The 5-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are favored to defeat 1-6 Kansas City on Sunday, but winning against the Chiefs won't be easy for the Pewter Pirates, who could be without several key members of their football team due to injuries.
Bucs running back Warrick Dunn still is nursing a back injury he sustained vs. the Seahawks two weeks ago. While he played vs. Dallas last Sunday, Dunn was limited due to the ailment, and head coach Jon Gruden went as far as saying he regretted playing Dunn in that contest.
Dunn, who has rushed fro 423 yards (4.8 avg.), missed a second straight day of practice at One Buc Place on Thursday and might not play vs. the Chiefs.
"The thing with him is he's such a game-day guy, he's played so long and knows himself so well," Gruden said of Dunn. "He's got a lot to prove to himself more than anyone. Just right now we don't think he's physically ready to go. We'll see how he is tomorrow."
Complicating matters is the fact that the Bucs placed fullback Byron Storer (ACL tear) on injured reserve a few weeks ago and have been without the services of starting FB B.J. Askew since Week 4 due to a torn hamstring he sustained vs. Chicago. Askew, who was limited in practice for the second straight day, might not be able to play until after Tampa Bay's bye week, which will follow the Kansas City game.
"I don't know," Gruden said of Askew. "It's been real frustrating. This will be six weeks now. It was a serious injury he suffered in the Chicago game. Hamstrings are tough. The hard tares don't heal as quickly as you'd like them to and you're talking about a 233-pound guy. He is making progress and he is practicing, but he is somewhat limited at this point. His status for the game is very questionable at this point."
The Bucs sorely need to get healthy in the backfield, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay rushed for just 49 yards vs. the Cowboys last Sunday.
In the meantime, FB Jameel Cook, who signed with the team two weeks ago, still is attempting to get re-acclimated to Gruden's offense and get Tampa Bay's running game going again.
"We had two halfbacks and two fullbacks earlier in the year. We had a nice little rotation going," said Gruden. "With Warrick's injury lingering and two fullbacks out, I'm not making excuses, but Jameel Cook is just getting back into it. He's been out of football for a while. I know he was here in 2005, but a lot has changed since Chris Simms was the quarterback here."
Bucs RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams is taking part in his second week of practice since tearing his patellar tendon in Week 4 of the 2007 season. While he's making significant progress, Williams, who has been simulating Chiefs RB Larry Johnson and Kolby Smith as a member of the scout team this week, is not ready to be activated for this Sunday's game.
"We had a 12-play simulation of the Chiefs and we did the best we could," said Gruden. "Carnell took 10 or 11 straight plays [on scout team], and it's exciting. It's really exciting to see him out there, not only to see him out there, but the progress. He really looked good today. Next week during the bye we'll put the pads on and make it a little more tough, but step two went well today."
Tampa Bay RB Michael Bennett has only been active for four games this season while Earnest Graham and Dunn have carried the load in the running game, but that could change due to Dunn's injury.
Gruden suggested Thursday that Bennett, who had an impressive preseason, could receive some playing time vs. Kansas City, where he played from 2006-07 before being traded to Tampa Bay midway through last season.
"Yes, it's possible [that Bennett will play]," said Gruden. "There's a chance you will see some of Mike Bennett this week. Like a lot of guys in pro football, you have to make the most of your opportunities. I know he's prepared to play well and hopefully he does if we need him."
Bucs starting left guard Arron Sears was also held out of Thursday's practice due to a concussion he suffered during Wednesday's workout. Gruden suggested the concussion was mild in nature and that Sears would be able to play vs. the Chiefs as long as he returned to practice on Friday.
"I don't believe he's [in danger of missing the game], but I am one of those coaches that believes you've got to practice to play," Gruden said when asked about Sears. "I don't want to discount how important practice is. We think he'll be okay. We'll let you know tomorrow. We've had a number of guys that have been idle, and I think it impacts the way you play. It's a tough business, especially when you don't practice."
Should Sears not be able to play vs. the Chiefs, rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah would start in his place.
Safety Jermaine Phillips (broken arm) did not practice Thursday and will be sidelined for at least two weeks. Wide receiver Michael Clayton (knee) had full participation in practice on Thursday. Quarterback Brian Griese (elbow), defensive tackle Jovan Haye (foot), wide receiver Ike Hilliard (shoulder) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (hamstring) were limited for the second straight day.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on rookie running back Clifton Smith's knack for running straight ahead after fielding punts and kickoffs.
"I like that. A lot of guys go backwards, and I'm not saying Dexter [Jackson] did or does, but I'm just saying that a lot of guys retreat and go the other way because no one is there. You go forward then everybody is coming at you. It's not a job that everybody is after. There aren't a lot of guys that want to return punts and kicks in the NFL. We're down there on the sidelines and I stand behind players. It's a bizarre scene. Guys are flying down there. It's not for everybody. It takes experience, and you have to acquire the experience. Some of the great returners struggled in their first and second years in this league. We're going to keep working with Dexter, but we do like the decisiveness that Clifton shows and we think he has promise."