The 5-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice field Wednesday in preparation for the 5-2 Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs were minus four players – linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Dexter Jackson, running back Michael Pittman and center John Wade – all of whom are nursing their respective injuries.

Brooks, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury since late last week, is listed as probable on Tampa Bay’s injury report. Despite missing Wednesday’s practice, Brooks said he plans to play vs. the Panthers.

“It’s better today than it was yesterday,” said Brooks. “There’s daily improvement and hopefully everything will be right by Sunday.”

Brooks has played in 167 consecutive games and has made 151 straight starts, which is the most consecutive starts for an active NFL defensive player.

With Wade out, the Bucs used backup C Scott Jackson during Wednesday’s workout. Head coach Jon Gruden said Jackson, not Sean Mahan, who replaced Wade for half of the 2004 season, would play on Sunday should Wade not be able to go.

“Well, it’s hard to do that given the fact that Mahan better get ready to play right guard in this game,” Gruden said when asked if Mahan replaced Wade at center in practice. “So we wanted him to take the majority of his reps there. Scott Jackson, who’s on our active roster, filled in at center and if need be he’ll be the center on Sunday.”

Pittman is listed as questionable with the same shoulder injury that’s been nagging him for several weeks. The good news for the Bucs is rookie RB Cadillac Williams is not listed on the injury report for the first time since the first quarter of the season.

Jackson will likely miss a second consecutive game with a hamstring pull. He is listed as doubtful on Tampa Bay’s injury report.

Bucs Sign LB Mallard, Release FB Razzano
With Brooks injured, Tampa Bay made two roster moves Wednesday, signing LB Wesly Mallard and releasing rookie fullback Rick Razzano.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Mallard has played in 36 career games with the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Mallard, who has notched 34 career special teams tackles, played collegiately at Oregon.

Wednesday marked the second time the Bucs released Razzano, who entered the NFL in April as a seventh-round draft pick out of Ole Miss.

A practice squad spot opened up on Tuesday when the Denver Broncos signed safety Hamza Abdullah from Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Razzano could re-join the Bucs in that same capacity once he clears waivers.

Incident Behind Bucs, Rice
Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice talked publicly for the first time on Wednesday about being deactivated and sent home by the team on Sunday after missing a mandatory team meeting on Saturday night.

“I didn’t forget about the meeting,” Rice said. “I thought it was at regular time eight o’clock. They moved it to seven o’clock. Hey, what can you do about it?”

It wasn’t the first time Rice missed a mandatory team meeting. Shortly after coming out in the media and criticizing Gruden for what he perceived to be a lack of team discipline, Rice missed a mandatory team meeting the night before Tampa Bay played its regular season finale vs. Arizona last January.

Rice said he holds no ill will toward Gruden or general manager Bruce Allen for the team’s decision to make him inactive and send him back to Tampa.

“I was a little surprised, but, it’s no major (problem),” Rice said. “I’m still here. Bruce Allen did what he needed to do. He did what he needed to do. I’m not mad at him. It’s a situation. It’s life.

“I would have probably wanted to go home anyway. In a sense, they did what they needed to do. They didn’t need that type of distraction. I sparked it. It blew up to be something made more then it really was. It was what it was.”

Gruden attempted to put an end to the latest chapter in the Rice saga after Wednesday’s practice concluded.

“I’m not going to publicly say anything more about it other than we’ve addressed it and we’re moving on,” said Gruden. “We’re ready to move on. It’s behind us. I think his comments stand. We think a lot of him, okay? He’s really a good guy. We need him on this football team and we expect him to play great. He’s a favorite of mine, a favorite of this team’s and we’re ready to roll, ready to move on.”

Galloway On Fire
Last year, Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway caught 33 passes for 416 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games (seven starts) after missing six contests with a groin injury.

Through seven games this season, Galloway, who has remained injury free, has already outperformed his 2004 outing, catching a team-leading 39 passes for 648 yards and five touchdowns.

Needless to say, Gruden is pleased the Bucs managed to re-sign Galloway, who is on his way to a Pro Bowl-type season.

“I really think he’s a great receiver,” Gruden said of Galloway. “I’ve tried to say that. Hopefully his season continues to go on as it is. He’s had his ups and downs in his career, obviously, but he is a great player. An unbelievable football player, if you ask me. What can I say? We’re glad he’s here.”

