The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be without starting wide receiver Joey Galloway for nearly half of the 2004 regular season.

Galloway, who missed Tampa Bay’s final two preseason contests and some significant practice time due to a groin injury, suffered a left groin strain in the first quarter of Sunday’s game vs. Washington while attempting to haul in what would have been a touchdown pass from quarterback Brad Johnson.

The Bucs added Galloway to their offense in hopes of him stretching the field with his impressive speed, but it looks as though he won’t even be able to stretch his left leg for the next 4-6 weeks, which is the amount of time he’s expected to miss with the severe groin strain.

“Joey Galloway has a severe left groin strain and he’ll be out what looks like 4-6 weeks,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We’re very disappointed obviously. That injury looks to be a little bit more serious than we expected.

“I can’t say it didn’t completely heal or was completely healed, but he was cleared to play and practiced well. He just made a slight turn for a ball and aggravated it on the way down. It’s just unfortunate and we’re going to miss him.”

According to Gruden, Galloway’s groin injury will not require surgery.

“There will be no surgery,” said Gruden. “As I understand, he will be off his feet for a couple of weeks and then resume his rehab. It is a significant tear in his left groin and we are looking at 4-6 weeks. It’s going to take some time.”

Tampa Bay traded disgruntled WR Keyshawn Johnson to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for Galloway back in March. Per terms of the trade, Galloway received a one-year deal worth $2 million, but his contract with the Bucs also included an additional $600,000 in reachable incentives.

Galloway’s injury is a devastating blow to Tampa Bay’s revamped offense, which had already lost Edell Shepherd (foot) for the year and Joe Jurevicius, who is on the physically unable to perform list while he recovers from back surgery.

In addition to those injuries, WR Keenan McCardell remains a holdout, and there aren’t any signs that suggest he’ll be showing up on the doorstep of One Buccaneer Place anytime soon.

With Jurevicius injured, McCardell a holdout and WR Keyshawn Johnson in Dallas, the Bucs are without the three receivers that helped them win a Super Bowl two seasons ago.

However, Gruden refused to throw in the towel Monday and said his team is counting on WR Charles Lee and others to fill the void left by Galloway.

“Charles Lee, we think, will be well enough to play this week,” said Gruden. “Obviously he forms a vital part of our offense again, which is good. He is a good player. He proved that last year. Bill Schroeder and obviously Frank Murphy are guys that can play on the weak side. We’ll adjust with that in mind.”

Lee missed most of training camp and three of Tampa Bay’s preseason games with a severe hamstring injury, and was inactive for Sunday’s game at Washington. The Bucs are hoping Lee can fill in for Galloway just as he did when Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated for the final six games of the 2003 season.

Lee, who is regarded as one of Tampa Bay’s more physical and faster receivers, started a career-best five games in ’03 and caught 33 passes for 432 yards and and two touchdowns in eight games last season.

As of right now, the Bucs don’t plan on signing or trading for a wide receiver. Instead, the team will lean on Lee while waiting for Jurevicius, who cannot come back until after Week 6, to make a full recovery.

“I can’t say this injury is going to be severe enough at this time to put Joey on injured reserve,” said Gruden. “We do have Joe Jurevicius, who will hopefully be coming back around week six, so it doesn’t appear that we will add another player at this time.”

Gruden is frustrated with McCardell’s status and the amount of injuries his receiving corps have suffered, but he’s hoping Lee, Schroeder and Frank Murphy will help add the speed element that Galloway brought the Bucs offense.

“It is difficult because we’ve been adjusting,” Gruden said. “With Keenan’s status, the Joe Jurevicius back situation becoming more serious than we initially thought, obviously Charles Lee’s hamstring, and Edell Shepherd’s injury that put us in a period of contingency planning. But to lose Galloway is a big blow to us. At the same time, we still have Frank Murphy if he needs to play or Charles Lee, Bill Schroeder. It’s a good opportunity for these guys to step up. It’s certainly a big loss to our football team, a guy that we thought could come in and give us some advantages strategically.”

It’s not all doom and gloom in regards to Tampa Bay’s wide receivers. Gruden made a point to acknowledge rookie WR Michael Clayton’s impressive debut against Washington. The Bucs’ first-round pick hauled in a team-leading seven passes for 53 yards.

“He did a good job,” Gruden said of Clayton. “He’s got room to improve. He’s a tough guy and we think he is going to be an outstanding player. He’ll do some good things. There is no question about that. Good starting point for Mike Clayton.”

The Bucs will also have to replace Galloway on special teams. He was projected to be the team’s primary punt returner, but those duties will now be handled by Schroeder and WR Tim Brown.

“At this time Bill Schroeder is our punt returner,” said Gruden. “Tim Brown will also come out, go in there, strategically catch a couple, and take a couple back for us as well. It was a big loss for our team yesterday, losing that guy Galloway. Hopefully he makes a quick recovery because we need him.”

Bucs starting strong safety Dwight Smith suffered a left rib bruise during Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the Redskins and is listed as questionable for the team’s upcoming game against the Seahawks.

“We are optimistic he will play,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.

Should Smith, who notched five tackles and three passes defensed vs. the ‘Skins, be unable to go next Sunday, either rookie Will Allen or John Howell will play in his place.

“We’ll work with Will Allen and John Howell,” said Gruden. “Both those guys are cross-trained to play free or strong and we’ll hope Dwight makes a quick recovery and is ready to go for Seattle.”

Just one day after getting sacked four times and throwing an interception, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson is celebrating a birthday. He turned 36 years old on Monday.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the importance of winning a season opener:

“There are 16 teams that are 0-1. You don’t ever want to underestimate defeat. Defeat is humbling. Whether it is the opening game, or the last game, or a playoff game or pre-season it is a humbling feeling. And it will take us time to get over it. You re-access, re-energize, re-focus and get ready to go. I don’t want to underestimate how humbling it was to lose yesterday.”

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