If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to defeat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, they'll likely have to do it without one of their best offensive weapons.
Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway, who missed all of training camp and preseason with a groin injury, sustained an ankle injury in Tampa Bay's 24-9 win over Atlanta last Sunday. Although the team hasn't made it official, it is unlikely that Galloway, 36, will play vs. Chicago.
"He hurt his foot," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Galloway. "We don't think it's a serious, serious thing, but he was unable to go today and all I can say is his status is in question and we'll have to let you know a little later in the week."
Losing Galloway likely would hinder Tampa Bay's offense. He has caught 202 passes and 23 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Bucs quarterback Brian Griese knows his former team well, and said the offense will have to find a way to overcome the loss of Galloway vs. Chicago's defense, which ranks 6th overall in the NFL.
"I think that if Joey doesn't go we will have other guys step up," said Griese. "Obviously the expectation here is for the position, and whoever steps into this spot has to play as good as Joey Galloway if not better. That's kind of how we go about our business."
Tampa Bay's contingency plan is to move Antonio Bryant, who has started two games this year, over to the X (split-end) spot in place of Galloway and start Michael Clayton at the Z (flanker) position.
Clayton was inactive for Tampa Bay's Week 1 contest vs. New Orleans, but played last week vs. Atlanta due to Maurice Stovall's neck injury. Clayton has started 36 of the 57 career games he's played in, but the former first-round draft pick started just four games last year and has caught just one touchdown since 2005.
"This is the window of opportunity I have been waiting on," Clayton said. "I'm real confident. It won't change. I've got the confidence where I'm not going to give [the starting job] back. It's a great year for me and I'm glad this happened early rather than late. This will give me the opportunity to play in a lot of games. Now I just have to stay healthy and play the way I've been playing."
The Bucs will also work veteran receivers Ike Hilliard, who caught a team-high 62 passes in 2007, and Maurice Stovall in on offense, but neither player has the speed Galloway possesses. That's why rookie WR Dexter Jackson, who is the team's primary return specialist, could also see playing time on offense.
"We've been through this for a while now and guys are going to have to step up," Gruden said of playing without Galloway. "That's just the nature of the business, and in some ways it's exciting to see how we all handle it.
"Ike was our leading receiver last year and he was a part of two division title teams, but for some reason some people don't think he's as good as maybe I do," said Gruden. "Ike catches it and gets open. He can play any position and can get open it. He's a good football player. Michael Clayton, I'm sure, will get an opportunity to slam down the door and re-arrive here. He's worked his butt off and I'm looking forward to seeing him take advantage of this chance. Maurice Stovall wants to play, and Antonio Bryant is a good player. I'm just promising Buc fans this is a really talented guy that has a chance. We'll try to get Dexter in there a time or two. We've got to rally around our guys."
Jackson, who made a name for himself as a receiver at Appalachian State, is looking forward to seeing more playing time on offense.
"Coach Gruden is getting me more involved on offense," Jackson said. "Like I tell people, when he says, ‘When somebody goes down, the next guy has to step up' – I'm just waiting to have my number called. I'm being patient and being a team player, waiting for my number to be called so I can produce."
MACK SUSPENDED, TALIB NURSING HAMSTRING INJURY
Tampa Bay rookie cornerback Elbert Mack has been suspended one game by the National Football League for a second violation of the league's player safety rules.
An undrafted free agent out of Troy, Mack was suspended for this Sunday's game in Chicago for unnecessarily launching himself into Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and making impermissible helmet-to-helmet contact, according to several reports. The play occurred in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game vs. Atlanta on the same play in which safety Sabby Piscitelli recovered a fumble and attempted to lateral the ball to a teammate. Mack was penalized for a personal foul, roughing the passer, after the play.
"We take it very seriously," Gruden said of Mack's suspension. "At the same time, we're going to look into the situation. We support Elbert – he's a good kid. The league takes hits like that seriously. We respect the policies that the league have. Elbert Mack is a great kid and there's nothing malicious about him."
Mack's first violation of the league's player safety rules came in Tampa Bay's preseason finale vs. Houston. Mack was penalized for unnecessary roughness for a hit on one of the Texans' quarterbacks.
Complicating matters is the fact that Bucs rookie CB Aqib Talib's status for Tampa Bay's upcoming game in Chicago is in question due to a hamstring injury he sustained in the Bucs' 24-9 win over the Falcons last Sunday.
Talib, who notched the first interception of his career vs. the Falcons, was limited in practice on Wednesday. However, the Bucs believe he will be able to serve as the team's nickel cornerback behind Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon on Sunday.
"We'll have to let you know afterwards," Gruden said of Talib. "He's obviously a little sore, but he's improving."
Should Mack not appeal his suspension and be out of Sunday's game in Chicago, and Talib not be able to go due to his hamstring injury, the Bucs could turn to free safety Tanard Jackson for help at cornerback.
Jackson, a 2007 fourth-round pick out of Syracuse, made the transition from cornerback in college to safety in the NFL last year. Tampa Bay feels it will only be a matter of time before Jackson is recognized as a Pro Bowl safety, but it won't hesitate to turn to him for help at cornerback.
"He sure could [be part of the contingency plan at cornerback]," said Gruden. "[Tanard] filled in and played last week at corner. I'd like to keep him right there at safety because I think he's going to be, if not the best safety in football, I think he'll be one of the best by the end of this season. He's really special. He can play corner. He could probably play receiver if we needed him to."
In other injury news, the Bucs defensive ends Gaines Adams, who notched two sacks last week, was limited in practice on Wednesday due to a rib injury. Gruden suggested Adams would play vs. the Bears.
Bucs running back Warrick Dunn was held out of Wednesday's workout at One Buccaneer Place as part of his regular season practice regimen.
"We held Gaines today," said Gruden. "He's got some irritated ribs. We think he'll be okay. Warrick is a guy that will not practice on Wednesdays."
Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks missed all of practice last week due to a hamstring injury, but he still played. Although he could be limited in practice this week, Brooks, who did not practice on Wednesday, likely will play vs. the Bears.
"I feel better this week," said Brooks. "But once again I've was instructed, well instead of a gag order, it was a secrecy order. I do feel a lot better than I did last week."
Bucs guard Davin Joseph (foot) was held out of practice as well.