Tampa Bay quarterback Luke McCown thought his season might be over before it even started back in June when he suffered a partially torn ACL during a June mini-camp.
On Wednesday, which was a little less than four months after he suffered that freak knee injury that required surgery and forced him to miss all of training camp and preseason, McCown came off the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time since June.
“It’s kind of like that old saying, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,’” said McCown. “That’s football for me. It’s a blessing to be here.”
McCown, who joined the Bucs during the 2005 offseason after the team traded a sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for his services, could have been placed on injured reserve after he sustained the knee injury, but the fact that the 6-foot-3, 212-pound signal caller was regarded as a quick healer convinced the Bucs to wait and see how McCown progressed throughout the summer.
That decision has paid off. While he’s admittedly rusty from not being able to practice for several months, and only participated in 7-on-7 drills on Wednesday, McCown came away from today’s practice pleased with how his knee held up during the workout.
“Through the research I’ve done, this is as fast or faster than anybody I’ve heard about in terms of returning to the field,” said McCown. “Jerry Rice returned to the field and played in 87 days after he tore his ACL, so that’s a little faster than mine. To be back this quick and to feel as good as I do is truly a blessing.
“The big thing I found out today is I didn’t find myself protecting it. In terms of taking drops and running on it, I didn’t find myself thinking about it. I know I can go out there and trust it.”
McCown, 25, is confident that both his knee and play will convince the Bucs to active him on the active roster in 21 days, which is the amount of time the league gives teams to make decisions on players coming off of the PUP.
“There’s always going to be rust to knock off when you miss this much time,” said McCown. “The ground that I missed through training camp – the reps, throwing with people in my face and things like that will come with time. My throws to receivers on the run today were a little rusty. Those things and timing with the guys are things you miss. I really think that’s an important issue. The reps will come when they’re ready, and when I’m ready. As long as Bruce [Gradkowski] keeps playing well that keeps giving me time to make sure I’m as close as I can be before the team has to make a decision on me.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden seems confident that McCown will be ready to return to the 53-man roster soon.
“He did a good job today,” Gruden said of McCown. “It was his first time out and he looked athletic, as we remember him. It looks like he’s close to making a full recovery but we’ll see how he feels in the morning and we’ll kind of judge that day by day.”
In the meantime, the Bucs appear to be comfortable keeping QB Chris Simms, who is recovering from a Splenectomy he underwent on Sept. 24, on their 53-man roster while rookie Bruce Gradkowski starts and Tim Rattay serves as the backup signal caller.
BOOGER GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Sentiments surrounding the Buccaneers’ parting with eight-year defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland were subtle in Wednesday’s open locker room session at One Buc Place. Head Coach Jon Gruden and many of McFarland’s fellow defensive linemen said it was sad to see a friend go, but shrugged off the move as something that comes with the business of being an NFL player.
"I just wish Anthony all the best," Gruden said. "He’s a great guy and he’s going to a very good football team. Hopefully he plays great and helps [the Indianapolis Colts] get to the Super Bowl."
Needless to say, Tampa Bay’s defensive line will see some modification, primarily with the insertion of sixth-year man Ellis Wyms into the starting front four at under tackle. The Bucs also re-signed third-year defensive tackle Jon Bradley to the team’s 53-man roster. Bradley was cut from the team on Sept. 2.
“We think [Wyms] is a very good football player, obviously,” Gruden said. “And he’ll be our starting under tackle. And we re-signed Jon Bradley, a guy that played pretty good for us in training camp. He was on our team last year. Ellis Wyms has his time now, and we think he can be an outstanding player. He played great last week and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Wyms recorded six tackles (five solo) and two sacks last week against Cincinnati. He now has 11.5 sacks in his tenure with the Bucs, with his most productive season coming in 2002 when he had 38 tackles and 5.5 sacks despite not starting a game.
“I guess this is another step up, a different role, a different situation for me,” Wyms said. “I just have to approach it like I approach every other week, just get ready to play. I know my job and I know what I have to do.
“Everybody wants the opportunity to start, you want your opportunity to shine.
“I just got to do a lot more and be a lot better now than I’m forced into the starting role.”
Wyms, who was McFarland’s backup for the better part of five seasons, was torn between seeing a friend go and cracking the starting lineup.
