For a team that was excited to leave training camp with no injuries, the Bucs’ luck seems to be running thin in practice and the last two preseason games. Eight players have been either carted off the practice field, in a game or come to the sidelines with various injuries. Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and tight end Alex Smith joined that list after Saturday night’s 31-28 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Chukwurah injured his knee in the second quarter and was seen walking toward the locker room before the end of the first half. Trueblood was taken out of the game early in the first quarter and replaced by tackle Donald Penn. Smith was injured in the second quarter as well.

“We have some injury concerns,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “Jeremy Trueblood we believe will be okay, Alex Smith has an ankle sprain, Patrick Chukwurah hurt his knee. He is a week-to-week-to-week decision, but we are concerned about all those guys obviously for the beginning of the season.”

Details on Trueblood’s condition were sketchy at best after Monday’s practice.

“He didn’t get hurt per se, he has symptoms of having a problem,” Gruden said. “It’s not a severe injury, we don’t think that he’ll miss any time in terms of the opening ballgame. He’s on a day-to-day basis and we will update in a few days.”

Chukwurah’s injury allows rookie defensive end Gaines Adams an opportunity to get more reps and could move defensive end Kevin Carter from the left to the right side. Even though Adams will get more playing time, Gruden doesn’t foresee him in the starting lineup against Seattle.

“I don’t know about Gaines Adams, but his injury could result in somebody else starting,” Gruden said. “We haven’t distributed our depth chart for the opening game yet, we will do that as soon as we can, but we have competition at defensive end.”

Gruden has seen a lot of improvement in Adams, who was selected fourth overall in this year’s draft, and believes it’s only a matter of time before he’s making big plays in the regular season.

“The light is definitely on,” Gruden said. “He had some great pressures. We ran some games, we stunted really for the first time in the last game and we are really pleased with the A the effort and B the raw natural talent that he has. It’s all coming together and it’s just going to be a matter of time for Gaines.”

In the Bucs’ 31-19 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, linebackers Antoine Cash and Sam Olajubutu were lost for the season with knee and Achilles injuries, respectively. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon and safety Tanard Jackson were also limited with wrist and hamstring injuries in the week of practice before the Dolphins game. Gruden expects Buchanon and Jackson to see some action in Thursday night’s game against the Houston Texans.

Rookie left guard Arron Sears left the field early last week during practice with an ankle sprain. He’s expected to return for the first game of the season against Seattle.

BOSTON STILL IN MIX
Despite his DUI arrest on Thursday night, wide receiver David Boston is still battling for the starting “Z” flanker position. Boston’s troubles had no bearing on Gruden’s decision to start wide receiver Ike Hilliard against the Dolphins.

The Bucs did their own investigation into Boston’s arrest in Pinellas County and found that there was no evidence to warrant a suspension or keeping Boston off the field.

“No it did not. It had nothing to do with it,” Gruden said. “There’s no evidence to support that, whatever happens will obviously be determined, but there’s no evidence that we have to support those accusations so that had nothing to do with it. We wanted to see Hilliard on the first play of the game because he’s a good player.”

GRUDEN NOT ANSWERING SIMMS QUESTIONS
After answering questions about quarterback Chris Simms’ health and contribution, or lack thereof, to the offense, Gruden made it clear on Monday that he’s done with answering questions about Simms.

Simms got into the game against Miami for six plays, seeing his first game action since his spleen injury last season against the Carolina Panthers. Simms has seen little practice time with the first, second or third teams and has often run the scout team offense.

“I’m not going to talk about it anymore, really” Gruden said. “We’ve talked about it all year. He’s a guy that we are trying to get into the game and into the groove. But everyday, jeez.”

Simms attempted one pass during his one series of action against the Dolphins, a pass that was dropped by tight end Keith Heinrich. Simms could see some action against the Texans on Thursday.

TIME TO STEP UP AT UNDER TACKLE POSITION
Since the departure of defensive tackle Warren Sapp after the 2003 season, the Bucs have struggled to fill the void left by Sapp at the under tackle position. Anthony “Booger” McFarland was Sapp’s successor, but struggled to equal the success that Sapp brought to the position.

Defensive lineman Jovan Haye quickly grabbed the starting spot early in training camp and has held that position throughout the preseason. Haye, however, has some competition at the position with Ellis Wyms and rookie Greg Peterson. Peterson had an impressive outing against the Dolphins, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble. Wyms has experience in the defense and filled in for McFarland after he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts midway through the 2006 season.

Gruden is looking for greatness at the position, but doesn’t know if he has that right now.

“We have competition, but we need someone to step up and be great,” Gruden said. “We are used to having a great under tackle here, we had the best under tackle in the world here for a long time and that’s what we are after. Right now, I don’t know if we have that, but we do have some guys competing and working hard. Jovan Haye is still the leader in the clubhouse, although Ellis Wyms and some other men have shown the capability to play. You have to like what Greg Peterson did in the game. He’s a young guy who had two sacks, two or three plays where he rushed the quarterback, great pursuit plays. So he’s coming on.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Gruden on the progression of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski this year compared to last season.

“What he’s done is really, really good. A lot of people want to say that it’s done against thirds or whatever, but he’s brought our team from behind to win a game, he’s put us in a position to score. He’s doing some great things with the football. Experience is a great teacher and is clearly a lot further along than he was a year ago. I think Jeff Garcia has helped the development of Bruce and certainly Luke, because they all play the game with a spontaneous style some times. They create plays, they are creative players and I think all three of those guys feed off of each other.”

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