Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia to another step toward playing on Sunday vs. the New Orleans Saints as he took reps in practice for the second consecutive day. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden remained silent for the third consecutive day on who would be the starter at quarterback if Garcia can't go. Garcia is listed as questionable on the Bucs injury report.
However, Garcia and Gruden are both optimistic about the opportunity of the nine-year veteran getting the start in New Orleans. Gruden wasn't specific about what Garcia did in practice on Friday, but just the fact that he was able to take more reps is a good sign. Garcia left the 19-13 victory vs. Washington with a back injury and has went through a week's worth of treatment to try and be ready on Sunday.
"He practiced, you know what I mean, he showed up and practiced which is a step in the right direction," Gruden said. "He's not 100 percent right now, but he's closing in on getting well enough to play."
When asked who will get the start at quarterback – either Bruce Gradkowski or Luke McCown – Gruden remained non-committal as he has all week long.
"I don't really want to announce that, no disrespect to anybody," Gruden said. "We have prepared two young guys to play and I just really don't want to say anything until I know Jeff's official status."
Gradkowski filled in for Garcia in the victory vs. Washington, but was ineffective in the offense going 9-for-19 for 106 yards. The second-year quarterback, who was drafted out of Toledo in the sixth round last year, was unable to record a first down in the second half as the Bucs had four three-and-outs.
McCown, who battled Gradkowski in the preseason for the backup position, was originally named the backup to open the season. However, McCown went 1-for-4 for nine yards when Garcia missed a couple of series in the Week 1 contest vs. Seattle. Gruden didn't like the fact that McCown held on to the ball too long in the pocket and promoted Gradkowski to the backup spot.
Gruden feels that both quarterbacks are prepared to play vs. the Saints on Sunday, no matter who gets the start.
"We will be better prepared. You are idle for 11 or 12 weeks and sometimes you put a game plan together for a quarterback," Gruden said. "You don't necessarily run the same plays with you at quarterback or me at quarterback if I was the quarterback. So a lot of things go into that, but he will be better prepared because he's had an opportunity to practice. Practicing, no matter what any of these guys tell you, is one of the key ingredients of getting ready to play."
BENNETT COULD SEE SOME PLAYING TIME
Frustrated with the lack of playing time he's received since being traded to the Bucs from Kansas City, running back Michael Bennett is excited about the opportunity of having some plays run for him vs. New Orleans on Sunday. Bennett has 10 carries for 57 yards and one touchdown in four games with the Bucs this season. Bennett has been on the team for five games, but only played in four due to being ruled inactive vs. Atlanta.
Bennett has struggled in practice to pick up Gruden's complex West Coast system, but has shown some steady improvement in practice over the past couple of weeks. Gruden believes there will be some opportunities vs. the Saints to get the ball into Bennett's hands and let him make a play.
"He's made some improvement, but when you get a guy in a game you want him to be able to function in a total capacity," Gruden said. "I think he's making great strides and I do believe there is a role for him this week."
With running back Earnest Graham taking over as the feature back in the offense due to the injuries the running back Michael Pittman (ankle) and Cadillac Williams (knee), Bennett provides a nice change of pace with his quickness out of the backfield. The knock on Bennett has been his inability to learn how to pick up the blitz in Gruden's system when he's on the field.
That was one of the reasons why Bennett was inactive two weeks ago vs. Atlanta because the Falcons used a lot of blitzes. Pittman, who is battling through an ankle injury, is the best back on the roster in terms of picking up the blitz, which was another reason why Bennett was inactive.
However, with Pittman's status for Sunday's game up in the air, Bennett will have to step up in the backfield to spell Graham when he needs a break.
"It's always encouraging when you can get on the field. I've been here for a month now and things are kind of starting to settle in," Bennett said. "I have some great guys in our running backs room that's really helping me along because it's just something totally different than I've been a part of. It's definitely exciting and encouraging to know that you are going to get on the field and play a little bit."
BUCS USED TO CROWD NOISE
As the Bucs make the trip to the Superdome to battle the 5-6 New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay has gotten used to playing in loud domes this season. The Bucs have had to face three teams on the road that play in domes – Indianapolis, Detroit and Atlanta – and have grown accustomed to the noise. It doesn't make communicating any easier, but it's no longer a shock to be in a loud, domed stadium for the Bucs.
"It's a problem. We have the noise machine here and we simulate crowd noise, but it's hard to simulate the real deal because you can hear the names they are calling you," Gruden said. "We do try to make it hard on our offense to communicate to where we have to function with signals, and tight ends usually don't see the snap and are usually the last guys off. So they need to work on that and the quarterback, a young guy particularly, who hasn't had to do the hand signals and all the things. There's a countless amount of things that experience is a big teacher."
Tampa Bay, who hasn't been successful on the road under Gruden (18-23), is 2-3 this season away from Raymond James Stadium. The only victory the Bucs have this season in a dome was the 31-7 win vs. Atlanta two weeks ago. Tampa Bay can all but clinch the NFC South division and a playoff berth with a win vs. New Orleans on Sunday.
The Bucs have a long list of players that are questionable for Sunday's game vs. New Orleans. Fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), defensive end Kevin Carter (groin), cornerback Brian Kelly (ankle), running back Michael Pittman (ankle) and defensive end Greg Spires (calf) are all listed as questionable. Linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee) is listed as probable.
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