Running back Michael Pittman cruised into the players' locker room at One Buccaneer Place Thursday on his own personal three-wheeled Travel Pal scooter equipped with a number one Bucs foam finger and his jersey number 32 on the back. Pittman was also sporting a hard cast on his right ankle as he strolled around the room.
Pittman spoke with the media for the first time since he left the 33-14 loss vs. the Colts last Sunday on the road at Indianapolis. The 10-year running back was injured in the second quarter on a 4-yard run when Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler rolled up on his right leg. Pittman should be out of the cast by Monday and likely will be out at least 6-8 weeks.
However, Pittman plans on coming back before that.
"That's what the doctors said, 6 to 8 weeks, but I am a quick healer," Pittman said. "I took care of my body before I got hurt so I already know what kind of vitamins to take to heal the ligaments that I damaged and what I need to do to get myself back as fast as I can. So that's what I'm going to do, that's what I plan on doing. If I have to stay here extra and do the extra things I have to do to get back on the football field, that's what I will do."
Pittman cleared up a few things about his injury as well on Thursday. The initial rumor after the game was that he had a crack in his ankle, but he stated that it was a miscommunication. The X-ray that was taken after the injury showed a foggy picture that looked like a crack, but doctors determined that he sustained ligament damage in his ankle after an MRI was done on Monday.
He is targeting the Week 11 contest at home against the Atlanta Falcons after the bye week for his return. Pittman is not too worried about returning to the field too soon because he has had experience with coming back too soon when he injured his ankle back in 2002.
"Yes, I worry about coming back too soon, but I'm not going to come back too soon," Pittman said. "I think a 100 percent Earnest Graham is better than a 70 percent Michael Pittman on the football field. I wouldn't want to do that to my team. I remember in my first year here when I hurt my ankle in 2002, when I tried to come back I just wasn't myself. When anyone would hit my leg I was quick to go down because I wasn't confident in my ankle and I'm not going to do the same thing. So what I want to do is make sure that it's healed. Earnest and everyone else can carry the weight until I get back because if I come back 70 or 80 percent and I'm not out there doing what I can do because I'm worried about ankle, I'm just not being fair to my teammates and my coaches."
With the injury to Pittman and losing running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams for the season with a torn patellar tendon to his right knee, the Bucs signed fullback Zack Crockett on Wednesday to supply some depth in the backfield. Crockett was brought in because he knows head coach Jon Gruden's system and will be able to contribute on Sunday vs. Tennessee.
Pittman was worried when the injury happened that it was worse than what it turned out to be. He also couldn't believe that after Williams was lost for the season, that he got injured as well. Pittman had never missed significant time due to injury in his six-year tenure with the Bucs, before Sunday's injury.
"When it first happened I thought my leg was going to look like [wide receiver] Paris Warren's when the first guy got off of me," Pittman said. "I heard a little pop in my ankle, and the way it was bent and twisted that's how I thought it was going to look. That's why I looked down at my leg. I was trying to make sure it was straight. When I tried to walk on it, I couldn't feel my toes, so I sat down and right when I sat down about two seconds later I felt a bunch of pain in my ankle. I just thought the worst, that it might be season-ending or even career-threatening. I was more bothered by that fact, rather than being frustrated by the pain. I was very upset."
STRONG UP THE MIDDLE
The Bucs have faced some teams in Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina that are strong up the middle at the defensive tackle position and quick off the end in rushing the passer. This Sunday vs. Tennessee will be no different with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch coming in to Raymond James Stadium.
Vanden Bosch and Haynesworth have combined for 25 tackles and three sacks in four games this season. Haynesworth is a big reason why the Titans defense is ranked third in the league in stopping the run. Tennessee is allowing less than 73 yards rushing this season and the Bucs struggled with the running game vs. the Colts.
Right guard Davin Joseph, rookie left guard Arron Sears and center John Wade will have the spotlight on their backs in the running game. Joseph compared Tennessee's front four to Carolina's in the way that Haynesworth tries to disrupt the running game up the middle similar to defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and Vanden Bosch comes off end rushing the passer like defensive end Julius Peppers.
"We were able to have success against Carolina, not saying that it's a given that we are going to have success against Tennessee, but we have that mind set going in," Joseph said. "We have faced big guys, we faced explosive guys. They are going to have their plays, but we need to be consistent. So if we stay within range of not having negative plays, we are at home which is an advantage for us, converting on third downs and keeping these guys on the field and trying to wear them out, then we can play ball like we want to play ball. But if we allow them to make too many plays and we don't make third down conversions and keep these guys fresh, then it could be a long day."
Gruden understands the challenge of moving the ball on the Titans defense and sees Sunday's contest as another measuring stick for the Bucs offense, which is ranked 25th in the NFL.
"They are rugged. They've got Albert Haynesworth and it looks like Albert Haynesworth is playing better than he's ever played," Gruden said. "He is a great football player, a totally disruptive player. [Kyle] Vanden Bosch is a great player; [Keith] Bullock is at the top of his game. He leads the league among all linebackers in interceptions. These guys are very good. They're physical, they're diverse – they're complete on defense. They have the whole package. They can rush the passer, they can mix up zones and perimeter pressures, and they can all tackle. They handled Atlanta pretty well last week. They played extremely well in a big win in the dome against the Saints. And they took the Indianapolis Colts to the wire. So it will be a great opportunity for us to see where we are."
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