Tampa Bay's offense received a big boost Monday when starting wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton returned to the practice field.
Bryant has been sidelined for all three of Tampa Bay's preseason games due to minor knee surgery. He caught a team-high 83 passes for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns in his Bucs debut in 2008 en route to earning the franchise tag and a $9.88 million salary in 2009.
According to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, Bryant is on schedule and should be able to play in Tampa Bay's Week 1 contest vs. Dallas.
"Antonio Bryant was back after a little bit," Morris said. "I don't know what percent he is right now, but he's getting close. He's getting close. He made it through a whole practice and he was able to go through a lot of the detailed things that we talked about today.
"I have no idea about where I thought he would be, but what they told me was that he was going to be at practice for the Houston week. I'm pretty happy with [Bucs trainer] Todd [Toriscelli's] initial reaction of where he would be. I saw him go out there and get a few reps. I saw him do pat-and-gos. I saw him go through routes against air. I saw him with the [knee] sleeve on. He appeared not to have any pain. He appeared to be fine when I asked him how he was doing. He said he was good and that he didn't have any choice. I like those answers. That means he's buying into the notion of no excuses. He doesn't really care how it feels. He's going. That's the mentality. That's what you love to see from your team with Michael Clayton and all those guys."
Clayton, who re-signed with Tampa Bay during the offseason, is a 2004 first-round pick. He was having an impressive training camp before being sidelined by a hamstring injury, which was aggravated in Tampa Bay's exhibition contest vs. Jacksonville.
Clayton has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, although he did play in 15 of the team's 16 games last season. He suggested his absence since the Jacksonville game was more of a precaution.
"Dealing with hamstrings you have to just kind of gauge it," said Clayton. "I was happy to be out for a week and be back the next week. We'll just gauge it again. It's an injury I don't want to have lingering into the regular season. I didn't have a setback because I pulled up after I felt it getting tight. I didn't want to push it anymore.
"It felt good today. It got a little tight. I backed off it a little bit. We've got another week to prepare and gauge where it's at by the end of the week."
K BRYANT'S DAYS NUMBERED IN TAMPA BAY? One of the most anticipated competitions of Bucs training camp was supposed to take place at the kicker position, where Matt Bryant and Mike Nugent were scheduled to go head-to-head during the offseason, training camp and preseason.
However, the competition hasn't taken place due to a hamstring injury Bryant has been sidelined with for the majority of training camp and all of preseason.
In the meantime, Nugent has been handling all of the kicking duties, and so far he's made 4-of-7 (57.1 percent) of his field goal tries in three exhibition contests.
When asked if Bryant, 34, could still make the 53-man active roster, head coach Raheem Morris said he was anxious to see Bryant compete … if possible.
"You've got to make those decisions, but you can't make that one right now," Morris said. "I talked to him this morning. I'll let Matt share with you what he wants to as far as that. When I talked to him, he knows what he has to do. I believe he's going to do it. I just have to let him go out and compete and try to win the job. I can't tell you that there has even been a competition right now because Matt hasn't had the opportunity to go out and compete. I want to see him go out and compete. I want to see him go kick."
INJURY UPDATE Kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), linebacker Adam Hayward (ankle), safety Donte Nicholson (quad) and running back Kareem Huggins (knee) were held out of Monday's practice with their respective injuries.
BUCS BEGIN DALLAS PREPARATION Tampa Bay will play its fourth and final preseason game of the year at Raymond James Stadium on Friday night.
However, most of the team's starters will see limited action while the younger players gain valuable playing experience and battle for spots on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster.
According to head coach Raheem Morris, first-round pick Josh Freeman and second-year QB Josh Johnson will take most of the reps at quarterback for the Bucs while veterans Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown rest.
"Probably get a big dose of the young guys," said Morris. "A big dose of the young guys. I'm not sure what the two older guys will do to be honest with you."
The majority of Tampa Bay's starters have begun preparation for the Bucs' Week 1 opponent – the Dallas Cowboys.
"Dallas has been our first game for a long time, so our coaches are always getting a jump looking at that first game of the season," Morris said. "We're looking at what they do, how they do it. You sneak in a couple of periods in OTA days. There was some kind of a card period just to get acclimated with the 3-4 [defense], what the offense does and get acclimated to a [quarterback] Tony Romo potentially throwing to a [tight end Jason] Whitten.
"So now you get into this week with the guys who are going to play the majority of the time as you all know getting ready for Houston. Your starters go in there and maybe get a series and slide out of there. You get a couple good prep snaps for Dallas. We're no different than any other team in the league. Our guys are going to be getting acclimated to some of the things that Dallas does. It is nothing major. It is not a detailed game plan yet, but it is seeing a 3-4. How to identify it, same thing when they are on offense, seeing how we run a zone scheme all offseason and we haven't seen a lot of power runs and counters, and misdirection runs, and the zebra runs and things of that nature. We just want to get a look at that stuff so when the first time Barrett Ruud sees a counter it is not versus Dallas."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Raheem Morris on the release of former second-round pick Dexter Jackson, and whether Jackson should be considered a bust:
"It is hard to for me to sit here and say that any man that made it into the NFL, any guy that got here in this league, that did as well as they did in their in their training and preparation was able to come in and call them a bust. That is just not my responsibility on that young man," said Morris. "Especially with what he did for us. His efforts in the offseason, did he fit our mold? No, he didn't fit what we wanted to do. Maybe he can go somewhere else and make a team, and get that off his label right now. It is not my responsibility to call him a draft bust."