Buccaneers tight end Jerramy Stevens has served his two-game suspension and will return to action this week as Tampa Bay prepares to face the Chicago Bears.
In order for Stevens to officially be added to Tampa Bay's 53-man roster, the Bucs will have to release or trade a player. The Bucs have four tight ends – Alex Smith, John Gilmore, Stevens and Ben Troupe – under contract. It's unclear whether the team intends on keeping four tight ends on their active roster. That's a decision the Bucs are in the process of making.
"I don't know for sure," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "We'll make a tough call. I hate to do it, but we have to do something to make a roster spot happen."
Stevens, 27, has not been allowed to practice with the Bucs during his two-week suspension. He has, however, made a point to stay in shape.
"I've just been running and trying to stay prepared," said Stevens. "I'm excited about being back. I just want to help wherever and whenever I can. I've been trying to stay ready and working hard and running."
Stevens caught 18 passes for 189 yards and scored four touchdowns in his Buccaneer debut in 2007. He also received quite a few reps during training camp and the preseason. Stevens said he should benefit from that extra playing time as he returns from the two-week layoff.
"I feel like I'm comfortable in the offense and that two weeks isn't a long time," said Stevens. "I received a lot of reps in preseason, so I think I should be ready to go."
Smith and Gilmore have combined for six receptions and one touchdown through the first two weeks of the season. The Bucs believe the tight ends can be even more productive now that Stevens is set to return to action.
"We have some injuries that we need to get to the bottom of," Gruden said. "There is the potential for Jerramy coming back and we have to create a roster space if that is the case. That will be something we do here in the coming hours. We miss Jerramy. He's a guy that really helps us as a threat and as a receiver, particularly. He's shown improvement as a blocker. To bring him back on board, we have to create a space for him and that will be a tough call for us."
GALLOWAY, TALIB BEING EVALUATED Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway and rookie cornerback Aqib Talib suffered ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively, in the Bucs' 24-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
The extent of those injuries have not been determined, but Gruden did indicate that he was concerned about both Galloway and Talib, who notched his first career interception on Sunday.
"They are still being evaluated," Gruden said. "I'll have to let you know on Wednesday. Obviously, there is some concern, but nothing definitive at this point."
Galloway, 36, missed all of training camp and the preseason with a groin injury. He suited up for the Week 1 contest vs. New Orleans, but was ineffective. Galloway caught two passes for 18 yards before leaving Sunday's game with the ankle ailment, and his status is unknown for the upcoming contest vs. the Bears.
"It would be tough," Gruden said about possibly playing without Galloway. "It would be tough to play any game without Galloway. The game will be Sunday at 1:00 p.m. We're going to do the best we can to find a way to win our second game."
The Bucs have some contingency plans to consider should Galloway be held out of Tampa Bay's game vs. Chicago.
"Maurice [Stovall] got hurt in the Saints game and we think he's going to be okay and ready to go this week," Gruden said. "Antonio Bryant spent most of training camp playing the split end position along with Dexter Jackson and Ike Hilliard. Mike Clayton played a little bit yesterday. We cross-trained just about all our receivers and that was one of the great accomplishments we had in training camp."
Although he is making progress from the broken foot he suffered in the preseason, Bucs guard Davin Joseph is unlikely to suit up for the Week 3 contest in Chicago. In the meantime, Bucs rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah will continue to start in Joseph's place. The Bucs have rushed for 310 yards on 48 carries (6.5 avg.) and two touchdowns with Zuttah in the starting lineup.
"He's walking around good," Gruden Joseph. "I would say his status for this week is questionable to doubtful, but his return appears to be soon. He's got his boot off and he's doing his rehab and he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. I'll say this in the absence of Davin, Jeremy Zuttah is going to be a great player. He's done a heck of a job for us. He had a penalty or two yesterday, but he played pretty good."
GRIESE TO START VS. CHICAGO Bucs quarterback Brian Griese led Tampa Bay to its first victory of the 2008 regular season on Sunday. He completed 18-of-31 (58.1 percent) of his passes for 160 yards and tossed one touchdown in Tampa Bay's 24-9 win over Atlanta.
