Not only did Tampa Bay lose Saturday night’s contest to Miami, the Buccaneers will be without starting strongside linebacker Jeff Gooch, who suffered a severe calf strain during the Bucs’ 17-14 loss to the Dolphins.

“Jeff Gooch has a severe calf pull. We’re concerned about that,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said on Sunday. “He’ll definitely be out this week and it looks like it could be an injury that takes some time to heal.”

While Gooch nurses his injury, fourth-year LB Ryan Nece will start on the strong side in his place. Last year, LB Marquis Cooper spent most of the season playing behind SLB Ian Gold while Nece played behind WLB Derrick Brooks. However, the Bucs decided to give Nece, who beat out Dwayne Rudd for the starting strongside linebacker job in 2003, the nod over Cooper.

“Ryan Nece has got to move to start and certainly we’re excited about that,” said Gruden. “We’re concerned about Jeff Gooch, the player, the man. We hope it’s not an injury that keeps him out too long.”

As for a timetable on Gooch’s possible return, Gruden suggested it was too early to tell.

“I feel terrible for him. It’s a big blow for us, but knowing Jeff Gooch, he’ll find a way to get back here a lot sooner than a lot of people,” said Gruden. “I don’t know (when he’ll be back). These calf injuries get so much swelling that you can’t really determine that. All I can say is that in the next couple of days we will be able to give you a better idea.”

In other injury-related news, Bucs tackle Kenyatta Walker, who missed Saturday night’s game vs. the Dolphins with a knee sprain, will not play in the preseason finale on Thursday night vs. the Houston Texans. However, the Bucs feel Walker will be ready to start at right tackle when the team opens the 2005 regular season on Sept. 11 at Minnesota.

“It is his right knee and we think he’s going to be okay,” said Gruden. “The MRI looks good. He’s a guy that needs a couple of days and given the fact that it’s a short week, we want to make sure he’s ready. I thought he did some particularly good things in the game. He’s had a good camp and I want to make sure he’s physically right and ready to go.”

Should Walker be unable to go, the Bucs will look at using rookie T Chris Colmer or possibly moving Anthony Davis or Todd Steussie over to the right side.

“Colmer will play over there,” Gruden said of the right tackle position. “We’ve talked about the possibility of moving someone else over there as well. We have a few names. It could be Anthony Davis or Todd Steussie. I don’t want to speculate. Obviously, if something happens to Chris Colmer, we’re going to have to have somebody that can go over to right tackle and get us out of this game. Might be Sam Lightbody, who knows.”

Guard Jeb Terry, who has been sidelined since Tampa Bay’s first preseason game of the year with a MCL sprain, is expected to return to practice this week and could play against the Texans, according to Gruden.

Bucs G Matt Stinchcomb also missed the game vs. the Dolphins. He’s been battling through a back strain. Although there’s a chance he could play vs. the Texans, Stinchcomb may be in danger of losing his starting job to rookie G Dan Buenning, who has played fairly well in his place.

“I don’t want to announce anything other than Dan Buenning is built pretty good,” Gruden said when asked if he was ready to announce that Buenning was the new starting left guard. “Stinchcomb was off to a great start, in fairness to Matt. I don’t want to say anything other than it’s been a real competitive camp. It’s unfortunate that Matt has had an injury that’s kept him out. But we’ll make those final decisions and announcements later.”

Another player who has been hurt and has already lost his starting job is left tackle Derrick Deese. Deese, who has spent a significant amount of time away from training camp and One Buccaneer Place while having tests conducted on his lingering ankle injury in California, has lost his starting job to Anthony Davis.

While the offensive line has room for improvement, Gruden likes what he has seen from Davis thus far.

“The offensive line did some good things,” Gruden said of the game vs. Miami. “A couple of the sacks obviously, we got caught in some tough situations. We had a couple breakdowns in our communication. I felt like Anthony Davis did some good things, very good things.”

Fullback Rick Razzano, who missed Saturday night’s contest with a lingering hamstring injury that sidelined him for a significant amount of time in training camp, is probable for Thursday night’s game at Raymond James Stadium.

Tampa Bay’s defensive tackles were banged up in the game vs. Miami. Damian Gregory, who spent most of the 2004 season on injured reserve, suffered a shoulder sprain vs. the Dolphins.

