SIMMS CHECKS OUT Quarterback Chris Simms was released from the hospital Sunday one week after being admitted for emergency surgery to remove the spleen he ruptured in last week’s 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Following Monday’s practice, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Simms was “in good spirits and very optimistic.” He expected Simms to make a visit to the Bucs’ training facility later in the day.
GRADKOWSKI CRAMMING TO MAKE THE GRADE Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his staff continue to work diligently in prepping rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski for his first NFL start. The sixth-round pick out of Toledo completed 74 percent of his passes during the preseason and stepped in for starting QB Chris Simms on a series against the Panthers, completing his only pass attempt for 16 yards.
But while Gradkowski has looked competent in practice and in limited game time, Gruden feels his ultimate judgment is yet to come.
“Progress is evaluated on Sundays when we play these games,” Gruden said following Monday’s practice. “Did we do some work? Yes. Did we do a lot of work? Yes. He is progressing out here on the practice field and in the meeting room but you can only evaluate progress on game day.”
JOSEPH SIDELINED WITH ILLNESS The Bucs were hopeful first-round pick Davin Joseph, who has been sidelined since the first week of the season with a knee injury, would return to practice Monday, but the 6-foot-3, 311-pound guard came down with an illness and was not present at Monday’s workout. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was optimistic Joseph would be at practice Wednesday, saying he would not rule him out for Sunday’s game.
BUCS HOPE TO REMEDY RUNNING WOES It’s no secret the Bucs would like to establish their running game early against the Saints to alleviate some of the pressure from rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday he was disappointed with his team’s inability to “get it going on the ground,” but pointed out the fact that yards via the ground game seemed hard to come by for a lot of teams, particularly this weekend, which is when Gruden and the Bucs had off and had the chance to watch other games around the league.
Only eight teams in the entire NFL are averaging more than 120 yards per game. Twelve are averaging less than 100 yards per contest. Tampa Bay ranks dead last (32nd) in the NFL, averaging just 43.3 yards rushing per game.
DEFENSE UNDER PRESSURE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE Come Sunday, the Buccaneer defense will be facing a very different Saints offense than the one they helped to sweep a year ago. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit picked off then-Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks four times en route to squeaking out a 10-3 win at New Orleans in December.
Just four games later, the Bucs intercepted Saints reserve QB Todd Bouman twice and sacked him four times en route to another win, which clinched the NFC South division title for the Bucs. Running back Deuce McAllister was absent with a torn knee ligament for most of the Saints 3-13 season a year ago, including both games against the Bucs.
Enter Drew Brees, a healthy McAllister and the league’s No. 2 overall draft pick, Reggie Bush, and you have an overhauled offense that can score in a variety of ways.
However the Bucs feel confident their defense, which ranks 21st overall in the NFL, still has the firepower to rise to the occasion.
“Our defense has got to step up. They always step up,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday after acknowledging the success of Brees and the Saints 7th-ranked offense.
A year ago, while playing for San Diego, Brees posted a career-high 3,576 passing yards and the 10th best QB rating in the league (89.2).
GOOD TIME FOR A BYE? Don’t ask a football junkie like Jon Gruden if he likes having a bye week. If it were up to him he might vote for a 52-week season. But Gruden did acknowledge the rest might have helped players like linebacker Ryan Nece (knee), running back Cadillac Williams (back) and Dave Moore (rib) get some much-needed time off.
The fact the Bucs’ bye week came following a 0-3 start makes it a little tougher to cope with. Certainly the players would like nothing more than to get that first win under their belt as soon as possible. As a team, the Bucs feel their mental toughness and ability to rise up in the face of adversity is one of their greatest attributes. Now that they’ve had seven days to think about it, the Bucs are confident they can get the job done despite the intimidating nature of the Superdome and a 3-1 Saints team.
EMOTIONAL ADVANTAGE OF THE BIG EASY The cerebral and emotional makeup, which had defined Tampa Bay for years, will be put through a different sort of test this week as players attempt to overcome the emotional high that did in Atlanta last Monday night.
“I’ve tried to say that to these guys. You don’t know what you’re going into,” Gruden said. “You’re not going into another domed stadium on the road, you’re going into an atmosphere where these people are very excited about the return of football.
“This is a great story in society and in America if you ask me. It’s the reemergence of one of our great cities and the Saints are helping them bring momentum back to that city. It’s quite a story. It’s a very enthusiastic place right now and for good reason.”
Prior to its Sept. 25 win over Atlanta, New Orleans hadn’t played a regular season game in the Superdome since defeating the Falcons on Dec. 26, 2004. Sunday’s game will be the second since the structure’s estimated $200 million renovation. Tampa Bay is 7-10 all-time in the regular season on the road vs. New Orleans.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden when asked who would be the emergency quarterback for the Bucs with just two active quarterbacks on their roster in their game vs. the Saints:
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