Two days after defeating the New England Patriots 13-10 in their preseason opener, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went back to work on Sunday afternoon, taking the field at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex for a walk-thru-type of practice.

Tampa dedicated a good portion of this afternoon’s practice to preparing for its second opponent of the 2007 preseason – the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two in-state rivals will clash in Jacksonville on Saturday night.

It looks as though the Bucs escaped their first exhibition contest fairly healthy, although rookie guard Arron Sears was given the afternoon off to rest and lift weights.

Tampa Bay also welcomed several players who did not play against New England back to practice on Sunday afternoon, including wide receiver Michael Clayton (pulled muscle), tackle Luke Petitgout (back), safety Sabby Piscitelli (hamstring) and linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee).

Petitgout, who had been sidelined for over a week due to a back ailment, did not suffer a setback on Sunday afternoon and could play against the Jaguars.

“It’s great to have him back,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Petitgout. “He feels good, and we appear to be on schedule for a good week of practice and hopefully we get him some work for Saturday night.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has had a few days to reflect on his team’s 13-10 win preseason win over the New England Patriots.

At the conclusion of Sunday afternoon’s practice, Gruden still was impressed by some of the individual performances from Tampa Bay’s preseason opener.

Rookie running back Kenneth Darby, who was a seventh-round draft pick out of Alabama in April, carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards (5.6 avg.), including a 21-yarder.

Needless to say, Darby caught Gruden’s eye on Friday night.

“He made some really good runs,” Gruden said. “I thought he did a great a job running the football. He’s got to continue to make real strides in other areas, but he ran the ball well and made some really magnificent runs. That’s exactly what we saw at Alabama. He’s running the ball well, he’s getting better in all areas, but he still has a long way to go.”

Quarterback Luke McCown turned in an impressive performance as well, completing 7-of-7 passes for 68 yards and tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Paris Warren. He also rushed three times for 19 yards.

McCown is battling Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms for the right to back up starting QB Jeff Garcia, and he will win that job of he continues to play as well as he did against the Patriots.

“I was really pleased. He hadn’t played in a long time,” Gruden said of McCown. “You’ve got to keep that in mind when you watch that performance. He did some good things with the ball. There were a couple of other occasions when he may have broken out a little bit soon. He needs some work in the pocket. I thought he made good decisions, moved our football team. He went 7-of-7 and put 10 points on the board. I was pleased with him; I really was. I thought he did some good things.”

With Bucs six-time Pro Bowler Mike Alstott going on injured reserve on Thursday with his second neck injury since 2003, what do the Bucs plan to do to fill the void left at fullback?

While Tampa Bay might sign a free agent fullback, the Bucs feel like they have several players that can play the role of lead blocker and outlet receiver quite well.

That list includes running backs Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham, who will be used as situational fullbacks.

Of course, Tampa Bay also has a true blocking fullback in B.J. Askew, who signed a two-year contract with the Bucs during the offseason.

While Askew has big shoes to fill, Alstott’s departure might open the door for the former New York Jet to make his mark in Tampa Bay as soon as this season.

“I was happy with B.J. Askew,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said when asked about his performance against the Patriots. “I think he’s a lively guy. He’s athletic, being a former halfback at Michigan, and I thought he did some good things in the time that he played.”


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