The injury bug has bitten Tampa Bay’s receiving corps again.

Buccaneers second-year wide receiver Edell Shepherd, who spent last year on the team’s practice squad and had an impressive offseason and training camp, suffered a right foot fracture during the second quarter of Monday night’s preseason game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. While team doctors are still evaluating his injury, Shepherd could be lost for the entire 2004 season.

“Edell Shepherd, our wide receiver, broke his right foot,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden confirmed on Tuesday morning. “We’ll announce the official extent of that injury, how long he’ll be out, a little bit later, but it looks like a serious injury that could cost him some time and possibly the season.”

Tampa Bay had its fair share of injuries during training camp, but no position was hit harder than its receiving corps, which lost wideout Sylvester Morris (ACL tear) for the season back in June and released Justin Skaggs (hamstring) during camp, and currently have receivers Charles Lee and Joe Jurevicius sidelined with significant injuries.

Lee, who suffered a serious hamstring injury in practice on Aug. 3, didn’t play vs. the Bengals on Monday night and won’t get on the field on Friday night when the Bucs visit the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, Gruden said Lee is making progress and will attempt to return to practice this week.

“He’s going to come back out tomorrow and go through the individual work and see how it feels,” Gruden said of Lee. “That will be the first step towards getting back out on the field. Hopefully for the Miami game he’ll be able to do some things and possibly play.”

On the same morning Lee pulled his hamstring on a practice field in Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, Jurevicius was on a operating table in California having a herianted disc in his back surgerically repaired.

In addition to his back injury, there are still questions surrounding the health of Jurevicius’ knee, which suffered a torn MCL in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers last season. That injury eventually landed Jurevicius on injured reserve and required surgery. But according to Gruden, the Bucs are hopeful that Jurevicius is making progress in his effort to work his way back from both injuries.

“He’s very upbeat, very optimistic,” Gruden said of Jurevicius. “He feels much better now than he’s felt in some time. The knee has had plenty of time to heal and the back is healing quite well, and I think his spirits are great. I’m really encouraged by Jurevicius’ gait right now. He’s got a good look in his eye and he’s got a great handshake. He’s getting fired up; he’s getting the itch back; I think he’s getting his confidence back and his physical aspects. We hope to get him back soon.”

With Pro Bowl WR Keenan McCardell still holding out for a new contract, Morris on IR and both Lee and Shepherd sidelined with injuries, the Bucs are hoping Jurevicius will return to the field sooner rather than later. But Gruden stopped short of making any predictions in terms of a timetable for Jurevicius’ return.

“I don’t like to speculate with Joe,” said Gruden. “I’ve done too much speculating. I’m just going to wait and see how the initial rehab goes, but all signs are good and in the meantime we’ve got plenty of guys to work with.”

In the meantime, the Bucs will work with the receivers they have, including Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, Tim Brown, Bill Schroeder, Mark Jones and Frank Murphy, among others.

In other injury news, Jason Whittle, who started at right guard in place of Matt Stinchcomb (calf) and saw significant playing time as a backup center on Monday night, sustained a slight fracture in his left hand and will be limited in practice this week. Whittle, who was plagued a fractured leg and collarbone last season, is listed as questionable for Friday night’s game in Jacksonville.

Stinchcomb, G Kerry Jenkins (ankle) and defensive ends Lamar King (undisclosed) and Ellis Wyms (undisclosed), all of whom did not play against the Bengals, are expected to practice Wednesday.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was extremely pleased with the way his quarterbacks performed against Cincinnati. Backup QB Jason Garrett didn’t play, but the team’s other three signal callers led the Bucs on scoring drives.

Starter Brad Johnson completed his only three pass attempts of the game for 49 yards while backup Chris Simms started the game 7-of-7 on his throws. Simms completed 12-of-15 passes for 110 yards on the night.

After nearly getting intercepted on his first two passes of the game, Brian Griese settled down and finished the game completing 7-of-11 pass attempts for 96 yards.

Although all three signal callers caught Gruden’s attention, Simms’ performance really stood out.

