The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice field at One Buccaneer Place Monday in preparation for their third preseason game of the year, which will be played on Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins.

The Bucs were pleased to welcome back two offensive linemen – tackle Anthony Davis (thigh) and guard Matt Stinchcomb (back) – to practice. Both players were sidelined for Saturday night’s game vs. Jacksonville with their respective injuries.

Fullback Mike Alstott (stinger), who was held out of the game vs. the Jaguars as a precaution, also participated in Monday practice.

“He looked pretty good,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We had some pad work the first half of practice and we’re going to pad him up again tomorrow and on Wednesday. I thought he looked pretty good; I think he should play in this game.”

However, two players – T Derrick Deese, who is still sidelined with a lingering ankle injury, and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who has been excused from practice due to the recent death of his mother – are still out.

While he could return to practice sometime this week, McFarland probably won’t play on Saturday night in Miami.

“I talked to Anthony on Saturday,” Gruden said. “We’ve been in contact with him throughout the organization and my understanding is he’ll be back here Thursday morning. His status for the game obviously is doubtful. It’s been a very tough ordeal for him and we just have to support him every way we can.”

WIDE RECEIVERS STEPPING UP:
So which receiver(s) stands the best chance of earning a roster spot behind Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard? Gruden has apparently been impressed with a few of the team’s younger receivers.

“Edell Shepherd had a good night,” Gruden said. “When we went to him, he made plays. That’s a good sign. He really played well in the game. Paris Warren’s playing well. He’s had a good solid camp and when the games begin he plays well. After that, it’s wide open, to be honest with you. We’ve got some guys who have had flickers of good days and flickers of bad, and we’re looking for another guy. [DeAndrew] Rubin is picking it up in our return game. He’s going to push to make this team. We need a couple other guys to eliminate the penalties and the carelessness and try to make our team.”

Of course, rookie WR Paris Warren put himself on the radar Saturday night after he hauled in a pass from QB Luke McCown and took it to the house for a 45-yard touchdown. Gruden said Warren’s playmaking ability was one of the main reasons why the Bucs used a seventh-round pick to select him in April.

“He had a great career at Utah, now,” Gruden said of Warren. “It’s not like he was a sidekick receiver there. He had a tremendous career on a 12-0 or 13-0 team. He just didn’t run very fast at the combine, which was good for us. We were able to get him in the seventh round. If he continues to work as he is…he’s a natural receiver. He catches the ball, he’s tough inside, he can block, he’s good on special teams. He still has a lot to learn about the pro game but he’s a good solid football player.”

McCOWN PUSHING SIMMS FOR BACKUP JOB?:
With QB Chris Simms playing inconsistently in training camp and preseason, and newcomer Luke McCown showing some playmaking ability on Saturday night, do the Bucs have a quarterback controversy on their hands?

While that’s mostly speculation at this point, McCown did take his fare share of reps during Monday’s practice, and he’s apparently caught the eye of Gruden.

“He’s doing well, and the only way to get better is to practice,” said Gruden. “Some of the things we stage for him, some of the things we stage for Brian [Griese], some of the things we stage for Chris. Today we did stage a few things for Luke, and a lot of the reps you saw he was the service-squad quarterback for the defense, so you’ve got to temper what you saw.”

Gruden also made a point to temper his answers regarding Simms and the areas the third-year quarterback needs to improve in.

“Every time I say where he needs to improve, I’m being publicly, outrageously critical of the man,” Gruden said. “He’s got to improve in every phase of the game, just like I do and just like everyone does. He’s got to start quicker, I think. He’s an excitable kind of guy. He needs to cool it out a little bit to start the game and have a little more poise and confidence in his footwork and his timing and his decision-making and his arm. I think he’s rushing things early in his stints. But when he slows it down, he’s had great drives to start the second half two weeks in a row, and for that I’m excited.”

BREAKING OUT IN A SWEAT(SHIRT):
With all of the talk regarding how hot and humid conditions have been in Orlando and the Tampa Bay area, Gruden decided Monday to play a little reverse psychology with his players by sporting a sweatshirt throughout the entire two-hour practice at One Buc Place.

“I’m just trying to make a statement,” said Gruden. “‘it’s not that hot. It’s not that hot. Look at me – it’s not that hot.’ This heat thing has just really been a pain in the butt this summer, for not only the Buccaneers but for people who go to the beach and people who just go outside, period. I went and saw a Little League baseball game the other day and the poor kids were out there struggling. It’s part of life but we’ve got to overcome that and we’ve got to be at our best. We’re going to do everything we can to be creative with the practice schedule so we leave our best stuff on the field on Sunday.”

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