Although he’s still on Tampa Bay’s active roster, cornerback/kickoff returner Torrie Cox will not be active Sunday for the Bucs’ game against the Buffalo Bills.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden announced that decision Wednesday, which was one day after Cox had been arrested and charged with driving under the influence for the second time in less than one year.
“I’m going to talk more about the players who are going to play. He’s not playing,” Gruden said of Cox, who practiced with his teammates on Wednesday. “His status will be decided upon later, but he’s not playing in this game, no.”
The 24-year-old Cox was arrested in December of 2004 and charged with DUI. Although he later pled no contest to a lesser charge, Cox’s problems off of the football field have the Bucs concerned.
“Yes, it’s a problem,” Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said. “The first is a problem, and the second is a problem. They’re isolated, and there’s a process that must be adhere to.”
While there’s been some speculation in regards to Cox’s future with the Bucs, Allen said the third-year cornerback is aware of his status with the football team.
“It’s never been our policy to discuss any type of team punishment,” said Allen. “We’ve talked with Torrie and he knows exactly where he stands right now.”
Following his DUI arrest last year, the Bucs deactivated Cox for three games. The team has deactivated Cox for this Sunday’s contest at Raymond James Stadium, which leaves the Bucs in need of a kickoff returner.
According to Gruden, wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones and running back Michael Pittman are the top candidates to fill the special teams void left by Cox.
“He’s worked on that throughout his career, really,” Gruden said of Pittman, who averaged 21 yards per kickoff return during his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals. “Once again, when certain things happen you have to have contingency plans in place. We’ll work on our contingency plan throughout this week and we’ll find somebody who gives us a chance to hopefully return one for a touchdown.
“(Mark Jones) has done primarily punt returns, but if pressed into service we’ll trust that he’ll do the job if he’s the guy we choose to go with.”
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME? Last Sunday, Tampa Bay went on the road and defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-13. That was a big feat for the Bucs seeing as they had produced just one roan win in eight attempts during the 2004 season.
With one win under their belt, the Bucs have turned their attention to defending their home turf. That’s not something Tampa Bay has done a good job of as of late. The Bucs have gone just 7-9 over the past two seasons at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs plan to recapture their winning ways at Ray-Jay, and it all starts this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
“We know we got to get back to defending our home court,” said Bucs defensive tackle Ellis Wyms. “I mean you have to defend your home. We have to win Tampa Bay games to get to the playoffs. It’s hard to get to the playoffs without playing well at home.”
Some Bucs players feel they’ve failed to take advantage of the advantages that come with playing in front of the home crowd.
“We probably haven’t taken advantage of the situation we have going,” said Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly. “We’ve got a great crowd and great fans. We play teams at 1:00 p.m. in the heat that they’re not used to playing in. We should be able to close teams out and win games. That’s our focus for this year.”
Of course, making plays and winning games will go a long way in helping the crowd at Raymond James Stadium become an even bigger and better factor.
“Yeah, and that would be something that we need to have a hand in,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of getting the fans more involved. “We’ve got to help them get excited with good, quality play from the beginning of the game. They’ll be there; they’ve always been there for us. But we’ve certainly got to improve our home performances and send them away happy more often.”
Defeating the Vikings on the road was a tremendous feat for the underdog Buccaneers, but they know that win will not be as big if they lose their home opener on Sunday to the Bills.
“That win against Minnesota will be for nothing if we don’t come out and play up to our standards and win at Raymond James Stadium,” said Kelly.
CLAYTON CATCHING ON After spending most of the offseason recovering from knee surgery, Bucs second-year wide receiver Michael Clayton spent preseason attempting to return to form.
But in the process of improving upon his rookie debut, which included a team-high 80 catches and seven touchdowns, Clayton has dropped a few passes in training camp, preseason and last Sunday against the Vikings.
It’s not that he’s forgotten how to catch the football on a consistent basis. Clayton said his drops could be attributed to his attempt to make more plays after the catch.
“It’s just a matter of catching the ball,” said Clayton. “I’m trying to make plays before I even catch it and that’s obviously why good-handed receivers drop passes, they’re trying to make plays. It’s something that’s easily corrected. Just catch the ball first and then make the play. That’s just what it is. It’s not something that I have to re-learn. I just have to calm down and catch the ball and make a play afterwards. It’s just total focus on the process at hand.”
GRIESE LOSES BET, SPORTS NOTRE DAME HAT Although Tampa Bay defeated Minnesota in its 2005 regular season opener, not all Bucs players came out of the weekend victorious, or at least not in every sense of the word.
Bucs quarterback Brian Griese, who played collegiately for the Michigan Wolverines, sported a Notre Dame Fighting Irish hat during his press conference on Wednesday morning as a result of losing a bet to former Notre Dame standout, guard Sean Mahan.
Notre Dame defeated Michigan on Saturday, 17-10.
“This is a tough, sad day for me,” Griese said with a smile. “Sean Mahan got me. I’m a man of my word, though. I’m going to take it like a man. This thing’s giving me a headache already. After this conference…do you want it? Anybody a Notre Dame fan out there? I’m going to burn it.”
BUCS LOOKING FOR SECOND STRAIGHT WIN Tampa Bay has only produced back-to-back wins twice over the past two seasons. By defeating the Minnesota Vikings in their season opener, the Bucs come home with a chance to accomplish that feat for the third time in as many seasons with a win over the Buffalo Bills, who have won seven of their last eight regular season games dating back to 2004.
“It’s important to string together victories, it’s important to string together good successive downs, series, quarters, games,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We’ll worry about the string of victories one by one. This is going to be a hard-fought football game and we’ve got to play much better that we did last week to win it.”
While several of the questions asked by the media Wednesday pertained to Tampa Bay’s win over Minnesota, the Bucs were quick to point out that they have turned the page and are focusing on preparing for what many perceive to be a playoff-caliber Bills team.
“Really, outside of this locker room everybody’s talking about last week, but in here we’ve moved on to Buffalo,” said Bucs QB Brian Griese. “While Minnesota was a great win, we understand that this is a very good team coming in, with a lot of talent, into our house, and we want to establish a good mojo at home, if you will. We want to start the season off at home right.”
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