“I thought he did a really good job,” Gruden said of Simms. “I am really excited about him. He had a very good preseason last year, too. He has great ability and we can see that. He has mobility, a great arm, and he is a good football player. He made some good decisions last night, and he has a charisma about him that I think everybody loves. But Brad got in there and went 3-for-3. I don’t think that he can go 4-for-3. But I liked Brian Griese, too. He engineered a key scoring drive and another drive in which we missed a field goal. He took our team 90 yards with a lot of threes (third team players) in there that he hasn’t played with much. I thought that all three of the guys played well, but Simms can be quite flashy.”

While Simms served as the No. 2 quarterback on Monday night, he and Griese will swap roles on Friday night in the game vs. the Jags.

“We are going to go with Brad as the starter and he will play very similar to what he played last night,” said Gruden. “Certainly after that first series we will go to Brian Griese. Then we will finish the game with Chris Simms.”

The quarterbacks weren’t the only players that caught Gruden’s eye in the team’s first preseason game.

“A lot of newcomers played very well,” Gruden said. “We liked what we saw from (wide receiver) Frank Murphy; we really liked what we saw from (WR) Michael Clayton and (WR) Bill Schroeder; and I thought (WR/KR/PR) Mark Jones showed some niftiness in the return game and made an impact tackle on special teams. That’s one of the things we expect him to do. I thought (safety) Will Allen and (linebacker) Marquis Cooper played very well for rookies. I was pleased with Anthony Davis starting at left tackle, and I thought (guard) Jeb Terry played well, too, as a first game for him. And I thought all three quarterbacks, any time you go through a preseason game and don’t have any sacks, don’t have any turnovers, and complete 75 percent of your balls, that’s a real good start for us.”

Tampa Bay was penalized 14 times for 129 yards in its preseason opener vs. Cincinnati. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who hired a team of officials to monitor practices during the offseason and in training camp after his team was called 117 penalties for 1,104 yards during the 2003 regular season, wasn’t pleased with the amount of flags thrown during Monday night’s game.

“I was in disagreement, obviously, on a few of those penalties,” said Gruden, who was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter after he animatedly disagreed with a penalty called on cornerback Lenny Williams. “We had some alignment errors. We had some young players commit fouls that were alignment errors; those cannot be tolerated. We had some down-the-field calls on some screen plays that we need to coach a little bit better with our quarterbacks. And we had a couple careless plays in the kicking game, blocks in the back and things of that nature, one on (tight end) Nate Lawrie and one on (running back) Brandon Bennett. But we’ve got to do a much better job eliminating the penalties. We can only hire two or three officials for every practice. We can’t hire these officials to go home with us and put us to bed at night.”

Tampa Bay’s ground game has been more productive than it was against Cincinnati on Monday night, but second-year rusher Earnest Graham stood out, rushing for two touchdowns and hauling in three passes for 34 yards.

There’s a chance starting RB Charlie Garner, who didn’t suit up for Monday night’s game because of a groin injury, will miss Friday night’s preseason game with the same injury. That said, Graham, who played at running back and fullback for the Bucs in training camp last year before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the season, could receive more touches against the Jaguars than he did vs. the Bengals.

“This week we want to see a couple of these other backs,” said Gruden. “(Running back) Jamel White did a very good job yesterday. He had a couple nice stints with pass protection, made some nice receptions, and had a nice outside run. He did a good job. I thought that (RB) Brandon Bennett ran hard. As for Earnest Graham, I don’t know what it is, but I really like Earnest Graham. I liked him a lot last year but he had a shoulder injury that ended his training camp. But all he does is make plays and score touchdowns inside the five-yard line and I like those type of guys.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on how he spent his 41st birthday:

“I came (to One Buc Place). Today is a big day because it’s my birthday. This is a very short week, so we want to do a good job in trying to get our team ready to go play a physical Jacksonville team. I am real impressed with the Jaguars defensively, and they have some guys offensively that are weapons. So it is going to be a real test for us on a short week because they play a real physical style of football.”

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