Cornerback Brian Kelly, who sat out the 31-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday with a groin injury, returned to practice on Thursday. Kelly injured his groin in the second half of the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Kelly has been rehabbing the injury for the past two weeks and this is the first time he has practiced with the team since the injury.

Kelly’s presence on the field and in the secondary will be a huge lift for the Bucs defense with the St. Louis Rams heading into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. With the trio of wide receivers in Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, the Bucs need all available cornerbacks to contain this talented group.

“We would like to have him and think he’s a really good corner,” head coach Jon Gruden said of Kelly. “Today was a good performance by him and if we get him back it will be a real good addition for us.”

Gruden, however, wasn’t ready to profess Kelly’s status for Sunday’s game against the Rams.

“He wouldn’t be full go if he wasn’t close to playing,” Gruden said. “Once again, we will see how he feels tomorrow and make our final decision on game day.”

If Kelly can’t go against the Rams the Bucs will use the same lineup as they did against New Orleans with cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon starting and fifth-year cornerback Sammy Davis coming in on nickel situations. The nickel formation generally uses four defensive linemen, two linebackers, three cornerbacks and two safeties.

Kelly, who has started all 16 games only three times in 10 seasons, has recorded 20 interceptions with the Bucs. Kelly’s best season came in 2002 during the Bucs’ run to the Super Bowl championship as he had eight interceptions and 61 tackles, his highest tackle total in his 10-year career.

In other injury news, Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who had two catches for 51 yards last week against the Saints, was held out of practice with an ankle injury. Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) participated in limited action for the second consecutive practice.

GALLOWAY STILL A THREAT
Wide receiver Joey Galloway has defied the odds and the aging process to maintain his status as the Bucs big-play threat because of his speed. Even though Galloway hasn’t been timed in the 40-yard dash in the past couple of seasons, there are still very few players in the NFL that display the kind of breakaway speed that the 35-year old wide receiver still possesses.

Galloway showed he still has the speed to run away from defenders during his 69-yard touchdown reception against the Saints last Sunday. A crushing block from wide receiver Michael Clayton didn’t hurt Galloway’s effort either in the 31-14 victory. Clayton’s block sprung the 13-year veteran as he coasted into the end zone.

Galloway, however, jokingly admitted that he might have scored even without Clayton’s assistance.

“I don’t really know it’s tough to say, but I appreciate it,” Galloway said. “It was fun to watch, regardless of the outcome of the play, it is fun to watch Mike come by and hit guys the way that he does.”

Galloway, who leads the Bucs with nine receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns, has already noticed a difference in the offense this season compared to 2006. With quarterback Jeff Garcia bringing fire and experience to the offense and the huddle, the Bucs have been able to move the ball down the field.

Galloway and Garcia have been able to build some chemistry between each other quickly and have become a dangerous tandem. The Ohio State alum likes what he’s seen out of the offense, but knows there is still room for improvement.

“We have, without having to say it, some different guys in the huddle, so it’s a little different,” Galloway said. “All quarterbacks are different so when you put one quarterback in a huddle as opposed to another guy you do some things different. You sort of do things that he’s comfortable with and some of the things that he likes to do. I think it’s still early to say what this offense is going to do or where this offense is headed. We did have a pretty good game last Sunday, but that’s not our best game, so it’s still hard to say. We plan to play much better than that.”

LOCAL FOOTBALL COACH HONORED
Tampa Bay Tech head coach C.C. Culpepper was named by the Bucs as the Coach of the Week on Thursday after the morning practice. Gruden presented Culpepper with a commemorative certificate and personalized football for winning the award. Culpepper will also receive $1,000 for the high school program and will be featured on Buccaneers.com and NFLHS.com.

Culpepper has led his Titans team, who had a 20-game losing streak heading into this season, to a 3-0 start with convincing victories over Sickles, Leto and Bloomingdale. Tampa Bay Tech will face the Freedom Patriots at home on Friday. Culpepper and four guests got to take a tour of On Buccaneer Place, the new state-of-the-art home of the Bucs.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
Galloway on what Gruden had to say after he coasted into the end zone on his 69-yard touchdown reception.

“He didn’t get to me; it’s tough to beat [Derrick] Brooks to me. Brooks gets there, I’m telling you. I almost had to tell the official that Brooks is outside the coaching box there. Brooks catches me the minute I hit the sideline and starts coaching me about running it in and tucking the ball away and all those things. Coach [Gruden] kind of gives me that look, that stare; he’s sort of torn because he wants to yell because I didn’t do certain things, but he’s excited at the same time so he’s a little bit torn on that.”

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