In training camp, the Bucs limited Galloway to one practice a day in an effort to keep him fresh and healthy this season. Galloway attributes his recent success to that training camp regimen.

“I think that’s the difference, to be honest with you,” Galloway said. “I worked out the same, came in prepared the same, and the plan to take it a little easier in camp, a little easier during the week of practice has worked out pretty good. Really, that’s the only change.”

According to Gruden, Galloway could be having an even better season in the stat column had it not been for some missed opportunities in the passing game.

“Well, we’ve missed him several times,” Gruden said of Galloway. “That’s an understatement. We’ve had some other opportunities to strike. He’s a guy who clearly has been stepping up and making big plays for us. Given the fact that we’ve had some ups and downs offensively, we’ve had some injuries, we’re obviously going to continue to lean our best players and he’s one of them.”

Gruden Still Confident In Simms
After taking another look at his shaky outing vs. San Francisco on Sunday, Tampa Bay third-year quarterback Chris Simms spent part of Wednesday morning evaluating his performance, which saw him go 21-of-34 and throw for 264 yards and toss one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which led to 49er field goals.

“Probably throwing the ball away once or twice would have helped field position,” said Simms, who was sacked five times on Sunday. “I definitely could have thrown the ball better. I didn’t throw the ball as good as I can throw it. Other than that, just be smart with the ball. Really, I didn’t take too many chances with the ball. I didn’t do anything real stupid. The first interception I threw Sunday – I kind of got hit as I was throwing both times – and the out to [WR Michael] Clayton I just didn’t get out there because I really couldn’t step into it. I can definitely play better.”

Simms has been criticized for displaying a lack of poise in games, but that’s not something he said factored into his performance vs. the 49ers on Sunday.

“I can’t say that it is,” said Simms. “I felt pretty comfortable at the start of the game. Our first drive we didn’t really start off in great field position. I had a third down pass completed to [fullback Mike] Alstott and we almost got the first. We just, as an overall offense, didn’t get into a real good rhythm early on in the game and that hurt us.”

Simms will make his second start of the season on Sunday when Carolina visits Tampa Bay. His poor showing vs. the 49ers have the sports talk radio phone lines flooded with calls inquiring about QB Tim Rattay’s progress since landing in Tampa Bay via a trade two weeks ago. But Gruden said Wednesday that second-year QB Luke McCown would be the backup signal caller on Sunday since Rattay is still in the process of absorbing the Bucs’ thick and wordy playbook.

“He’s about 10 days along, okay?” Gruden said when asked about Rattay. “How far do you think he is along? What the hell do you think this is? He’s got a long way to go to get to where he needs to be, obviously, but he’s making great strides. He’s working at it and it’s a credit to him.”

In the meantime, Gruden is trying to keep things in perspective and remains confident in Simms’ and his team’s ability to improve upon last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers.

“I’ve been around a lot of debuts,” Gruden said. “We’ve had five different starting quarterbacks here. I was there for [Brett] Favre’s debut in Green Bay. There are a lot of NFL quarterbacks who struggled to some degree Sunday. He wasn’t alone, okay? He’s going to continue to get everybody’s fastball. They’re going to find out where he is and what he is, and he’s going to have to respond. We’re going to have to work harder to help him, and it would certainly help if we can get some mixture and some balance. But that’s easier said than done against North Carolina. These are very stingy individuals against the run and they’ll be hard-earned yards, every yard we get.”

Bucs Look To Stay Undefeated At Home
Tampa Bay has produced a 3-0 record this season at Raymond James Stadium, and the Bucs hope to continue their winning ways at home on Sunday when the division-rival Carolina Panthers come to town.

“That’s good,” Gruden said of being undefeated at home. “That’s an area we wanted to improve on and so far we’ve been able to. We’ve got to rally around our young quarterback, okay? We’ve got to rally around this guy. Everybody’s got to put more logs on the fire and we’ve got to all step up our standards and play better.”

Despite the fact that the Bucs are coming off a disappointing loss to the 49ers, Gruden expects the crowd at Ray-Jay to be as loud as ever.

“They’re going to factor in it, too,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to give them a reason to get excited, and I know they’re going to be behind our team. I think that goes without saying. But we’ve got to play great, we’ve got to start fast and obviously we’ve got to keep the momentum going that we can build.”

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