With fullback Mike Alstott sidelined for the next four weeks with a sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament) in his right knee, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers activated practice squad running back Earnest Graham to their 53-man roster Wednesday.

After spending the majority of his first two seasons in the NFL on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, Graham could see his first NFL regular season action as a Buc when the Pewter Pirates host the Kansas City Chiefs on November 7.

“This is what you prepare for all through college – an opportunity to play in the NFL and a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Graham said Wednesday after practice. “When I get the chance I’ll be ready to go. I’m prepared for it.”

Graham is expected to help fill the void left by Alstott and lessen the load for RB Michael Pittman, who despite suffering from back spasms last Sunday rushed for 109 yards on 23 carries against the Chicago Bears.

“We have a back hurt,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “A very good back, a key cog in our attack is out. Mike Alstott for a minimum, it looks like, of four weeks. Earnest Graham is a guy we need right now. A guy that can carry the ball, stand in there physically, pick up the blitzes and a guy that knows our system. We’re excited to have him active. We wanted to get him up here in weeks previous, but this is the right time for him.”

Graham spent the 2003 training camp with the Bucs before being released (injury settlement) in August. However, Graham made the most of his second stint with the Bucs by rushing for a team-high 124 rushing yards and three touchdowns during the 2004 preseason.

Although the Bucs couldn’t find the room to keep Graham on their active roster when the ’04 regular season started, he earned a spot on the team’s practice squad, where he’s spent the last seven weeks.

Before he was released in Aug. 2003, Graham was auditioning as a fullback, but Gruden said the 5-foot-9, 215-pound former Florida Gator will continue to work as a halfback.

“He’s going to work in as a half back and get himself ready to go,” said Gruden. “We, obviously, played too many snaps last week without Pittman, and [Charlie] Garner, as we know, is on injured reserve. So, you have to get another halfback that’s physically ready to stand in there and play in this league.”

A six-time Pro Bowler, Alstott isn’t your typical fullback. He’s asked to do it all — carry and catch the ball, and/or lead block for another ball carrier. Graham suggested he could be versatile, too.

“I’m a natural tailback,” said Graham. “I’ve carried the ball a lot. Fullback is a position I have to adjust to, but blocking is pretty natural for me also.

“You have to be an all-round back here and be able to block, you have to be able to run, you have to be able to go out and catch the ball. Whatever is called on me to do, I’ll do. Special teams, too.”

As a Florida Gator, Graham played in 44 games with 31 starts. He rushed for 3,065 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also had 59 career receptions for 403 yards.

In order to make room for Graham on its active roster, Tampa Bay released wide receiver Marcus Knight, who has had three stints with the Bucs since originally joining the team as a free agent during the offseason.

The Bucs filled their vacant practice squad spot by signing WR Derek McCoy (6-3, 210), who played collegiately at Colorado and entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams. After being released by the Rams in August, McCoy spent time on the practice squads of the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden plans on using the team’s bye week to allow some of his players to get healthy.

One of those players is wide receiver/punt returner Joey Galloway, who has been sidelined since Week 1 with a torn groin he suffered in first quarter of the Bucs’ game against the Washington Redskins.

According to Gruden, Galloway, who participated in Wednesday’s workout at One Buccaneer Place, could be back for Tampa Bay’s game against Kansas City.

“He’s trying,” Gruden said of Galloway’s attempt to return to action. “I don’t know if he’ll be back for this game or not but, he’s a work in progress and progress is being made. It’s methodical, but it is progress.”

With Halloween less than a week away, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden reminisced with the media Wednesday on some of his Halloween experiences as a youth.

“I’d rather not comment on that,” Gruden said. “I was a little bit astray as a youngster. A lot of fun, you know, trick-or-treating. Just trying to scare people and have some fun with my friends

“I had a tough time with the costumes. My older brother kind of got what he wanted to be and I had to be what he wanted me to be sometimes. I was Robin.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on whether there was a message he wanted to leave his team with for the next couple of days:

“Well, we’re going to see them tomorrow. We had a good practice today. We need to have a good practice. We’ve got some new players that we’ve got to get ready to play on offense and defense and the message is consistent here. We have to get ourselves prepared to play our best football in the final half of this season. We’re going to see some great teams. There are a lot of rivalries in our conference. We have to find a way to get back in this thing. Our team respects that. But, the theme around here is roll your fist up, work hard and see if we can get back in it.”

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