“He’s out indefinitely,” Gruden said of Gregory. “We’ll be giving him some shoulder tests later today and tomorrow to determine his status.”

Ellis Wyms, who started at under tackle in place of Anthony McFarland, who stayed behind in Tampa to continue to grieve from the death of his mother, suffered a shoulder injury during the Bucs-Dolphins game as well. However, Wyms is expected to play against the Texans.

The good news for the Bucs is McFarland is expected to return to practice this week and could play on Thursday night.

“We’ll try to get him a couple good, quality practices,” Gruden said of McFarland. “We’re excited to have him back. We definitely need him.”

Safety Dexter Jackson, who missed Saturday night’s game with a sore Achilles tendon, is expected to play vs. Houston. Second-year S Will Allen started in place of Jackson, and according to Gruden, the Bucs are not ready to announce their starting free safety just yet.

“Will has done some good things,” said Gruden. “That’s a real competitive call for us, as far as who is going to be the starter (at safety). It was a valuable opportunity for Will Allen to get the start and play extensively. He’s another young guy that we are counting on.”

Tampa Bay expects rookie G Doug Buckles to return this week after being sidelined with an appendicitis.

Tampa Bay must trim its roster down to 65 players by Tuesday afternoon. With NFL Europe players given roster exemptions, the Bucs will have to release 15 players by Tuesday. According to Gruden, the Bucs could announce their roster cuts as soon as Monday.

“We’ll probably make those tomorrow,” Gruden said of the upcoming roster cuts. “We’ll be late into the evening here evaluating the film and try to get an idea about who’s going to be healthy enough to play and try to get ready for the short week of practice. We’ll use later this evening and early tomorrow morning to finalize where we’re going.”

Two players who are probably safe for the first set of roster cuts are kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France. There’s a chance this battle will come down to the final week of practice and preseason finale vs. Houston.

“Well, we’re going to continue to look at our kickers,” said Gruden. “I thought Todd France did a great job last night. The opening field goal there on the opening drive of the game, offensively was a big one. We wanted to see him kick on the road and the dirt in a bad situation, there was a good chance of rain and wind was a factor, although it did calm down during the game. We wanted to put our young kicker in that situation. I thought he responded quite well. I don’t want to discount Matt Bryant. He’s a good kicker. We’ll make a tough call here in the next three or four days.”

After reviewing film of Tampa Bay’s 17-14 loss to Miami, Gruden, whose Bucs were penalized 10 times for 93 yards vs. the Dolphins, kindly disagreed with some of the penalties called on his team on Saturday night.

“Very concerned,” Gruden said of the penalties. “Some of the penalties I’m more concerned about why they were called to be honest with you. You get a 50-yard bomb wiped out for a tripping call; I’d like to see the tripping call. I didn’t like that call. I don’t want to be fined any more money. They’re a few calls that I didn’t disagree with. At the same time, we have to use some better judgment in some situations, but there were a lot of penalties called on both teams last night. It makes for a sloppy game. Obviously, it’s disappointing for the fans.”

Although he disagreed with some of the penalties called in the game, Gruden said he still plans to address the infractions and other issues with his team this week.

“We go over that carefully, all the penalties, all the turnovers, all the mistakes are pointed out.,” Gruden said “We’re also going to try to point out all the positive things that we did in the game. We certainly go over the penalties and how costly they were, particularly in a game like that, that’s tight.”

After Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Edell Shepherd, Tampa Bay’s battle at the wide receiver position is wide open going into the preseason finale against Houston.

However, a few rookie receivers, namely Paris Warren and J.R. Russell, both of whom were seventh-round draft picks in April, have made a strong push in preseason.

Warren caught a 45-yard touchdown vs. Jacksonville, and Russell hauled in four passes for 74 yards, including a 38-yarder, vs. the Dolphins. According to Gruden, this battle is still too close to call.

“J.R. Russell, on the stat sheet, stood out,” Gruden said. “He made some big plays down the field with his size and his speed. Those are two qualities that brought him here. There were a couple of guys that did get some opportunities. I can’t say if we have determined who are our five, or six, or seven, or three receivers are, that we are keeping. I don’t know what we are going to do yet.”

Gruden on if he likes having a short turnaround between games:

“I’d rather play 16 games in eight days. If it were up to me, I’d play the short turnarounds as much as possible, I kind of like that.”

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