of the many feel-good stories that have helped the Bucs to a 9-5 record, clinch the NFC South division title and capture a playoff berth. With his success, White has been able to do something that he's always wanted to do for his two children.
"What a difference a year makes from selling plasmas and watching them go out the door to buying them and carrying them out to my car," White said. "I was able this year – I wasn't able to it the last four years, my daughter is four and my son is two – to get them gifts for Christmas because I had the money to do it. That's was my biggest Christmas gift to myself was to send off toys to my kids – my kids' mother has a webcam and I have a webcam – and get to see the looks on their faces on Christmas."
White along with rookie defensive end Gaines Adams has given the Bucs a dominating pass rush tandem this season. White and Adams are 1-2 in sacks combining for 14 and will need to get pressure on Hill, who did a good job of protecting the ball last weekend in a 20-13 win vs. Cincinnati.
QUOTE OF THE DAYGruden on his thoughts about the talent that San Francisco's defense has this season.
"[Defensive tackle] Bryant Young is still a force, the middle linebacker [Patrick Willis] is all over the place. They are a lot better on defense than people think. They have some issues at quarterback and struggled on offense, but defensively every film you pick up they have a 3-4 scheme on one snap and into the 4-3 on the next down. Perimeter blitz, they are the kings of the NFL, corner blitzing, double corner blitzing, unorthodox style especially in the third down situations. They are a good, physical, hard-nosed defensive football team."
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