Bucs rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who missed Sunday’s game with a foot and hamstring injury, has been upgraded to probable for Tampa Bay’s game vs. Miami.

Tampa Bay watched its offense convert just 2-of-14 (14 percent) of its third down attempts and fail to get into the end zone en route to a 14-12 loss to the New York Jets. Needless to say, the Bucs are anxious to get one of their most dangerous weapons back on the field this week.

“We’re hoping we have the guy back,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Williams. “We need him, there is no question about that. He does have a legitimate injury that hasn’t come around as quickly as we had hoped. But, he is working at it. He is very frustrated and if there’s a chance, he’ll make it happen.”

Williams, who has rushed for 447 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, was limited in almost all of Tampa Bay’s practices last week, but Gruden expects his rookie rusher to be fresh this week after carrying the ball 99 times through the team’s first four games.

“I think it has helped him,” Gruden said of Williams’ rest. “The good thing is that his body is going to be very fresh, his shoulders, his thighs, the areas that help him run the ball and be very good at it. So, that’s a good sign. We need this guy in our lineup and we would like to get him completely healthy, although, he may not reach complete health until the season is over. That’s the case, I think, for a lot of guys that play this game.”

Although his foot injury is not 100 percent healed, Williams said it’s feeling much better, and he expects to return to practice as early as Wednesday.

“Overall it feels pretty well,” Williams said of his foot injury. “This morning I came in and it was a little stiff. I’m definitely doing better and I’m looking forward to going on Sunday.”

Williams has plenty of incentive to get back on the football field this week. Not only to the Bucs need his help on offense, Williams and Tampa Bay will host the Miami Dolphins, who drafted his former Auburn teammate, RB Ronnie Brown. While he wants to put on a good show for his former teammate and friend, Williams said his No. 1 priority is to help the Bucs rebound from their first loss of the 2005 regular season.

“It’s definitely important, but my focus is to win this game,” Williams said of facing Brown, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. “In terms of a one-on-one dual between Ronnie and I, I’m wishing Ronnie the best and he’s wishing me the best. My main thing is for us to win.”

In other injury news, Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips, who missed Sunday’s game with a surgerically repaired thumb injury, is questionable for the Bucs-Dolphins contest.

Although he’s thrown four interceptions over the past two games, quarterback Brian Griese still has the confidence of Gruden. Tampa Bay’s head coach made that point Monday while addressing some of the questions regarding some of Griese’s critical mistakes, including the interception he threw on Sunday that was returned 43 yards by Jets cornerback Ty Law to the Bucs’ 8-yard line.

“Well, the one yesterday was a third-and-2,” Gruden said of Griese’s interception, which led to the Jets’ first offensive touchdown of the game. “It was a quick throw, a quick set-up, a quick decision part of the play. Bad throw. He missed (wide receiver) Ike Hilliard. I don’t believe he got hit when he threw it. He picked a side and Ike Hilliard’s the primary target. He just missed the throw. I don’t have as much problem personally with errant throws as I do poor decisions. We’re taking a good look at everything that’s happening. There are a couple plays that we’ll talk about when he gets here today. For us to win, we need him to play great. When he plays good or doesn’t play as good, we’re going to struggle. But he did do some good things at times yesterday. There were a few things that we need to get figured out.

“I am confident in him. I’ve taken a lot of pride in my career as a play caller. I’ve surrounded myself with guys that have thrown the ball well. I am going to continue to do that, just so you know. We’re going to take a good look at where we are after five weeks. He has made some great plays for this football team, but he has made plays that hurt. We have to eliminate the plays that have hurt us and magnify the things he does well. I think a healthy Carnell Williams, a more involved Michael Clayton and elimination of penalties on early downs (will help).”

Griese has thrown seven interceptions through five games this season. In fact, Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller has tossed 13 picks over his past eight starts, and the Jets dropped two interceptions while having two others negated by defensive penalties.

Gruden suggested that Griese’s interceptions were the result of a couple of things — bad throws and poor decision-making.

