There's no question the 5-4 Bucs got healthier during their week off, but whether or not the injured players will be healthy enough to play vs. the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday is a question that remained unanswered after Wednesday's practice at One Buccaneer Place.
A total of nine players, linebacker Quincy Black (hamstring), defensive Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder), wide receivers Michael Clayton (ankle), Joey Galloway (team decision) and Ike Hilliard (calf), running backs Earnest Graham (ankle) and Michael Pittman (ankle), tight end Alex Smith (ankle) and tackle Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder), were held out of practice on Wednesday due to their respective injuries or situations.
When asked if key contributors like Chukwurah, Pittman and Smith would play vs. the Falcons, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden stopped short of confirming what many assumed would be the case with Tampa Bay coming off the bye week.
"We still have  players on injured reserve and we had [nine] guys that were very limited today," said Gruden. "It's still a challenge and it will be a challenge for this season. We're optimistic that we'll have some guys play this Sunday that haven't played in the past, but at the same time I don't see it right now."
One thing is for sure – the Bucs will be without defensive end Greg Spires for the next few weeks. He revealed to the media on Wednesday that he suffered a torn calf muscle in Tampa Bay's 24-23 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 28.
Spires said the calf injury would take approximately four to five weeks to heal, but he knows it could have been worse.
"At first I thought it was my Achilles," Spires said of his injury. "The Achilles was bothering me for the first eight weeks of the season. When I felt the pop, I thought it was in that area. I thought it was my Achilles, but thankfully it wasn't."
The earliest it seems Spires will return to action is for Tampa Bay's game at New Orleans on Dec. 2. However, he hopes to return sooner than that.
"I'm recovering, ahead of schedule and I will be back," said Spires. "I couldn't put a time on it, but the injury is about four to five weeks. I feel like I'm ahead of schedule. I feel really good about coming back and helping this team win."
In the meantime, the Bucs likely will use veteran rookie Gaines Adams and DE Greg White in place of Spires on the right side of the defensive line while veteran Kevin Carter starts at left end.
Pittman, who sustained a high ankle sprain against Indianapolis on Oct. 7, was supposed to be sidelined six to eight weeks. While Gruden might be skeptical since it's only been six weeks since that injury occurred, Pittman suggested he would play vs. the Falcons on Sunday.
"I told everybody I would get back as fast as I could," Pittman said. "I did everything I could to get back. I did therapy, acupuncture and vitamins to help me heal fast. I was already in good shape, which helps you heal fast to begin with. I'm not surprised I'm back."
Clayton, who has caught just six passes for 109 yards in seven games this season, has been sidelined since Oct. 21 with an ankle sprain.
Although he admitted he isn't 100 percent healthy yet, Clayton suggested he would be able to give it a go vs. the 3-6 Falcons in a critical NFC South showdown in Atlanta on Sunday.
"I'm about 90 percent, but on game day I'll be 100 percent," said Clayton. "Game day is a different feeling because pain and everything goes away. I'm just looking forward to finishing off this season very strong. We control our destiny right now and we're looking forward to finishing what we started."
Smith actually returned from his ankle injury vs. Arizona on Nov. 4, but he acknowledged on Wednesday that he wasn't close to 100 percent healthy during Tampa Bay's 17-10 win over Arizona.
But Smith, who has caught 16 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns this season, said he used the bye week to get back to full strength.
"I was probably 75 to 80 percent healthy," Smith said of when he played against Arizona. "An extra week of rest probably would have had me at 100 percent sooner. It was one of those things where I wanted to get out there. I knew I had a week off to rest and I think I'm back 100 percent now."
One of the more positive aspects of the injury report Tampa Bay released Wednesday was the player and injury that didn't appear on the report for the first time in several weeks, which was cornerback Brian Kelly's groin injury.
Kelly injured his groin in Week 1 vs. Seattle and has played in just four games (two starts) this season. However, it appears as though Kelly is close to 100 percent healthy, evidenced by the fact that he did not appear on the injury report Wednesday and had full participation in practice.
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