Bucs defensive tackle Greg Spires missed practice on Wednesday with a calf injury that he sustained in the fourth quarter vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. However, the list of Bucs players that were limited in practice on Wednesday was long and talented. Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and cornerback Brian Kelly, who have been limited in practice the last two weeks, along with running back Michael Pittman, tight end Alex Smith, wide receiver Michael Clayton and linebacker Quincy Black saw limited action.
Pittman returned to practice for the first time since his injury in Week 5 vs. the Indianapolis Colts. He sustained ligament damage in his ankle and was supposed to be sidelined 6 to 8 weeks. Just the sight of him as well as Smith and Clayton on the practice field is an encouraging sign for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
"It's been a while since I've seen some of them," Gruden said. "I'm encouraged because I saw some of them out here today. It's been a while since I've had them out on the field. So I will be optimistic that we will have somebody out here that we didn't have last week."
Pittman believes that there is a real possibility that he could play vs. Arizona, which happens to be his former employer. Pittman was drafted by the Cardinals in 1998 out of Fresno State and played four years for Arizona before signing with the Bucs as a free agent in 2002.
"I've definitely got a chance. It's about 50-50 right now," Pittman said. "I went through the practice and the walk-thrus and I looked pretty good. I'm going to have to really get on it this week and see how I feel, but yeah, I've got a 50-50 chance this week."
Smith practiced for the first time in two weeks and anticipates that he will play on Sunday. Smith, who has 14 receptions for 133 yards (9.5 avg.) and two touchdowns this season, injured his ankle vs. Tennessee and had to be carted off the field. Tight end Jerramy Stevens has filled in for Smith since his injury. Stevens has eight receptions for 78 yards (9.8 avg.) this season.
Clayton was injured vs. the Lions and sat out the loss vs. Jacksonville with a high ankle sprain. Clayton left after making a 20-yard reception vs. Detroit on the first drive of the game and never returned. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver has six receptions for 109 yards (18.2 avg.) this season.
"I'm pretty tired of talking about injuries. When these guys are ready to roll they will roll and when they are ready to play they will play," Gruden said. "But for the time being, we will do the best we can to treat them and get them well and go with the guys that can play."
Chukwurah (shoulder) was injured vs. Tennessee and Kelly (groin) has been battling his injury since the season-opener vs. Seattle. Black was limited in practice with a hamstring injury.
BUCS NEED WIN HEADING INTO BYE WEEKWith consecutive disappointing losses vs. Detroit and Jacksonville, the Bucs are feeling a sense of urgency heading into Sunday's contest vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Tampa Bay has lost three of its last four games and needs to produce a victory to go into the bye week with a positive feeling.
The feeling from Bucs fans and the media is that the bye week is coming too late in the season, but the players feel it's coming at the right time. The timing of the bye week is perfect for a Bucs team that has been bitten by the injury bug and needs a week to rest the healthy starters and get back some of the injured starters as well. Smith, Clayton, Kelly, Chukwurah and Pittman were limited in practice on Wednesday, but Gruden is optimistic that all of these players might be able to play vs. Arizona.
"I think that our bye week comes at a good time for this team. To be able to get through half the season and then get a break, it's really where you want it to be," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "I think the young guys especially have to understand how long of a season this is. They've already basically gone through a collegiate season at this point and it is a grind. When you have a couple of loses that beats you up also and you need to find a way to motivate yourself to continue to stick to a routine. Because these remaining weeks ahead of us is a real critical time for us to either make something happen or fade away in the dust. We don't want to be fading away. We want to get better, stronger and make a run towards something positive at the end of this year."
Running back Earnest Graham, who has been able to steady the running game with the loss of Cadillac Williams for the season with a knee injury, believes that the Bucs are a good team and need to show that once again. Every player on the team understands that Tampa Bay let wins slip through their fingers in the last two weeks. The Bucs, however, can't afford to let any more victories fall out of their grasps.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency," Graham said. "We've lost two games we feel we should have won. Really good teams don't lose games they should win. We all feel that way. We want to go out and win the game and improve this week, and by improving I mean get a win."
Cornerback Ronde Barber made it known after Sunday's 24-23 loss vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars that good teams don't lose three games in a row. The Bucs feel that they are a good team, at least better than last season, and are looking at Sunday's game as a must-win situation midway through the season. This is a measuring stick for this season's team with the fact that the 2006 squad had three different losing streaks of at least three games last season.
Linebacker Barrett Ruud, who leads the team with 106 tackles, sees the month of November as a crucial time for the Bucs to create a presence in the NFC while making a push to the playoffs. He also believes that Sunday's contest is a must-win for the Bucs.
"Oh yeah, definitely. It's one of those things where you don't want to go into the bye week with a loss, especially with it being a third straight loss if we lose this one," Ruud said. "Obviously it's a big game and people say November is kind of that month where you can determine what you are going to be like as a team. That's when you kind of establish yourself for the playoffs."
WHITE'S PREPARATION REMAINS SAMEBucs defensive end Greg White could get his third start of the season vs. the Arizona Cardinals with the calf injury to Spires. White had two previous starts this season vs. Indianapolis and Carolina. White has made an impact on the defense after joining the Bucs in the preseason from the Arena League and making the 53-man roster to open the season.
White has 20 tackles so far this season and is second on the team with 2.5 sacks. He has mainly been used on passing downs and has been rotated at defensive end and defensive tackle this season. Despite the change in reps if he does get the start, White isn't going to change his weekly preparation.
"It's the same preparation because I started the Indy game and Carolina as well," White said. "I go in the same way preparing to start because I've said all season that anyone of us could be a starter at any time and I still feel that way."
The NFL season is a long, grinding time for many of the players in the league, but it has been especially long for White. He played a 16-game Arena League schedule with the Orlando Predators, along with one playoff game which was played on June 29. On Aug. 4, one week into training camp, White was signed and has played in 12 games, including the preseason.
White has played almost two seasons worth of football – 29 games – in one calendar year, combining his Arena League and NFL contests. However, White still feels good at the midway point of the NFL season, but is looking forward to the bye week.
"It's a long year, a little longer for me because I just came out of the Arena League and sometimes I think they forget that," White said. "But it will be great to have this bye week after the Arizona game."
QUOTE OF THE DAYBucs head coach Jon Gruden commenting on QB Jeff Garcia coming out to practice in a Halloween costume, including a black curly wig and big, black circular glasses.
"It's Halloween night here in Tampa. There are going to be a lot of kids knocking on your door. Just make sure you go home and get your treats and might even see [Jeff] Garcia banging on your door."
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