The injury news on Bucs linebacker Cato June and rookie left guard Arron Sears was not what fans wanted to hear on the eve of Sunday's playoff contest vs. the New York Giants. June is listed as doubtful with a foot injury and hasn't practice with team all week long. Sears is listed as questionable with an ankle injury and has been limited in practice for two days.
It is very possible that both players will not be able to play on Sunday, which hinders what the Bucs can do on offense and defense. June finished the season tied for third in tackles with 120, behind linebackers Barrett Ruud and Derrick Brooks, and started every game during the regular season.
June hurt his foot in the regular-season finale vs. the Carolina Panthers and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wasn't in the joking mood when addressing his injury on Friday.
"I don't know exactly. He got hurt in the Carolina game," Gruden said of when June was injured. "I probably should have rested him."
The fact that June hasn't taken the practice field all week long isn't a good sign for his status vs. the Giants. Gruden hasn't been able to assess his progress because he hasn't seen him on the field.
"Well he's got an injury that he can make progress, but if the injury is enough to keep you out of a football game where three or four days doesn't make enough difference it will be difficult to play," Gruden said. "It's unfortunate right now."
If June can't play on Sunday, then linebacker Ryan Nece likely will get the start and rookie Quincy Black could see some action as well. Nece has been battling a groin injury over the last month of the season, but should be ready to go if he's called into duty.
Sears left early in the first quarter in the season-finale vs. Carolina after he sprained his ankle. He didn't practice at all on Wednesday and was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday. Bucs backup guard Matt Lehr filled in for Sears vs. the Panthers and will get the start on Sunday if Sears can't go.
Even though Gruden isn't happy with possibly losing two starters vs. the Giants, he stressed that the game plan remains the same.
"We are eager to play the game and it's unfortunate that we have potentially lost a couple of players, but we will hold out hope until kickoff," Gruden said.
One positive note for the Bucs is that New York is coming into Sunday's contest just as banged up as Tampa Bay. Giants center Shaun O'Hara (knee) and cornerback Sam Madison (stomach) are listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. New York cornerback Kevin Dockery (hip flexor), linebacker Kawika Mitchell (knee) and defensive end Dave Tollefson (concussion) are listed as questionable.
Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw (calf), wide receivers Plaxico Burress (ankle) and Sinorice Moss (back) and tight end Mike Matthews (illness) are listed as probable.
BUCS LOOK TO BE PHYSICAL WITH BIG GIANTS RECEIVERS New York wide receiver Plaxico Burress has become a deep threat for the Giants passing game similar to what wide receiver Joey Galloway is for the Bucs offense. Despite battling an ankle injury for most of the season, the 6-foot-5 Burress racked up 1,025 yards (14.6 avg.) on 70 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
The Bucs, however, don't have a cornerback over 6-foot in Ronde Barber (5-10), Brian Kelly (5-11) and Phillip Buchanon (5-11) that can match up with the length of Burress. Tampa Bay's secondary has been a physical group this season and has used fear as a weapon in defending taller receivers.
Bucs rookie safety Tanard Jackson has quickly created a reputation for delivering the big blow to any receiver roaming the middle of the field. This was never more evident than when Jackson planted Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark into the RCA Dome turf in Week 5. Jackson and Co. will be looking for the same opportunity against Burress and the Giants.
"We know that we have to approach this a little different this week because the Giants have bigger receivers," Jackson said. "The thing with this week is to be on all our keys. They do a lot of play-action and we have to respect them with who they have behind [quarterback] Eli [Manning] in [running back] Brandon Jacobs. We just have to hit and in this league it's all about that. I think if you hit guys, they will quit early."
Jackson knows that the Giants are looking to go deep to Burress for the big play and the Bucs will be waiting on him. New York has completed a pass to Burress of 20 or more yards 15 times this season. Burress also has five receptions of 40 or more yards.
"We know that they thrive off the big play by Plaxico. You look through their season and that's the guy who they go to in tough situations," Jackson said. "He's been there all year, but overall the Giants offense is an explosive offense running and throwing the ball. We just have to be sound defense in what we've been doing all year long."
The Bucs defense has been tough in pass defense all season long finishing No. 1 in that category in the NFL and No. 2 in total defense. New York brings in the No. 16 ranked pass offense in the league and Manning has 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions during the regular season.
Gruden isn't worried about the size difference with the Bucs defensive backs against the Giants receivers.
"It's the National Football League. We saw [Carolina wide receiver] Steve Smith last week. Every week somebody presents a challenge and a problem for you," Gruden said. "That's why we have Ronder Barber here and Brian Kelly and Phillip Buchanon. We know they will have their hands full, but we are confident in our men also and it will be a great battle."
BUCS LIKE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE Even though the Bucs are 6-8 in franchise history during the playoffs, Tampa Bay has a 4-2 record at home in the postseason. In 2005, the Bucs hosted the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium, but had a heartbreaking 17-10 loss. The pewter and red are excited about running out and seeing the battle flags waving on Sunday.
"That's cool isn't it? That's neat and unique is the best way I can describe it," Gruden said of battle flags. "I haven't seen that done in too many places."
Gruden feels that it's definitely an advantage to be playing at home this Sunday compared to having to travel in the playoffs.
"It's exciting for the city of Tampa. We love football in the state of Florida. We have great fans and they love football. To give them another home football game we are charged about that," Gruden said. "We will have a frenzied crowd and if we can play well and get them in the game it will be an excited game for us."
Buchanon is excited about playing in the playoff atmosphere that will commence at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Buchanon is one of several Bucs players who will be getting a taste of the postseason for the first time in his career.
"I don't know yet, but personally it's all new for me because it's my first time playing in a playoff game so I'm just going out there to do my job," Buchanon said. "I love playing at home especially playing in Tampa. I love our fans. Our fans have always been there for us and really get me motivated."
STAT OF THE DAY New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce led the defense with 116 tackles this season, including 63 solo tackles. He's a big reason why the Giants finished the season ranked eighth in the NFL in run defense. The Bucs, however, enter the game with the 11th ranked run offense in the league averaging 117 yards a game behind running back Earnest Graham. Graham finished the season with 898 yards rushing (4.0 avg.) with 10 touchdowns.
"He's the ring leader, I think, of the defense. It looks like everything goes through him, the calls [and] adjustments. He's a leader on their football team and is possessed on every snap," Gruden said of Pierce. "He's just a pro football player with great talent and they use him so many different ways. The best way to describe him is that he's the leader of that band. He's got a real good army around him."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Gruden on what he thinks of the Giants offense.
"Well, they're a good team. That's what impresses me. [Eli] Manning impresses me. For some reason, he gets a lot of heat from people but I don't think Ole Miss has been the same since he left. He's a winner. The guy's got great talent. Plaxico Burress, when he's by himself over there, he's a problem. He is a real problem. They've got a great big back [Brandon Jacobs] that's a handful. I used to call [Mike] Alstott ‘The Anvil.' I've got to get a new name. This guy looks like a…I don't know what. He's a great, hard-nosed runner and I've always liked competing with [New York Giants head coach] Tom Coughlin's teams. I just think he's a hard-nosed coach. They're an outstanding football team and they attack a lot of different ways."
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