While he isn't out for the season, Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton likely will be sidelined for at least a few weeks with a high ankle sprain he suffered against Detroit last Sunday.
Clayton had caught six passes for 109 yards before he was injured. However, the former first-round draft pick out of LSU was not in the starting rotation. Instead, those duties have belonged to Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, who have caught 36 and 27 passes, respectively, and combined for four touchdowns.
With Clayton sidelined for Sunday's game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, second-year WR Maurice Stovall will see action as the team's No. 3 receiver
"It doesn't look good," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Clayton's injury. "Maurice Stovall will be a guy that gets a great look.
"You never want to see a guy get hurt, but Maurice Stovall is a pretty good player. How good he is he'll determine that. We're anxious to see where he is. We're confident in him and we need him."
Stovall, a third-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, actually started two games for the Bucs last season. He caught seven passes for 102 yards as a rookie.
The former Notre Dame standout turned in an impressive offseason and was even listed as Tampa Bay's starting flanker when the Bucs released their first depth chart during training camp.
However, Stovall had a quiet preseason and has watched Galloway, Hilliard and Clayton receive the majority of playing time on offense.
"It didn't feel good," Stovall said of not playing much this season. "But at the same time it just motivates me to keep working harder and when situations like the one we have now come up you just have to take advantage of them."
Gruden suggested Stovall has made quite a bit of progress in practice, but whether that translates into success for him on Sunday's remains to be seen.
"His versatility has picked up," Gruden said of Stovall. "He's comfortable playing on the weak side, the strong side or in the slot. That said, it's time for Maurice to show he can do it."
If last Sunday's game in Detroit is a sign of things to come, the Bucs could benefit from Stovall's presence on the field on game days. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall caught his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' 23-16 loss to the Lions.
That was Stovall's first catch of the season. He doesn't plan on it being his last.
"It's my time," Stovall said. "Mike got hurt. Hopefully he'll get better and be back. [Wide receiver and return specialist] Mark [Jones] got hurt also. That's unfortunate to lose two great receivers like that. But at the same time you have to take advantage of the situation and do what you're supposed to do."
BUCS PREPARE FOR GARRARD-LESS JAGUARS
Tampa Bay will catch a break before it even takes the field to play Jacksonville at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The Jaguars will be without starting quarterback David Garrard, who has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,142 yards and tossed six touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.
Garrard, who became Jacksonville's starting signal caller when the Jaguars released Byron Leftwich nine days before the regular season started, injured his ankle against Indianapolis on Monday night and has been ruled out of Sunday's contest.
Jaguars backup QB Quinn Gray, a former Florida Atlantic standout, will start in Garrard's place, but the Buccaneers, who lost 31-19 to the Jaguars in preseason, won't change what they do defensively.
"It doesn't matter. The preparation is the same," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "When Byron was there, when Garrard was healthy and even when Quinn played in preseason the Jaguars ran the same plays."
That's because Tampa Bay's defense, which ranks 12th overall, will be focused on shutting down Jacksonville's potent ground attack, which ranks 3rd in the NFL and is averaging 148.5 yards per game.
Jacksonville's running game is led by veteran RB Fred Taylor and second-year RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who is questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury.
Taylor has rushed for 352 yards (4.9 avg.) and Jones-Drew has produced 359 yards (5.4 avg.) and four touchdowns this season.
"Fred Taylor still has it," said Bucs defensive tackle Hovan. "I don't know how many surgeries he's had, but if you look at the film he's still running the ball just as good if not better than anybody in the NFL. "Maurice is just a little bowling ball. He finds a little lane and gets there and goes. We're going to have to be ready for a very physical offensive line and a great running attack."
The Bucs, who have the 21st-ranked run defense in the NFL, have already faced both running backs in preseason and know what they have to do to stop them on Sunday.
"We've really got out work cut out for us in terms of gang tackling and getting to the ball this week," said Brooks.
The Jaguars might be the most physical team the Bucs face all year, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where 6-foot-7, 325-pound John Henderson and Marcus Stroud (6-6, 305) occupy Jacksonville's defensive tackle positions.
Jacksonville's defense ranks 13th in the NFL and is allowing just 14.5 points per game. Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia has seen firsthand what the Jaguars defense is capable of doing.
