Bucs tight end Alex Smith and wide receiver Michael Clayton have been listed as doubtful for Sunday's game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and cornerback Brian Kelly have been listed as questionable as well.
Smith is battling through an ankle injury that he sustained in a victory vs. the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago. The third-year tight end had his leg rolled up on and had to be carted off the field early in the fourth quarter of the 13-10 win. Smith didn't participate in practice for the second consecutive week.
"Until I see him, you don't know [how he's progressing], you can only speculate," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "He hasn't practiced or done much for two weeks so I don't have any idea where he is."
Clayton was injured in last week's 23-16 loss vs. the Detroit Lions with a high ankle sprain. He had a 20-yard reception on the first drive of the game, but got bent backwards on the tackle. The fourth-year wide receiver, who has six receptions for 109 yards (18.2 avg.) this season, left the game and never returned. Clayton was hopeful that he might be able to play vs. the Jaguars, but that doesn't look like a possibility.
Chukwurah has battled through a couple of injuries this season, including an MCL tear in his knee and a shoulder injury that occurred vs. the Titans in Week 6. He had a fumble recovery in the third quarter of the Tennessee game and got his first sack of the season in a 20-7 victory vs. the Carolina Panthers. He was limited in practice this week after sitting out last week's loss vs. the Lions.
Kelly has been hampered by a groin injury that he sustained in the season-opening loss vs. the Seattle Seahawks. Kelly has tried to battle through the injury on several occasions, but has been sidelined the last two weeks because of it.
Running back Michael Pittman, who was injured vs. the Indianapolis Colts, was ruled out for Sunday's game. Pittman was scheduled to be out 6 to 8 weeks after sustaining ligament damage to his ankle, but stated on Wednesday that he is ahead of schedule. He is targeting a return after the Nov. 11 bye week, which would put him at least one week ahead of the original targeted return.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, running back Maurice Jones-Drew left practice on Friday with a knee injury that he sustained on Monday night vs. the Indianapolis Colts and is listed as questionable. Other questionable Jaguars are defensive end Reggie Hayward, defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and Tony Williams and cornerback Brian Williams.
Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard is out for Sunday's game with an ankle injury and quarterback Quinn Gray will get the start. Also, placekicker Josh Scobee is out with a quadricep injury.
ASKEW, GRAHAM STARTING TO CATCH ON
Bucs fullback B.J. Askew and running back Earnest Graham have become two more weapons in the passing game for quarterback Jeff Garcia. With so much attention paid to containing big-play wide receiver Joey Galloway, the check-down reads to the backs out of the backfield have been open.
Graham, who has 23 receptions for 151 yards (6.6 avg.) this season, set a career high vs. the Lions last week with 13 receptions, which tied James Wilder's franchise record for running backs, for 99 yards. Askew has had at least three receptions in the last two games and has 10 receptions for 90 yards (9.0 avg.) so far this season.
"I didn't expect [Graham] to catch that many passes, but I can only say that's probably another mistake I have made not using him," Gruden said. "But Michael Pittman has been a guy that has caught 70 passes out of the backfield basically every year that he's started and against a defense we saw last week, we took advantage of some of the things that were there and he did a heck of a job."
Gruden believes that defenses must now game plan on stopping Graham as a receiver out of the backfield. Graham's performance last week – 32 total touches for 191 yards – put him on the radar of many opposing defensive coordinators.
"I think that game was a launching pad for Earnest," Gruden said. "Every young player has to explode on to the scene and I think people now realize that he's a quality football player."
Askew has been a consistent blocker at fullback and has helped the Bucs running attack improve as the season moves on. The Bucs have rushed for 719 yards (3.9 avg.) this season and scored seven touchdowns. Askew's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is just as crucial to the Bucs offense, which was evident last week vs. the Lions with four receptions for 36 yards.
"He's a guy we are really excited about and he's another new guy here," Gruden said. "He's getting better on a weekly basis."
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