There are a lot of question marks at the fullback, running back and wide receiver positions heading into Sunday's contest vs. the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who has been vague about his injury this week, is listed as probable, but it's not known if he will get the start. Running back Michael Pittman and fullback B.J. Askew are listed as questionable and will also be game-time decisions.
The good news is that quarterback Jeff Garcia will be back under center for the Bucs, even though he is listed as probable, no matter who is lining up in the backfield or catching passes from him. Defensive end Greg Spires, who is listed as questionable, also could see some action for the first time in six weeks after suffering a calf injury vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said that Hilliard has shown steady improvement in practice this week which was a positive sign. Gruden is also optimistic about the chance that Pittman could return to lineup after battling an ankle injury that he sustained in a loss vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
"We are listing him as questionable. He's kind of probable in my mind up until now," Gruden said. "Some of these injuries you can't say too much until you get to the stadium on Sunday because Mike has been inactive for several weeks and in and out of the lineup. We are optimistic that he was able to practice three times and possibly play."
If Hilliard doesn't get the start, then wide receiver Michael Clayton will get another start – his third of the season – opposite of wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Gruden, however, is very concerned about the ankle injury that Askew has been fighting through for the last month. He isn't happy about all the injuries that are occurring on the offensive side of the ball either.
"I'm concerned about him. He's questionable and I'm getting a little concerned about the injuries that are mounting on offense especially in the backfield," Gruden said. "So we don't know, but we are going to list him as questionable. He's been questionable, goes out and works out before the game. We will see what happens."
If Askew can't play, fullback Byron Storer will replace him in the backfield and Pittman or recently signed Zack Crockett could see some time at fullback as well.
Ryan Nece (groin) is also listed as questionable for Sunday's contest.
For the Atlanta Falcons, guard Tyson Clabo (ankle) and wide receiver Roddy White (knee) are listed as questionable. Cornerback Antoine Harries (knee) was listed as probable.
SPURLOCK MAKING IMPROVEMENT IN RETURN GAME
With the struggles that the Bucs return game has experienced since losing return specialist Mark Jones to a season-ending knee injury, wide receiver Michael Spurlock has been called into to duty. Spurlock struggled early, but has come on as of late and almost ended the touchdown-less return streak that has plagued the Bucs franchise since its inception. Tampa Bay has yet to return a kickoff for a touchdown in the 32 years of existence in the NFL.
Spurlock had a 45-yard kickoff return last Sunday vs. the Houston Texans and is averaging 26.3 yards per return this season. Jones was averaging 28.6 yards per kick return before his injury. The Bucs are averaging 23.1 yards per kick return this season. Spurlock is itching to end the streak, but is also trying to give the offense the best field position possible.
"It's really just taking what they give us and just trying to make plays," Spurlock said. "We feel it's the first play of offense so we are trying to get the best field position. The shorter the field, the better the chance the offense has to score. We are just trying to hit it and get better every week."
Gruden is content with what he's seen out of Spurlock returning kickoffs and is happy with his ball security.
"I thought he's done OK. He made a nice return last week getting really good yardage out of it," Gruden said. "He seems to be confident back there. He judges the ball with no wasted motion, and he's taking care of the ball, which is the No. 1 thing we're looking for at this point in time."
BUCS FANS HAVE OPPORTUNITY TO HONOR 9/11 VICTIMS
The Bucs will be hosting the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum exhibition at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Fans are encouraged to pay tribute to the victims who lost their lives in the tragic terrorists' attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, by signing their names on one of two large beams located at parking lot 3D. The signed beams are going to be used in the building of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
The Glazer Family Foundation will also be holding their "Toys for Tots" drive at Sunday's game as well collecting new, unwrapped toys for underprivileged children in the Tampa Bay area. There will be bins set up outside all gates and club entrances from 11 a.m. until kickoff for those who would like to donate toys.
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