The 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice field at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday in preparation for the 4-1 Carolina Panthers.
While the two NFC South rivals will not meet until Sunday, the Bucs offense scored on Thursday when wide receiver Joey Galloway participated in his first practice since sustaining a foot injury in Week 2 of the regular season.
"I am cutting and actually catching balls today, so we're on the road to playing soon," said Galloway. "I will go do some things [in practice] today and we'll see what happens."
Galloway missed all of training camp and preseason with a groin injury. He was also limited and eventually sidelined towards the end of the 2007 season with a shoulder ailment. He has missed three straight contests due to the foot injury.
"I've missed the team. This is tough to sit back and watch," said Galloway. "I'm finally running, so at least I feel like I'm preparing myself to come back."
The Bucs have missed Galloway, too. He caught 202 passes for 3,358 yards (16.6 avg.) and 23 touchdowns over the past three seasons heading into 2008.
Although Tampa Bay's offense ranks seventh overall in the NFL, the Bucs are averaging just 5.5 yards per completion, which ranks tied for 28th in the NFL.
Tampa Bay has not been able to stretch the field enough, evidenced by the fact that the Bucs have just five completions of 20-plus yards, which averages out to one per game.
"It's difficult and tough to watch, especially when you see some of the teams we've been playing play man-to-man coverage and things we don't see a lot of," said Galloway. "It's tough to see our offense go through some struggles and not be there to help. I don't want to say I would change those things, but I do my part in this offense and right now I'm not there to do it. That's tough to sit back and watch."
Galloway is confident that the Bucs will be able to stretch the field more once he returns to action.
"I've always given Coach Gruden a lot of credit for finding those looks," Galloway said of one-on-one matchups and deep plays. "Defenses are designed to take away those types of plays, They locate me when I line up. When I'm in there, Coach is going to find a way to find those looks. They're hard to come by."
Galloway has been hard to come by as well since November due to the three injuries he's sustained during that period of time. His absence earned him the nickname "White Tiger" from Gruden earlier in the season.
"Practice, he's got to practice," Gruden said when asked what he needed to see in order for Galloway to play on Sunday. "He's got to test it out a little bit. You can't just go through drills for an entire practice. You have to try to simulate a game. We'll continue to monitor his progress.
"Let's be honest. You have to be able to practice and prove to yourself and everyone else that you have the ability to play in a 60-minute game. You can only dress [46 players] and if the injury isn't tested out and we're not all confident that he can make it through the game it really limits a lot of the things we can do. We're happy to have him back and it's just a start, I think, to what will hopefully be a quick return."
The Bucs could use Galloway's presence vs. Carolina's fourth-ranked defense, but it's unclear whether he'll be ready to play on Sunday. Galloway remains hopeful.
"There's always a chance," said Galloway.
Garcia Likely To Start On Sunday Although the team hasn't made anything official, it appears as though Jeff Garcia will start at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Garcia took all of the first-team reps in practice on Thursday for the second straight day due to Brian Griese's elbow ailment, which has prevented him from throwing the football since he sustained the injury on Sunday.
If Garcia, who started in Week 1 vs. New Orleans and made the Pro Bowl while starting 13 regular season games for the Bucs in 2007, does start vs. the 4-1 Carolina Panthers, the team appears to be more comfortable with that notion now than they were when head coach Jon Gruden benched Garcia in favor of Griese in Week 2.
"He had a good practice today," Gruden said of Garcia. "He took all of the reps, for the most part. You've got to witness it. You guys didn't see him in training camp and you're not able to watch practice. There's a certain functional ability that he has between the tackles, a creative element he has, and when he has it you can tell he has it. He had it today and I was really pleased with how he performed today."
In other injury news, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was limited in practice on Thursday due to a knee injury he suffered in the 16-13 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Adam Hayward and Matt McCoy have practiced at middle linebacker in Ruud's place. However, Gruden suggested Ruud would attempt to practice on Friday.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (illness), guard/center Sean Mahan (abdomen) and safety Sabby Piscitelli (elbow) each had full participation in Thursday's practice after being limited or out of Wednesday's workout.
Bucs Need To Limit Penalties Tampa Bay has been penalized 37 times through five regular season games, which has hindered the team, particularly the offense.
Although the Carolina Panthers are averaging 10 penalties per game, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden knows his team will not win on Sunday if it can't find a way to play penalty-free football.
"We've looked at it hard," said Gruden. "They're not exclusively false starts, although over the last two games we've had seven or eight false start penalties, which is uncharacteristic, inexcusable and unacceptable. It's a lack of concentration. We've had enough plays and enough practice time. It's just got to be cleaned up or we'll have to make some changes in our lineup. That's no disrespect to anybody, that's the fundamentals and discipline needed to play pro football.
"We've had some holding calls on tight ends, one on a fullback and one on a wide receiver. We've had some personal fouls, and it has killed us. It has hurt us big time. We've suffered because of it from a down-and-distance standpoint. We had the officials out on the practice field again today. Every possible infraction we're throwing the laundry. We're doing everything we can to stress it. Our players have great pride. I expect dramatic improvement on Sunday. If we're going to win the game that's going to be one of the reasons why."
Quote Of The Day Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the Bucs offense putting itself in long down-and-distance situations on third downs this season. "The conversion rate on third-and-10-plus in the NFL is incredibly low. The conversions you do see on film are wild, freak plays. It's a scramble, it's a jump ball, it's, ‘How did they get that in there?' It's got to be around 10 percent, if that. It's just not high. It's hard. Once you get to third-and-10, I just decide that I'm going to let [quarterbacks] Coach Olson call the plays and I'll take some of the other calls. If you're a good running team you ought to be able to gain three yards on a carry. If you get three yards again now it's third-and-4. Now you're a good offensive team. We have had way too many third-and-10 situations or more. That goes for second down, also. If you get in second-and-10 or second-and-12 in the National Football League all hell can break loose and you don't know what you're going to get. If you don't keep the defense in somewhat regular situations and you're in long down-and-distance situations you're going to be in trouble."