That performance was enough to keep Jeff Garcia on the bench and give Griese the start again next week in Chicago, where he'll face his former team.
"[Griese] warrants being a starting quarterback in the league, period, so with that said, we don't anticipate any changes at that position this week," Gruden said.
Garcia missed most of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury. He struggled in Tampa Bay's Week 1 loss to New Orleans, completing 24-of-41 (58.5 percent of his passes for 221 yards and tossing one touchdown and one interception.
Griese was sacked and fumbled vs. the Falcons, but Gruden felt his overall performance was one to build off of next week in Chicago.
"I thought he did a nice job," Gruden said of Griese. "We had the one turnover late in the football game, but he managed the offense and he made some great decisions in the running game. We won the football game. I thought he was solid. I thought he played pretty good."
Garcia was inactive for Tampa Bay's game vs. Atlanta, meaning he was the third-string quarterback behind Griese and Luke McCown.
"We'll address that," Gruden said when asked about Garcia's role. "It's going to be a long season. We're going to need everybody on our football team. We'll certainly need Jeff Garcia. What his role is will be defined on a weekly basis.
"You're more concerned than I am, okay? Every day I address the same questions with you. I'm not concerned. I'm concerned with beating the Chicago Bears. That's my number one concern and that's the concern of our football team, period."
Several reports have surfaced suggesting Tampa Bay has been actively attempting to trade Garcia, who made the Pro Bowl in his Bucs debut in 2007. Gruden suggested those reports were not accurate on Monday.
"I have not – I have not talked [to other teams]," Gruden said. "There are a lot of reports out there. There are a lot of reports that are erroneous out there."
BUCS NEED TO CLEAN UP PENALTIES Tampa Bay has been penalized 18 times for 160 yards through two regular season games in 2008. Needless to say, the penalty problems are a concern as the Bucs are on pace to commit 144 penalties on the season.
"It appears that way when you get a run called back," Gruden said about most of the team's penalties occurring on the offensive line. "We had a holding call on the tight end. We had a holding call on a fullback. We had a holding call on a receiver. We had some key penalties on defense and we had some key penalties on special teams. We were the least penalized team in the preseason and the most penalized team in the regular season. It's another reason why we should get rid of training camp because it doesn't matter. We need to get that right, honestly. It's something we take pride in and I'm disappointed and discouraged by it. It's going to hurt us. It hurt us yesterday and it hurt us in New Orleans."
BUCS TURN ATTENTION TO BEARS Tampa Bay is 1-1 on the season and will travel to Chicago to take the 1-1 Bears, who lost in Carolina by three points on Sunday.
Chicago's defense ranks eighth overall in the NFL, and it will serve as the biggest test of the season for Tampa Bay's offense, which ranks 12th overall in the league.
"The Bears don't like anybody," Gruden said. "I've watched them play and they don't like anybody. They play nasty, physical, wicked defense. These guys are outstanding. With Brian's past in Chicago – maybe that will help him. We're going to need all our quarterbacks. We're going to need all our players. We've already suffered enough injuries. We've got 14 games left to go. It just so happens that Chicago is up next. We would like to get some rhythm, eliminate the penalties and find a way to win on the road."
Tampa Bay's defense will also have its hands full in Chicago when it faces rookie running back Matt Forte, who has rushed for 215 yards (4.7 avg.) and one touchdown through two games.
"He's a rookie and he doesn't look like a rookie," Gruden said of Forte. "He's a physical presence between the tackles. He's got perimeter speed. You've seen him break a trap against the Colts. It looks like he can catch the ball. He looks comfortable and he appears to be their go-to back. It's a credit to him that they found a really good runner."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on safety Sabby Piscitelli's fumble recovery/cornerback Elbert Mack's penalty play vs. the Falcons on Sunday:
"After that 15-minute delay of game, I just said, ‘Whatever! Let's go to the next play! I wasn't sure if we could challenge whether Matt [Ryan] was beyond the line of scrimmage. I thought maybe we could challenge the catch, but there was a personal foul post-whistle. All these things were bantered about – what you can and can't review. To make a long story short, it was exhausting down there."