Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was quite jovial on Friday, compared to his mode on Thursday, when discussing the status of injured players and tried to go off of memory. Gruden was able to remember that tight end Alex Smith is probable, but needed assistance on the fact that wide receiver Ike Hilliard is also probable for Sunday's game vs. the Atlanta Falcons.
The list of questionable players is long and quite talented, which leaves Bucs fans wondering who will or will not be on the field at the Georgia Dome.
Running backs Earnest Graham (ankle) and Michael Pittman (ankle), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), wide receiver Michael Clayton (ankle), right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder), linebacker Quincy Black (hamstring) and defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder) have all be ruled as questionable vs. Atlanta.
The Bucs were expecting to get some players back on the field healthy after the bye week, but instead added Graham, Trueblood and Askew to the injury report. Clayton and Pittman stated earlier in the week that they are ready to play, but their status remains up in the air.
"We had a good week of practice and I'm really proud of our team," Gruden said. "We still have a number of guys on our team that are disabled due to injury, but the enthusiasm and attention to detail and the excitement to play football is in their eyes again. I'm pleased with that."
Trueblood was seen with a neck pad that goes under his shoulder pads to keep his neck from being pushed back. When asked about it after practice, Trueblood said it was just used as a precautionary tactic and that he was ready to go vs. Atlanta.
BLITZ PICKUP KEY TO OFFENSE'S SUCCESS Gruden has stressed all week long about how impressed he is with the Atlanta Falcons defense, including their blitz packages. The Falcons have the ability to blitz on any down because of the talent at cornerback with DeAngelo Hall. The Bucs plan on seeing plenty of blitz schemes with Atlanta trying to see how rusty Tampa Bay will be following its bye week.
The Bucs will need to be able to notice the blitz and keep quarterback Jeff Garcia off his back so he can take advantage of man coverage. Tampa Bay has only allowed 13 sacks on Garica this season. Look for Tampa Bay's offense to use a lot of check down routes out of the backfield and to the tight ends to try an offset the Falcons blitzing style.
"Their defense is really shocking in terms of the style that they are playing," Gruden said. "It's not a blitz with a single [linebacker] or a single safety. It is 11 guys up in your face, Bonsai blitz what we call it. It's a jailbreak blitz. They have had tremendous success with it and they are applying serious pressure. They will shell us if we aren't ready for it. Once you show you are ready for it, the next thing they do is check to a zone. So you have to really be on top of your game and it will be a challenge in the noise for sure."
The likely return of Pittman will help with the blitz pick up out of the backfield as Pittman is consistent in recognizing where the blitz is coming from and picking it up. Graham struggled in picking up the blitz vs. Arizona when he was unable to block Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes, who ran over Graham to get a sack on Garcia.
Graham can't afford to miss any free blitzes vs. Atlanta as the Bucs will have their hands full with stopping defensive tackle Rod Coleman and defensive end John Abraham. Coleman returned four weeks ago after missing the first five games recovering from an injury. Coleman had three tackles and two sacks in a win vs. Carolina last week and Abraham has 17 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles this season.
BUCS-FALCONS INJURY REPORT Bucs WR Ike Hilliard (calf) and TE Alex Smith (ankle) are listed as probable for Sunday's game in Atlanta. Fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), LB Quincy Black (hamstring), DE Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder), WR Michael Clayton (ankle), RB Earnest Graham (ankle), RB Michael Pittman (ankle) and T Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder) are listed as questionable. Bucs DE Greg Spires (calf) has been ruled out of the BUcs' game vs. the Falcons.
Falcons QB Byron Leftwich (ankle), DT Trey Lewis (shoulder), RB Jerious Norwood (ankle) and T Todd Weiner are all listed as probable for Sunday's contest.
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