The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were slightly healthier for Thursday's practice as they get ready for their game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Wide receiver Michael Clayton (knee) returned to practice fully after missing Wednesday's session with a knee injury, and guard Davin Joseph (ankle) was able to have a higher level of participation.
Returner Clifton Smith (knee) had full participation, and cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) was limited in practice. Three Buccaneers that were unable to practice Wednesday missed their second straight day on Thursday. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), quarterback Byron Leftwich (right elbow), and defensive end Stylez G. White (shoulder) were unable to play.
Head coach Raheem Morris would not declare who would start for White if he can't play on Sunday. The Buccaneers have three backup defensive ends that are candidates: Kyle Moore, Michael Bennett, and Tim Crowder. Morris said all three would play in the game on a rotational basis.
The Bucs plan remains the same if Bryant is unable to play. Maurice Stovall would start again for Bryant. Stovall got the start against Green Bay and caught three passes for 46 yards. Morris was asked about Bryant's prospects for missing his third game of the season.
"You got to see, you go through the process as we have all year," said Morris. "He's had a week off, a week and a half. He's been off of it the last few days, and we'll just have to see where he is, and make a decision on game day."
Prior to the practice, Bryant said his level of practice participation was not his decision.
"That ain't up to me. It isn't my decision. I just do what I'm supposed to do," said Bryant.
Bryant, 28, missed his second game of the 2009 season last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. The other game that he was unable to play in was the Buccaneers Week 2 contest at Buffalo. Bryant (6-1, 205) said the best he felt all season was against the New England Patriots in London. In that game he caught a 33-yard touchdown pass. On the flight back to the United States Bryant's knee swelled up and limited him in practice prior to the Packers game. In the time since last Sunday, Bryant said his condition has not regressed.
"It hasn't gotten worse," said Bryant. "I'm still a lot faster than some of these guys on this team, but it is what it is."
The Buccaneers are trying rest as an avenue to get Bryant back to his 2008 form where he caught 83 passes for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. After the season, Bryant was slapped with the franchise tag and signed to a one-year contract worth $9.88 million dollars. In six games in 2009 Bryant has 16 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Throughout the first seven weeks of the season, Bryant was consistently listed as a limited participant in practice. Prior the New England game, Bryant was starting to be more involved in the Bucs sessions during the week.
"We're just doing all the little things because I never really sat out and waited," Bryant said. "I've always kind of been mobile and playing around. In the preseason obviously I was fresh off the surgery, so obviously that is what that is. I've just always been mobile. I never really sat down and gave it any time to rest and heal. That's kind of what we decided to do."
The Miami Dolphins had four players miss practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Linebacker Joey Porter (knee), guard Justin Smiley (shoulder), defensive tackle Paul Soliai (ankle), and linebacker Erik Walden (hamstring) were unable to participate. Tight end Anthony Fasano (hips) was limited in practice and tackle Lydon Murtha (illness) returned to practice and was not on Thursday's injury report.