Not all of the news surrounding Tampa Bay’s 20-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night was negative.

The good news for the Bucs was they escaped their second preseason contest of the year without any significant injuries.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden hopes to get a few of his injured players, including tackle Anthony Davis, guard Matt Stinchcomb and fullback Mike Alstott, back in time for the team’s third preseason contest, which will be played on Saturday night in Miami against the Dolphins.

“We need to get our starters back,” Gruden said. “I’d like to see the starting offensive line, really. I still don’t know who they are. We have had so many linemen out that it has been very difficult to practice like we want to practice. We need to get some closure here on the competition and finalize who is going to be our starting line for Minnesota. We need to get Stinchcomb back, Jeb Terry, obviously we need to get him back, and Anthony Davis. These are three guys that are in the mix. We want to get them out here and on the field so we can look at the starters. We need to get Alstott our here playing.”

The team expects to have defensive tackle Anthony “Booge” McFarland, whose mother recently passed away and was buried on Saturday in Louisiana, back sometime this week.

The same can’t be said for T Derrick Deese, who has been sidelined for several weeks with a lingering ankle injury. Gruden doesn’t know when Deese, who has been seeking other opinions on the extent of his injury, will be ready to play again. In the meantime, Davis has replaced him as the starting left tackle.

“Anthony Davis, at this time, is our starting left tackle,” Gruden said. Derrick Deese is hurt and now the backup is Todd Steussie.

“Derrick is still getting more evaluations. We’re trying to find someone that can give us the insight into this injury and see what it is. But, right now, it doesn’t look like he’ll practice anytime soon.”

Gruden has been pleased with Steussie’s play at left tackle.

“Good. He only had a couple sets in pass protection,” Gruden said of Steussie’s play on Saturday night. “He gave us some life, some production on the left side and had some real good downs in pass protection. Obviously, he got beat inside one time and Chris Simms sometimes has to find a way to throw the ball away. That’s something we need to work on there, too.”

After reviewing film of Tampa Bay’s 20-17 loss to Jacksonville, Gruden said his team has plenty of room to improve in several areas.

“I think everything needs to improve,” Gruden said. “There were some good things. I was very pleased with a lot of the things that I saw. We’ve got to make some plays when we have an opportunity to make them. We missed a couple passes, threw the ball inaccurately and that hurt us. We had four penalties on running plays. We had a 10-yard reverse called back. We had a nine-yard run by Carnell (Williams) called back. We had a 12-yard run by Ian Smart called back and a four-yard run by Derek Watson called back. First-down runs that resulted in penalties. Three of those against young receivers who were at home, on the edge. Obviously, that’s disgusting. You can’t do that. But, there were some good signs. Some young players have really improved. (Guard) Dan Buenning had a very good game. First time he’s played in a game. I thought (quarterback) Luke McCown showed tremendous poise in moving our team in a crisis situation where we have to score twice. There were some good signs. I was very pleased with a lot of things but there’s plenty to clean up in a lot of areas.”

Although Tampa Bay signed Brian Griese to a new, five-year contract this offseason, Gruden still expected third-year QB Chris Simms to push him for the starting job.

That hasn’t come close to happening, though. Simms has struggled with consistency this preseason, completing 14-of-21 (66 percent) of his passes for 105 yards and one touchdown and one interception.

On Saturday night, Simms completed 6-of-10 passes for 51 yards and was sacked twice. After watching the game film, Gruden suggested Simms needs to do a better job of hitting open receivers and keeping his composure.

“He knows where to go with the ball. It’s just unfortunate,” Gruden said of Simms. “You get guys open in this league and you have to hit them. I think he understands that. You have to throw the ball accurately, and when you are protected and you get good looks you need to make plays. Last night, he executed a great drive to start the second half, just as he did in Tennessee. We just need to start faster. We have to be more precise with our footwork, our timing and our location. Early in games he needs to get into a rhythm quicker. We have to take a good look at that. He could’ve hit Ike (Hilliard). We probably should’ve hit him. He’s hit him in practice. He came around the corner, as part of our thought process, bootleg if your out clean, then take a look to the over route. He did take a peek at the over route, he just chose not to throw it. He was a bit indecisive there. I don’t know if he is looking for a bigger play, or an opportunity to run. We had three or four chances to make plays in the passing game and certainly we didn’t do that last night in the first half. He’s in his third year now, and we have a lot of confidence that he made strides. Early in games, I remember Brett Favre throwing missiles over guys’ heads. He’s just jacked up. We just need to show more poise and be a little more relaxed, maybe then run the ball the first eight or nine plays, I don’t know what we should do.”

The Bucs have been looking at the consistency, or lack thereof, of players who are trying to earn a spot on the team’s active roster this season, and they’ve seen it from some players, including rookie linebacker Barrett Ruud.

Last week against Tennessee, Ruud led Tampa Bay’s defense with six tackles. He also notched one special teams tackle.

On Saturday night vs. Jacksonville, Ruud put on a similar performance, notching a team-high six tackles and recording an assist on a special teams takedown.

Needless to say, Ruud has been extremely impressive as Tampa Bay’s backup middle linebacker.

“He was not only good as a middle linebacker, he was good on special teams,” said Gruden. “This guy’s a very physical, sharp tackler. I was really pleased with some of the calls he made. Some of the covers, checks and some of the automatics that we had in our game plan last night. He did a great job. I really think this guy’s going to be a heck of a linebacker for us.”

Although Ruud has made such a solid impact in such a short period of time, Gruden said there’s no competition for the starting middle linebacker job, or at least there isn’t one right now.

“Shelton Quarles. There’s no dispute about that as the starting middle linebacker,” said Gruden. “At some point, you never know what can happen, with injuries and what-not. Certainly, there will be a way to get three of our best linebackers on the field. They’re versatile. They’re interchangeable. Shelton’s played every position here. I don’t want to speculate right now. We like leaving Barrett right there, backing up Shelton Quarles and he’s coming on. He’s going to be a heck of a player for us.”

The Buccaneers were hoping to keep wide receiver Joey Galloway out of harm’s way on special teams this season. That’s why they’ve auditioned so many players at the punt return position in training camp and preseason.

But so far, that audition has produced disappointing results. The leading candidate for the job, cornerback Torrie Cox, muffed a punt that led to a turnover and three points for Jacksonville on Saturday night, and in Tampa Bay’s first preseason game vs. Tennessee, Cox had trouble handling another punt.

Gruden said he’s growing concerned with his players’ inability to step up and relieve Galloway of punt return duties.

“We have a guy, Galloway, who has a knack for doing that,” Gruden said. “We are trying to find a guy that can take that off of his plate. I’m concerned about that. It’s been a major disappointing part of my career here in Tampa, the punt return and kickoff return. We have tried everybody from Bill Schroeder, to Tim Brown, to Karl Williams, Galloway has had injury problems. We’ve gone to Torrie Cox now and Ian Smart. (DeAndrew) Rubin is a guy that is a natural catcher. He has a great background returning punts in college and, obviously, as a kickoff man he has potential. I’m concerned about it. I’m disappointed with our inability to secure the ball and make plays. It just has really been disappointing.”

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