“I’m going to miss my boy,” Wyms said of McFarland said. “But at the same time, you know, this is a business and one day you can be here and one day you can be gone. And he’ll do well in Indy, I know he’ll do great in Indy. He’s a great player, it’s just unfortunate it didn’t work out here for him. I’m just looking forward to getting my opportunity to go out on the field and make plays on Sunday.”
Defensive end Simeon Rice showed his support for Wyms by saying, “This is a passing of the torch. This is really a hell of a way to tell a player ‘We believe in you.’”
THINK QUICK, BRUCE Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski says he continues to learn more each week and that he took a lot of confidence out of the team’s come-from-behind win on Sunday over the Bengals. But he also knows he’s in for a challenge this Sunday, facing a Philadelphia defense with a reputation for blitzing and getting after the passer. The Eagles have amassed 23 sacks over the first six games of the season, and having a rookie in the pocket should have them feeling quite confident and excited.
That being the thought around Bucs camp, Gradkowski has been focusing this week on his ability to make quick reads and get rid of the ball in a timely manner. Controlling turnovers and eliminating mistakes against an aggressive defense such as the Eagles is essential, he says.
“The Eagles throw a lot at you on defense,” Gradkowski said. “If they want to blitz us or whatever they want to do, we’re going to try to and be ready as much as we can.
“One of the key points in every game is trying not to hold the ball back in pocket and get rid of it fast. The more I do that, the better we’ll be and the better chance we’ll have to win football games.”
Making a quick read and getting the ball out in a hurry was exactly what led to Gradkowski’s heroic, game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Clayton. It was catch that was a long time coming for the embattled receiver.
With his frustration temporarily lifted, Clayton says he hopes his catch and the victory will give the 1-4 Bucs some momentum.
“We’re more confident than the first three or four games,” Clayton said. “It was tough for us trying to get things started. Everybody is pretty settled right now. We got a good quarterback in there, who can move in the pocket, and he’s helped us out a whole lot.”
KELLY CONSIDERING HAVING SURGERY? Cornerback Brian Kelly practiced on Wednesday. Kelly has missed three of the team’s first five games with turf toe and would be missed this week, perhaps more than any other, should he sit out again as the Eagles and quarterback Donovan McNabb bring the NFL’s top ranked offense to Raymond James Stadium.
“I’m doing okay,” Kelly said. “ going out there to see how it feels and see how it goes. And play it by ear.
“I’ve tried pretty much everything at this point. But you know, right now it’s just time to see how it feels, see how it goes. I’ve got to be able to perform like I want to perform out there on the field to feel comfortable.”
Juran Bolden has filled in at the starting cornerback position in Kelly’s absence, and the Bucs signed free agent cornerback Phillip Buchanon on Tuesday. The possibility of surgery to repair Kelly’s turf toe has been proposed.
“I have researched it and it’s not anything crazy,” Kelly said of the surgical procedure. “Once you go in there and have the surgery, you come back and you’re healthy. I’ve been checked already, and anything that could be critical to me in the future is cleared up as far as something permanent.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Buchanon was given a one-year, $585,000 contract, which gives the Bucs some breathing room at the position should Kelly be sidelined.
Buchanon has 11 interceptions in his five-year career, four of which he returned for scores. But his immediate value may be more evident on special teams, more specifically, returning punts. He has returned three touchdowns for punts over his career and averages 10.5 yards per return.
“Most definitely returning punts,” Buchanon said “As people know, I love returning punts. So, I look forward to returning punts. I am just looking forward. If [Jon] Gruden wants me to play this week, or however they call it, I am looking forward to playing this week.”
Tampa Bay starting punt returner Mark Jones was listed as ‘questionable’ on Wednesday’s injury report with a hamstring issue that kept him out of last Sunday’s game. Bolden missed Wednesday’s practice with a hip injury and is also listed as ‘questionable’.
INJURY UPDATE Bucs TE Anthony Becht (foot), cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), wide receiver/punt returner Mark Jones (hamstring), cornerback Brian Kelly (foot), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee), defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (back) are questionable. Cornerback Torrie Cox (hip), tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib) and center John Wade (ankle) are probable. Quarterback Chris Simms is out of Sunday’s game vs. Philadelphia.
Becht, Bolden, Jones, Rice and Simms were held out of Wednesday’s practice at One Buc Place.