The Buccaneers were back at practice on Sunday and were preparing for the first game of the season at New Orleans. Tampa Bay had Friday off after its preseason finale on Thursday night. The organization spent Saturday trimming down their roster to the league-mandated 53-man roster limit. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden weighed in on the state of the Buccaneers after the conclusion of the preseason.
"Obviously, we had some tough decisions," said Gruden. "We're excited to get the season going. New Orleans will be a great challenge in itself. We've got 53 quality football players and now we just have to prove it.
"We had a great preseason in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, Davin [Jospeh] got hurt. We got a lot of guys back on the practice field today B.J. Askew, [Joey] Galloway, and [Jovan] Haye and all these guys so we're excited to get the regular season going. To start it in New Orleans will be a stiff challenge, but our guys are looking forward to it."
Last year, the Saints fell to 7-9 after going 10-6 and winning the NFC South division in the 2006 season. New Orleans made a number of moves in the offseason to address its weaknesses. Gruden anticipated New Orleans being a better team, and the Bucs coaching staff has been looking ahead and game planning for their Week 1 matchup.
"Well, you have to look at New Orleans — they made multiple changes," Gruden said. "They have some new players at key positions. Jonny Vilma is there, Sedrick Ellis, they've added some corners, Jimmney Christmas, they've added Jeremy Shockey, they've got a great quarterback and are well coached. We tried to moonlight a little bit and see what is going on. There have been some changes in their structure, and I'm sure they'll have some changes they haven't shown waiting for us."
Going into the first game, the Buccaneers look relatively healthy, with only one starter, Joseph, going down in the preseason with a broken foot that required surgery. Rookie Jeremy Zuttah is filling in for Joseph in the starting lineup. This is the fourth straight season that Tampa Bay has started a rookie at guard. The Bucs have Joseph on the active roster, and will go into the game with seven healthy offensive linemen.
"Well, it is a bit of concern," said Gruden. "Davin is a big loss for us. Jeremy [Zuttah] has got to really step up. Anthony Davis had his best game of the preseason the other night in Houston. Dan Buenning will have to be the backup signal caller and we'll have to do the best we can in the time being."
Tampa Bay had a scare in the Houston game when safety Sabby Piscitelli went down with an apparent knee injury. After a few tests, the injury was deemed a strain. Gruden addressed the status of his second-year safety after Sunday's practiced ended.
"He's okay, he was out here today," Gruden said. "We expect him to play in New Orleans. We were fortunate. We were concerned about him. We think he's okay. I'll give you the injury update on Wednesday. That would probably be best."
Other than the positive prognosis on Piscitelli, Gruden was encouraged by a number of other things regarding his team. For only the second time in his tenure as the Buccaneers head coach, Gruden has the same starting quarterback, Jeff Garcia, for two seasons in row.
"It's actually refreshing to have the same guy two years in a row," said Gruden. "We like Jeff a lot. He's had a tough offseason in regards to the calf injury. He's missed a lot of time, but he was outstanding here today. He's the strength of our offensive football team. He's a veteran signal caller and he's a great competitor. I think Brian Griese and Luke [McCown] showed that they're really capable of running the offense and they've had success in the system themselves. We are excited about the quarterback position and we'll see what happens.
"I think [Garcia's] good. We had Jeff and a number of players out there before the Houston game at about five o' clock. We were out there about two-and-a-half hours before kickoff and I personally got to chase him around like a chicken and test his mobility. We worked him hard, really hard, all those guys. I can't speak for him, but I do think he's close to 100 percent. I think he feels a lot better."
Rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson also provided a reason for excitement entering the season. He returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown against the Texans.
"Yeah, he showed a lot," said Gruden. "If you recall he had a big pass interference penalty that set up a score and a big end around. He caught a big pass on third down. He had the 85 or whatever it was punt return, so he is getting better."
POSSIBLE CHANGE IN LOCATION OF OPENER
As Hurricane Gustav moves towards New Orleans there has been discussions of the Bucs season opener being moved to a different location. There has been speculation of the game being played in San Antonio, Texas or Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Switching the home games between the Saints and Buccaneers has been rumored as well.
"I don't have any information on that," said Gruden. "I just pray that the storm stays out at sea to be honest with you, and nobody gets hurt. I don't have knowledge on that."
MACK NOT DWELLING ON ACCOMPLISHMENT
Undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Elbert Mack had a notable achievement making the team. It is rare for rookie free agents to make the final 53-man roster, and Mack forced his way onto the team after a strong showing in the organized team activities, training camp, and preseason games. Mack was asked if he was proud of his rare feat.
"Yeah, but it is not done yet," said Mack. "I still got a long season in front of me. Hopefully a long career."
Mack spent cut down day in his hotel room waiting for a phone call letting him know either way if he made the team. Eventually, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris called to let Mack know the good news.
"I didn't get a call until after the deadline," said Mack. "I was in the room the whole time. I just sat in the room and watched football. I caught up on all that and watched a couple of soap operas and just chilled out.
"I just tried to relax. I left it up to God, and hopefully everything would work out like it was meant to be. I'm a Buccaneer."
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Gruden on the roster cuts.
"We had some tough decisions. It's hard to say goodbye to Chris [Simms]. He laid it on the line here and did some great things for us and I'm confident that he'll get another opportunity. I can't really speak on every single player, but we had some tough decisions. With that being said, it was emotional, to a degree, and hard. But it is every year. Ryan Nece is a guy that played a lot of football here. I wish all those players the very best. Unfortunately, we're only allowed to keep 53 guys."
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