When Garcia was a backup to Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia last year, the Jaguars held the Eagles to just 229 yards of offense in a 13-6 win over Philly.
Garcia knows Tampa Bay's 24th-ranked offense has its work cut out for it.
"Jacksonville has a very imposing defense much like what we saw two weeks ago against Tennessee," said Garcia. "Probably comes in with even higher regards as far as what they've done over the past few years. I remember seeing them last year when they came to Philadelphia and I wasn't on the field at the time, but we really struggled as an offense against them in Philly."
Although they are not in the same conference, this is a big game for the 4-3 Bucs and the 4-2 Jaguars, who are in second place in the NFC South and AFC South divisions, respectively.
The Buccaneers are 3-0 at Raymond James Stadium this season and know they'll be in good shape for a playoff run as long as they continue to play well at home, starting with the Jaguars.
"We don't have to depend on anyone to get where we want to go," said Brooks. ‘We just need to win our ball games and defend our home turf with these two home games coming up. If we just take care of our own business we'll be fine."
PITTMAN TARGETING BYE WEEK FOR RETURN
Bucs running back Michael Pittman is off of his scooter, out of his cast and eyeing an early return from the severely sprained ankle he suffered in Indianapolis on Oct. 7.
Pittman was originally scheduled to be sidelined 6-8 weeks with the ankle injury. However, he suggested he could return as early as Nov. 4 for Tampa Bay's home game vs. Arizona, which would be just four weeks since his injury.
"Pittman is a strange guy. He's got his own witchdoctor, I think," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "We miss him and hopefully he can come back soon and play, but he's got a long way to go."
A more realistic timetable for Pittman's return could be Nov. 18, which is scheduled to be Tampa Bay's first game (at Atlanta) after its bye week (Nov. 11).
"I'm staying after and doing a lot of work. Right now I feel great," said Pittman, who has rushed for 169 yards (4.8 avg.) this season. "My body heals pretty quickly. My ankle doesn't hurt standing here. I still think I'll be back right after the bye week."
In the meantime, Bucs RB Earnest Graham will continue to carry the load for Tampa Bay's ground attack, which ranks 19th in the NFL.
Graham has rushed for 268 yards (3.9 avg.) and three touchdowns and has hauled in 23 passes for 151 yards this season. Newcomer Michael Bennett will also be worked more into game plans as he digests Tampa Bay's offense.
ROLAND RE-JOINS PRACTICE SQUAD
In addition to several roster moves Tampa Bay made on Tuesday, the Bucs announced another one on Wednesday – the signing of offensive tackle Dennis Roland to their practice squad.
The 6-foot-9, 325-pound Roland originally joined the Bucs in 2006 as a member of their practice squad. He spent the 2007 offseason, preseason and training camp with Tampa Bay and worked his way on to the Bucs practice squad for several weeks before being promoted to the active roster on Oct. 3.
Roland, who originally entered the NFL in 2006 as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, was released by the Bucs on Oct. 20.
Shortly after practice concluded on Wednesday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden offered an explanation for Tampa Bay's decision to release of fullback Zack Crockett and sign FB Byron Storer.
"It's tough. Injuries don't just impact who is starting, they impact who is playing on special teams," said Gruden. "The injuries have mounted and our depth and supporting cast on all of the teams has become a problem. We feel Storer comes in here as a guy who can play in any phase of our kicking game. He can be a factor on the punt team and on the kickoff coverage team. That had a lot to do with it. We still think there's a chance Zack will come back at some point."
SEVERAL PLAYERS MISS PRACTICE
Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith (ankle), wide receiver Michael Clayton (ankle) and running back Michael Pittman (ankle) did not practice at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday due to their respective injuries.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly (groin) and defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder) were limited in practice. Wide receiver Joey Galloway was limited during the workout as part of his normal Wednesday routine.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said those injured players would have to prove to be healthy enough to practice before he would express optimism about them playing in upcoming games.
"I like to see guys practice and if they're going to practice you can give a better determination," said Gruden. "The one thing I can't do is predict how a guy is going to practice if he never plays."
With Mark Jones on IR, the Bucs likely will rely on wide receiver Ike Hilliard to return punts. Hilliard has 33 career returns and has averaged 6.9 yards per attempt. The Bucs are averaging 10.1 yards per punt return as a team this season.
Cornerback Phillip Buchanon and Galloway are also options to return punts.
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