“I don’t have a list of the seven, but the three last week, there were a couple of decisions that were not good,” Gruden said. “Yesterday, I believe, it was a bad throw. It’s been a combination of errant throws and bad decisions. We’ve had a couple of balls that could have been intercepted that weren’t. So, we’re not only looking at the balls that are officially on the stat sheet as interceptions, we’re looking at every ball that is thrown in a football game, Paul Hackett and myself will continue to grind away our point about high-percentage decision making, seeing throws and making good decisions.”

Gruden announced Monday that the Bucs will actively audition players for the kickoff return position this week after watching cornerback Torrie Cox average just 16.7 yards per attempt and fumble the football twice this season.

Cox ranked fourth in the NFL last season with a 26.2-yard average as Tampa Bay’s primary kickoff returner, but he’s struggled since returning from a two-game absence after being arrested and charged with second DUI in nine months.

Gruden suggested punt returner Mark Jones would be one of the candidates to unseat Cox as the kickoff return man.

“Yes, we are. Here’s a guy who helped us lead the NFL or the NFC last year in kick return,” Gruden said. “But, he struggled making a reception. It hasn’t been once, it’s been more than once. To open up a football game like that, is certainly a downer. We’re looking for people that can possibly come in and do that. Mark Jones will be a candidate and we’ll open it up to competition this week, for sure.”

Despite bringing in a group of officials to monitor most of their offseason and training camp practices, penalties continue to plague the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season.

The Bucs were penalized 12 times for 87 yards on Sunday en route to their 14-12 loss to the Jets. The team has now been penalized 53 times for 443 yards through five regular season games.

Gruden suggested Monday that the Bucs will stand a good chance of suffering the same fate they did Sunday in New York if the players continue to commit penalties.

“Well, obviously you have to take a look at the infractions,” said Gruden. “We had four or five defensive penalties and once again a nice return was called back on special teams. You have to contemplate making changes at certain positions. We’ll do that. At the same time, you scream and yell, emphasize fundamentals and techniques and maybe hire a new officials staff [for practice] to explain the rules better, because obviously the point is not being made strongly enough.

“We have got to drive it home, that penalties are not a part of this football team. It’s inexcusable. It’s hard to describe how that happens. It can’t continue, otherwise we won’t win another game.”

Although he’s been on the field, Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton has been noticeably absent from the Bucs’ past two games.

Clayton, who suffered a separated left shoulder during the preseason and has since re-injured it at least two times, has caught 17 passes for 196 yards through five games, but he was held without a catch for the first time in his pro career in New York on Sunday. In fact, Clayton has caught just two passes over the past two games.

While the shoulder injury is having a negative impact on Clayton’s play and participation in practice, Gruden said that he has no plans to rest his star receiver.

“No. I haven’t given any thought to resting him,” Gruden said of Clayton. “We have given much thought this afternoon…or this morning; it’s been a long day already…we’ve given much thought this morning about doubling his work-load this week. We need him, obviously, to be a big part of this offense. We realize he’s got some soreness but we feel like he’ll improve and be ready to go for the Dolphins.”

Clayton caught a team-high 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2004, but he’s currently on pace to catch just 54 passes and has yet to find the end zone this season.

Gruden was critical of Clayton’s conditioning during training camp and preseason after the receiver spent most of the offseason sidelined while recovering from minor knee surgery. But Gruden was critical of himself on Monday when asked why Clayton’s production had dropped off this season.

“Well, it’s a lot to do with play design,” Gruden said. “Maybe, I’m not doing as good of a good job. I take credit for some of that. We have to call his number more. He’s got to play to another level. At the same time, he is a sore man. He does have legitimate symptoms of injury. He’s fought through them before and he’ll fight through them again. It’s our job to get him going in this offense and we have to do a much better job, as a staff, and he has to work with us on that.”

Gruden on the Bucs’ attempt to avoid back-to-back losses:

“We haven’t lost a game in some time. It’s a terrible feeling. It’s a disgusting feeling. You come to work everyday for a great result. You don’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. You look at that tape and you slam your fist on the table a few times. There’s no way that should have happened. We should have made this play, that play, and this play. But Detroit said that the week before. Green Bay said that in Lambeau. That’s just the way this league is. It’s going to be decided every game by a few twist and turns along the way. We got to address that. I do know this, we’ve got to start games faster. That’s been our theme around here, let’s start fast. And clearly yesterday we did not start worth a hoot.”

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