Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton and running back Michael Pittman are healthy and ready to get back on the field after the bye week. Both players have been battling through ankle injuries and agreed that it was a smart decision to sit out last week's victory vs. the Cardinals.
Clayton and Pittman wanted to be out there to help their teammates, but looking back on it they both feel it was best for the team to make that decision. Clayton was starting to make plays again in the offense when he went out with a high ankle sprain vs. Detroit. Pittman was helping stabilize the running game after running back Cadillac Williams went down for the season with a knee injury when he went out with torn ligaments in his ankle in Week 5.
Clayton and Pittman saw tight end Alex Smith, who returned from an ankle injury vs. Arizona, re-aggravate his ailment on Sunday. That was another reason for them in understanding why the team decided against them playing.
"I feel good. The Arizona game just wasn't a great decision to go out there and get a setback," Clayton said. "I decided to sit out that game and it was a great decision. It's never easy to make a decision about sitting out a game whether you are injured or not, but I think it's a matter of how injured you are. The big picture is that we have a chance at this thing and it's very important to be healthy in the second half of the season. I just took that road, it wasn't an easy decision, but we came out ahead and I'm healthy now so it was a good decision."
Pittman and Clayton even had a discussion about sitting out during Sunday's game.
"I told that to Mike when we kept seeing Alex come off the field on the sideline and I looked at Clayton and said ‘Man I'm glad I didn't play now'," Pittman said. "That's how injuries are. Somebody grabs you and it's a reoccurring feeling. They're so painful. Right now at practice we don't have anybody grabbing at us, falling on the back of our legs or tackling us."
Clayton has recorded six receptions for 109 yards (18.2 avg.) so far this season and was starting to flash the talent that Bucs fans saw during his rookie year. Clayton had 1,193 yards on 80 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2004. With the lack of depth at wide receiver with the season-ending leg injury to Paris Warren and the release of David Boston, Clayton needs to continue the production he had before the injury.
"The ball was starting to come my way and I was able to make some plays," Clayton said. "It happens. I don't think it will be a setback. I will be placed right back in there to make plays and in the second half of the season we will get things rolling. I think it's a great opportunity for everybody on our receiving corps to get in, make some catches and get some first downs and touchdowns."
Pittman makes his return one week ahead of the 6-to-8 week timetable that was set when his injury first occurred. Pittman has 169 yards (4.8 avg.) on 35 carries in five games this season along with 11 receptions for 94 yards (8.5 avg.). His return gives the Bucs the depth that they had at the beginning of the season in the backfield.
Pittman believes that he is 100 percent healthy heading into the bye week and practiced on Wednesday without any tape or brace on his injured ankle. He's confident that his ankle will hold up the rest of the season and knows that it was the right decision to sit out Sunday's game vs. Arizona.
"I'm glad I didn't play because I wasn't 100 percent going into the Arizona game, maybe 90-95 percent," Pittman said. "Every day I'm getting better so I'm more confident with this week and another whole week heading into Atlanta that I will definitely be ready to go."
The Bucs running game, which ranks 16th in the NFL, has been able to stay afloat during Pittman's absence as running back Earnest Graham has carried the load with 454 yards (3.9 avg.) and four touchdowns. Running back Michael Bennett, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, has 10 carries for 57 yards (5.7 avg.) in three games with Tampa Bay.
EASY PRACTICE FOR BUCS
With all the injuries that the Bucs have endured during the first nine games of the season, it was no surprise that Wednesday's practice was nothing more than a simple walk-thru. There was no contact, no full-speed action and there was minimal effort in executing the reps that were run.
Tampa Bay needed this bye week and couldn't afford any kind of a pull or strain of any muscle to any player during their only practice this week. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will give the team the rest of the week off to heal up any bumps, bruises or injuries and to re-charge mentally to get ready for the push to a playoff berth and a possible NFC South division title.
After the walk-thru practice on Wednesday, the Bucs quickly loaded a team bus and headed over to Raymond James Stadium for a team photo. The players will have a mandatory meeting after their team photo and then will scatter to their relaxing destinations for the rest of the week.
Gruden plans on spending some time with his family during the time off and could be checking out some local prep football games as well.
"I have no idea [what I'm doing this weekend]. I've got three sons, I plan on spending some time with them," Gruden said. "I'm proud of them guys, they're involved in some things at school and outside of school that I'd like to be there for them and share a little private time with them. It will be nothing exciting, that's for sure. Maybe I'll go catch a high school football game, it's playoff time now, I like to do that."
FANS CAN MAKE PRO BOWL SELECTIONS
The 2008 NFL Pro Bowl ballot is now up on NFL.com and Bucs fans can go and vote for their favorite players to possibly reach Hawaii after the season. Players like quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Joey Galloway, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, linebacker Barrett Ruud and rookie safety Tanard Jackson are just a few of the players on the list for the Pro Bowl.
Garcia is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season completing more than 65 percent of his pass attempts for 1,967 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Ruud is another player that is making some noise, leading the Bucs in tackles, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Galloway is having a productive season with 38 receptions for 648 yards (17.1 avg.) and five touchdowns.
Trueblood has been a big part in clearing the way for Bucs running backs, who have gained more than 850 yards rushing. He also has kept Garcia clean for the most part as the nine-year veteran has been sacked 13 times in nine games. Jackson has been the biggest surprise on the defense with his play at the safety position, recording 37 tackles and is tied for second on the team with cornerback Phillip Buchanon with two interceptions. Jackson has helped the Bucs defense move to No. 6 overall and No. 1 in pass defense this season.
GRUDEN LIKES THE BYE WEEK
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's record after the bye week his not too bad, but his record after the bye with Tampa Bay isn't much to be desired about. Gruden for his career, in Oakland and with the Bucs, is 6-3 after a bye week, but he was 4-0 with the Raiders. He is only 2-3 with Tampa Bay after the bye week with the two victories coming in the 2002 Super Bowl championship season when the Bucs finished 12-4 in the regular season, and in 2004 when the Bucs finished 5-11.
In 2004, the Bucs defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 at Raymond James Stadium and defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 in 2002, also at home. The Bucs, however, must go on the road vs. the Atlanta Falcons after this season's bye week. Even though the Falcons are struggling this year, they can make the Bucs season very difficult with a victory on Nov. 18.
The Bucs struggled in the NFC South last season going 0-6 in division play on its way to finishing the year 4-12. Tampa Bay, however, is 2-0 in division play this season with victories vs. Carolina and New Orleans. The Bucs are currently in first place in the division, leading the Saints by half of a game in the standings. Tampa Bay has its playoff destiny in its hands and just needs to take care of business in the division to capture a playoff berth.
"We just look at each game. The Saints have won four in a row and are probably playing as well as anyone in the league," Gruden said. "There are some real surprises going on in pro football in the first half of the season. That means that there will probably be some in the second half of the season. We would like to be one of those surprise teams. All you can really do is control what you can control and that's preparing, practicing and getting ready to play your best."
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