It appears likely that Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia will start for the Buccaneers when they take on the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Garcia took all of the first-team reps at practice on Friday due to Brian Griese's elbow injury, which has kept him out of three consecutive workouts. Griese is listed as questionable for the upcoming game.
Although he did not make it official, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden suggested that Garcia would start and Luke McCown would serve as the number two signal caller for Sunday's game.
Garcia, 38, was benched after Week 1 due to rustiness that lingered from an injury-filled preseason, which included a long absence stemming from a calf injury. However, Gruden said after Friday's practice that Garcia has shown signs of returning to the Pro Bowl form he had one year ago.
"You didn't see him in training camp nor did anybody else," said Gruden. "When he did come back the signs of a Jeff Garcia weren't in my vision. I couldn't see him clearly like I've always seen him. He relies on a certain style and he plays with certain creativity. Now I feel the functional movement in the pocket, the energy he brings to the position, the crispness, accuracy and the anticipation of throws. I just feel he's back to being the guy that we all know and really respect."
In addition to Griese, Bucs fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring) and wide receiver Joey Galloway (foot) were held out of Friday's practice. Askew and Galloway were limited during Thursday's practice. Holding them out of practice was part of Tampa Bay's plan for both players. Neither player will play against the Panthers.
"I don't believe he had a setback. He just didn't go today. That's the best way I can put it," Gruden said of Galloway.
Tampa Bay's passing offense has struggled without Galloway, who has been sidelined since Week 2 with his foot ailment. The Bucs offense, which is ranked seventh overall in the NFL, is averaging just 5.5 yards per completion.
Although the Bucs appear to be lacking a deep threat, Gruden has been pleased with the play of his wide receivers, particularly Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard.
"They've stepped up a lot," Gruden said of the receivers. "We might not have the most yards per completion, but we've done a good job of coming from behind in Chicago. We threw the ball 67 times for over 400 yards. That's a hard team to play against and a tough team to beat. Although it was sluggish at times, we did some good things against Green Bay. Not just as receivers or stats, but as blockers and football players. They're all playing hard. The tape is fun to watch. Guys are running full speed patterns and we don't have a lot of broken assignments. We all block together and run hard for each other. That's a great start and hopefully something we can build on."
Tampa Bay received some good news on the injury front when middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee) practiced again on Friday. Ruud missed Wednesday's practice and was limited during Thursday's workout. If he can't play, Adam Hayward and Matt McCoy would play at middle linebacker. However, the Bucs believe Ruud, who is listed as questionable, will go on Sunday.
"I think [he'll play]. He practiced today," Gruden said of Ruud. "I know he's probably a little bit sore, but he's a great football player. This means a lot to him. We're optimistic at this point."
Ruud missed some practice time due to a knee injury he sustained last season. But he does not believe his current knee ailment will linger like the one he suffered in 2007.
“I had a meniscus tear last year,” said Ruud. “I had surgery after the season. This one I know at least is going to be better, so that is the good news. Last year I just knew it would be there until the end of the year. This year it will get better pretty soon.
“It felt good [at practice]. It was about as I figured it would be. Still a tad sore. I feel pretty good. It should be good to go.”
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks (hamstring) and safety Sabby Piscitelli had full participation in practice on Friday. They are listed as questionable.
Tight end John Gilmore (illness) and center/guard Sean Mahan (abdomen) are probable.
Carolina wide receiver D.J. Hackett (knee) and center Ryan Kalil (ankle) are doubtful. Tackle Jordan Gross (concussion), tackle Jeff Otah (ankle), safety Quinton Teal (ankle) and defensive tackle Darwin Walker (thigh) are questionable. Linebacker Na'il Diggs (foot) and quarterback Matt Moore (leg) are probable for Sunday's game.
Quote Of The Day Gruden on his thoughts on the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team and their chances against the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs:
"In some ways I'm very disappointed in my inability to keep in touch with reality. There's an election coming on here and I haven't really gotten the chance to learn about either candidate. I have a lot of respect for pro sports and what it takes to get in this phase of the tournament. I'm a really big baseball fan. I played [as a kid]. I was a heck of a player. I hit a homerun one game. I've been to so many Rays games and to see what they've done – I just think it's the greatest story in sports. I just hope they can put an explanation point on what has been one exciting year for me and my kids."