The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preparing to play their first preseason game of 2006 against the New York Jets at Raymond James Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

The Bucs held a two-hour practice in shells (shorts, jerseys, helmets and shoulder pads) on Monday morning followed by a one-hour special teams workout in the afternoon at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista.

Several players were held out of Monday’s workouts. Linebackers Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles, guard Toniu Fonoti, wide receiver J.R. Russell, defensive lineman Charles Bennett, safety Will Allen and tackle Kenyatta Walker missed practice Monday.

Brooks and Quarles were held out by the Bucs in an effort to rest both players. Fonoti (ankle), Russell (toe), Bennett (hamstring), Allen (thumb) and Walker (knee) missed practice due to their respective injuries.

With Walker missing a significant amount of practice time in training camp, the Bucs likely will start rookie Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle in their preseason opener, although Walker could return to practice sometime this week.

“He didn’t go today,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Walker. “He’s getting better, but he’s not ready to go.”

According to Gruden, Allen, who is sporting a cast on his surgically repaired thumb, is expected to return to practice “in a couple of days.” If Allen can’t go Friday, Kalvin Pearson likely will start in his place against the Jets.

Quarterback Rotation Not Set
While Chris Simms is Tampa Bay’s undisputed starting quarterback, the competition for the backup job has been quite heated throughout training camp.

Quarterbacks Jay Fielder (shoulder) and Luke McCown (knee) are on the physically unable to perform list and will not play in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener vs. the New York Jets.

With both of those players on the sideline, Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski are battling for the right to serve as Simms’ backup. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday that he hasn’t made a decision yet in terms of which signal caller will take the second-team reps behind Simms on Friday night.

“We’ll sit down and see how the next few days go and we’ll go from there,” Gruden said. “But right now I really don’t have an answer on that yet.”

Bucs Go Undercover For Sunday Afternoon Practice
Tampa Bay cancelled its Sunday afternoon practice at Disney’s Wide of World Sports complex to conduct a walk-through practice indoors at the Cororando Springs Resort, which also is located in Disney.

The change of scenery gave the Bucs a much-needed break from the blazing sun and gave some of the team’s injured players a chance to participate.

“It was good,” Gruden said of the indoor practice. “You have to simulate crowd noise somehow. There were certain things we wanted to do behind closed doors that we were able to get done. Plus, there are five or six guys that aren’t taking reps full speed, but we’re able to take 60 or 70 turns. We benefited from it.”

Jones Challenging For Playing Time At Receiver
Mark Jones solidified Tampa Bay’s punt return position in 2005 by averaging 9.6 yards per attempt on 51 tries. Although rookie cornerback Justin Phinisee is challenging for that spot, Jones appears to be the front runner heading into the team’s first preseason game of the season on Friday night.

With the punt return job being his to lose, Jones has been attempting to work his way into the rotation at wide receiver, where he’s fared well in training camp.

“I think he’s earned a right to see some playing time at wide receiver,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Jones. “He’s going to be active for us as our punt returner. He helped us beat the Falcons in Week 15; he set up our game-winning drive in overtime. He was one of the top returners in football last season. I don’t think people know that. But he has really worked hard to improve himself as a receiver and he’s a great kid. He’s a guy who has done well here in Orlando.”

Quote of the Day
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the competition at wide receiver:

“Yeah, I’ll just make this point here — nothing’s in stone. Everybody says we have competition for the number-three spot. Hell, we’ve got competition for numbers one, two, three, four and five, and six and seven and eight and nine and 10 and 11 and 12. We’re competing to see who plays, and we’ve got some competition. You guys have brought up three or four guys every day, and Paris Warren is another guy who has quietly made a lot of noise here, done some really good things.”

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