The raucous cheers often heard coming from Raymond James Stadium have been few and far between this season, but that should change on Sunday when the Buccaneers will in all likelihood announce the long awaited home debut of first-round pick Davin Joseph.
On Wednesday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said the plan is to start the 6-foot-3, 311-pound guard against Cincinnati, provided he has a good week of practice and suffers no further setbacks from the knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first three games.
‘We’re anxious to see him play obviously,” Gruden said of Joseph. “We had big hopes for him leaving training camp [as the starter]. He had a great camp for us. He’s a good football player. He’s a little bit rusty obviously with the layoff, but he’s practiced well the last five or six days and to have him back gives us a guy we think is going be a heck of a football player for a long time.”
That being the case, Joseph would replace four-year pro Sean Mahan at right guard, stepping in alongside fellow rookie Jeremy Trueblood, the Buccaneers’ second-round pick out of Boston College. Trueblood got his first start at right tackle last week against New Orleans in place of Kenyatta Walker, who was placed on injured reserve after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.
Joseph’s goal as a rookie was to earn a starting job along the offensive line, and now that possibility likely will become a reality.
"It really feels good to be back more than anything,” Joseph said. “[Being in the starting lineup] is one of those things you dream about and now it could possibly come true. But just being here, being with the guys you know, playing every day, I had that taken away from me for a while and now I’m glad to have that back.”
Not being a part of the mix was tough for Joseph, and he says overcoming the mental part was just as difficult as the physical aspect.
“I never had to come back form injury in college,” he said. “It’s a combination of both. There are a lot of things you have to get used to again, the hitting and the calls and how fast everything goes.”
BUCS CLAIM DB STRAIT OFF WAIVERS Tampa Bay made two roster moves Wednesday, claiming defensive back Derrick Strait off of waivers from the New York Jets and placing Andrew Economos (knee) on injured reserve.
The 5-foot-11, 189-pound Straight originally entered the NFL as a third-round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2004 draft. He has played in 26 career games, notching 45 tackles, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery.
GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE Optimism surrounding the 0-4 Buccaneers quarterback position is at a fever pitch, at least until Sunday. Not only from fans, but from the team’s head coach, too.
Hope for a season on the brink began, ironically, in a place that knows what it feels like to be hopeless. While it’s difficult to spite a city in need of optimism, there was a little to go around for both teams. The sparkle in the eye of Jon Gruden when Joey Galloway found himself on the receiving end of an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski, a guy who was the next-to-last quarterback selected in this April’s draft, was hard to dismiss.
It’s difficult to break that 0-4 scowl, but a tiny gleam is still present for now as Gruden expounded on the physical attributes his young leader brings to the table.
“It’s a big benefit,” Gruden said of Gradkowski’s mobility “The quicker you get back there, the quicker you can make a decision. And you got a quick release and quick feet? That’s three-pronged in your favor.
“His overall quickness and ability to create at awkward throwing angles and his feet have certainly helped us. To have a guy who can get out on the edge and not just make a throw, but a guy who can create with his feet. He had 19 yards rushing last week, which is more than we’ve ever had here. At least as long as I’ve been here, which is five years. And that threat is something we’re excited about.
Gradkowski’s ability to move about the pocket aided him in leading the Buccaneers on three touchdown drives and throwing for two scores against a Saints defense, which ranks No. 12 overall in the NFL.
The Bengals enter Sunday’s game ranked No. 25 in total defense.
It was only one week. One game, and a loss at that. But destiny sometimes does have an odd way of rearing its head around the league. Ask a former grocery store clerk named Kurt Warner or another sixth-round pick named Tom Brady. Nobody is making those types of comparisons yet, but being in the right place at the right time doesn’t hurt.
“Since the first day I got here I knew Coach Gruden and I would have a connection,” Gradkowski said. “I love his fiery attitude, his intensity. He’s one of the coaches that works the hardest I’ve ever been around. In person and in general. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at what they do and that rubs off on you.
“This offense is so fun to play in, just being able to move around and the types of throws we make and especially the guys around me, you know, the playmakers that we have. I just love the offense. I love the scheme. I love the tempo we play at.”
If Gradkowski is feeling the pressure of being thrown into a starting role four weeks into his rookie year, he’s doing a pretty good job of hiding it. And he’s not allowing a 107.6 quarterback rating against the Saints go to his head.
“I can always learn,” he said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I couldn’t learn more about this offense, about football. Everyday I come with the attitude I want to get better, I want to learn more.”
TACKLE, DUMMY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his coaching staff and players continue to have to address the team’s ongoing tackling woes. It’s a subject everyone around One Buc Place seems to be tired of. The coach’s solution? Get back to “gang tackling.”
Gruden said the tackling hasn’t been the same this year as it has in the past. Players aren’t flying to the ball and gang tackling like Buccaneer teams have grown accustomed to. That has to change, he said, if the team’s fortunes are to be turned around.
“We’ve had games around here in the past, like every team does, where you miss some tackles,” Gruden said. “But if we don’t start cleaning up piles and making tackles in the hole when its our time to make them then [Cincinnati running back] Rudi Johnson will have a big day and that goes for special teams also. You got to be a sure tackling team to win in this league and I know were capable of it. And I’m getting tired of saying it and I know our players are getting tired of hearing about it.”
Tampa Bay’s defense, which has ranked in the top 10 over the past nine seasons but currently sits at No. 20 overall, continues to work with its coaching staff to remedy the tackling woes.
“We just can’t miss tackles,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. “We practice tackling every day. We’ve practiced tackling every day since 1996. We just haven’t got it done.”
Gruden went as far as meeting with the defensive players and coaching staff last week in an effort to stress the importance of the defense finding ways to dominate again.
“He met with our defense last week, which was good,” Kiffin said of Gruden. “He’s a busy guy and stays busy. He’s a head coach and offensive coordinator, so it was good for him to pop in and talk to us a bit.
Tampa Bay’s defense, which also ranks 30th against the run and is having trouble generating a consistent pass rush, has reverted back to basic tackling drills during practice over the last few weeks. However, with the list of players banged up this week continuing to grow, Gruden said he chose to opt out of having live, open-field tackling in practice.
There was an obvious sense of urgency in Gruden’s tone Wednesday and he wasn’t mincing words about the fact that this is the defense must return to form if the 0-4 Bucs are going to have a chance of turning their season around.
“We have gotten what we deserved and we’ll get what we deserve on Sunday,” said Gruden. “If we play better we have a chance to win, if we don’t, we won’t. But there’s no sense in being sensitive about it, we just have to continue to work hard and get out there and improve on all three phases.
BUCS BANGED UP The Bucs released their official injury report Wednesday. Several players, including cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones (hamstring), cornerback Brian Kelly (foot), tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib), defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (back), are questionable for Sunday’s game. Guard Davin Joseph (knee) and linebacker Ryan Nece (knee) are probable. Quarterback Chris Simms (Splenectomy) is out.