Buccaneers wide receiver Joey Galloway missed out on the opportunity to face his former team on Sunday when Tampa Bay defeated Seattle at Raymond James Stadium, 20-10.
Galloway, who posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2005-07, has been sidelined since Week 2 with a foot injury he sustained vs. the Atlanta Falcons. The good news is he has a chance to face his other former team – the Dallas Cowboys – on Sunday.
"Again, that's Coach Gruden's call. I feel better than I did last week," said Galloway. "I'm hoping to have a chance to play."
Galloway played for Dallas for four seasons (2000-03) before being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2004 offseason in exchange for former Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson.
The 36-year-old receiver has been hindered by several injuries since December, including a shoulder ailment and groin injury that kept him out of all of training camp and preseason.
Galloway's injured foot is healing, evidenced by the fact that he has practiced and participated in pre-game warms-ups for two straight weeks. But Galloway still must prove that he's able to contribute on offense before head coach Jon Gruden and the training staff give him a green light.
"I've been through these long rehab things before and you just have to sort of work your way back and get back into game shape and get back into playing football shape. That will be something that is handled cautiously.
"Anytime you're dealing with a rehab situation there are going to be some things you can do and some things you cannot do. When you're getting ready to play football you have to eliminate those things that you can't do with the injury. As those things come around, and you get a chance to practice and run around – it's not just Coach Gruden that needs to see it, it's our trainers, doctors, myself – we need to be able to go out there and play and not worry about it."
Gruden remains cautiously optimistic regarding Galloway's possible return to action.
"Joey practiced today much like he did last week," said Gruden. "I feel better. How much better? I'll let you know tomorrow when you ask again."
The Bucs plan to ease Galloway back into action once he's ready to return. Part of their plan is keeping Antonio Bryant, who has a team-leading 31 receptions for 406 yards (13.1 avg.) and one touchdown, in as the starting split-end (X) receiver.
With Tampa Bay rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson struggling, the Bucs have been auditioning several players at punt and kickoff returner, including Galloway, who has a 9.6-yard career punt return average and has scored five career touchdowns on special teams.
"With Ike Hilliard's status, that was scratched," Gruden said when asked which players were getting looks as return specialists. "Joey Galloway is a guy we've been working back there for the last few weeks. Michael Bennett is a candidate. Earnest Graham is a candidate. We have a number of candidates.
"We're going to have a big special teams segment tomorrow and try to figure out which way we're going. Dexter Jackson is still in this thing as well."
Galloway isn't too concerned with his new role on offense or special teams. He just wants to be healthy enough to have one on Sundays.
"I hope [we help each other out]," Galloway said of Bryant. "I have a role in the offense and that role is to be able to play any position as all of the receivers do. Wherever Coach Gruden decides to use me or use him, that's his call. But when I'm on the field I'll do everything I can to help him and everyone else out there."
BUCS' BACKFIELD HURTING Tampa Bay has its fair share of players on its injury report, particularly in the offensive backfield, where running back Warrick Dunn and fullback B.J. Askew nursing a back and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Askew has missed four games with the torn hamstring he sustained in Chicago. He practiced on Wednesday, but was limited on Thursday.
Askew's absence was magnified when backup FB Byron Storer sustained a torn ACL vs. Carolina two weeks ago, which ended his season.
The Bucs have used tailback Earnest Graham as a lead blocker for Dunn over the past two games, but Dunn's status for Sunday's game in Dallas is in question.
Tampa Bay has the eighth-ranked running game in the NFL, but it might have trouble assembling an offensive backfield in Dallas.
"We're limited and we might be in trouble," Gruden said of the injuries at running back and fullback. "Trouble might not be a good word, but we might have to use a different form of attack. Some of our receivers are hurt, so being in three, four and five-wides is also in question right now. But we'll have 11 [players]. We will have 11."
Gruden suggested the Bucs could lean more on FB Jameel Cook, who was re-signed last week due to Storer's injury. But Cook still is getting re-acquainted with Gruden's playbook, which he studied for five seasons before joining Houston in 2006.
"He played a lot last week," Gruden said of Cook. "I thought that was one heck of a performance. He played about 16-18 snaps in the kicking game on special teams and played 30 or so play on offense. He'll be okay. He'll be the fullback and we'll lean on him. We think he's pretty good."
Graham has rushed for 456 yards (4.8 avg.), but Gruden doesn't necessarily mind having he and Dunn in the same "Rocket" backfield.
"To best honest with you I like having him in there," Gruden said of Graham. "We've been a Rocket team in the past and I think we've been labeled as a team that most generally breaks formations and throws it when we're in our two halfback set, but not anymore. Those tendencies have been disarmed. We will run it. He's not just going in there as a liability now. He is a thick guy. He's got muscles in the back of his neck. Earnest Graham is a stud. He's a very good fullback. He likes it in there. Marcus Allen did it at a point in his career. Other teams have deployed that type of attack. We'd like he and Warrick be the two-headed monster that we have, but at the same time we need help right now."
Dunn was limited in practice on Thursday, but he suggested he would play vs. the Cowboys, which would make Gruden's job of determining an active roster for Sunday's game a lot easier.
"I turned my ankle in the first quarter and in the third quarter I hurt my back," said Dunn. "That night I think I really felt the effects of going down. It was just one of those things where I took a few days off. I'm good. I'll be okay."
The good news for the Bucs is Cadillac Williams appears to be on the mend. He missed the past 13 months with a torn patellar tendon and participated in his first practice on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Williams practiced with a helmet on and ran scout team, doing his best impersonation of Dallas RB Marion Barber, which was a significant step in his rehabilitation process. The next step is seeing how Williams fares with pads on, which will come next week.
"That's the goal," Gruden said of having Williams activated within the next three weeks. "There are a lot bylaws and rules that I'm not totally up to speed with, but I think we have three weeks [to decide whether to activate Williams or place him on injured reserve]. I am under the understanding that we have three weeks, but that doesn't mean we couldn't bring him up Sunday and play him. We're going to really be aggressive with the number of plays we give him and try to get his football stamina back.
"Next week we will have a couple of our young players, our practice squad players, put pads on and we will have some live, physical hits in the hole, blitz pickups and things of that nature. We won't physically take him to the ground, but we will try to simulate some things that happen as a running back."
In other injury news, Bucs WR Maurice Stovall (hamstring) did not practice on Thursday. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard (concussion) was limited during the workout.
Quarterback Brian Griese still is working on returning from a throwing elbow injury. In the meantime, Luke McCown will serve as starting QB Jeff Garcia's backup.
"We're comfortable with Luke," said Gruden. "Brian Griese is working his way back. He threw the ball a little better today. He's another guy that is a work in progress."
DALLAS INJURY REPORT Cowboys RB Felix Jones (hamstring), G Kyle Kosier (foot), CB Terrence Newman (abdomen) and QB Tony Romo (right finger) were held out of practice for the second straight day on Thursday.