Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden addressed the media from One Buccaneer Place Monday morning, and although the Bucs are coming off a huge 34-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the majority of questions asked during the press conference were related to the plethora of injuries the team suffered during Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium.
For starters, Bucs center John Wade will miss the rest of the 2004 season with a dislocated left knee he sustained during the first quarter of the game against the Chiefs.
“This is a terrible injury to one of our leaders and obviously at a key position,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Wade. “He’ll be a hard guy to replace.”
Actually, the Bucs feel they have a capable replacement in second-year C Sean Mahan, who filled in admirably for Wade against the Chiefs, and according to Gruden, guard Matt O’Dwyer’s return from the physically unable to perform list should allow Matt Stinchcomb to continue to start at left guard while serving as the team’s backup center behind Mahan.
“At this time, yes, he’ll start at center,” Gruden said of Mahan. “We have some flexibility with the return of Matt O’Dwyer. Matt Stinchcomb can play center, as he did in Oakland. But Mahan will get the ball and be the center as it appears right now. I thought he did a pretty good job in the game. Those were very tough circumstances to go in there on the second play of the game; you’re first real NFL long-term action.”
Mahan, a 2003 fifth-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, was originally drafted to play guard, but the team played him at both positions during the offseason, training camp and preseason. He played so well that it made C Austin King (released) and C/G Jason Whittle, who was traded to the New York Giants in August, expendable.
“He’s a smart guy,” Gruden said of Mahan. “He’s taken a lot of reps. He’s no different than any backup at any other position. It will be a challenge. Obviously inexperience is a hard thing to overcome. The Atlanta Falcons are going to give him a lot of looks for a sure bet. But he’s a leader, he’s a good kid, he’s smart, quick on his feet and a good athlete and a guy that we’re excited about as a future prospect here. We’re looking forward to seeing more of his performances although it is very unfortunate that we lost John Wade who is a good center in the NFL.”
After watching two center/quarterback exchanges botched in the Seattle and St. Louis games, respectively, both of which were contests Tampa Bay lost by one score, Gruden was naturally concerned about inserting Mahan into the starting lineup, but the 6-foot-5, 301-pound offensive lineman and quarterback Brian Griese jelled immediately and contributed to the Bucs’ 418-yard, five-touchdown performance.
“We have worked so hard at that since we have basically lost two games to center/quarterback exchange this year,” said Gruden. “So I won’t lie to you and say it is not a concern. I have never concerned myself with it because of the way we work on it, but we did fumble inside our five against St. Louis. We did fumble inside the one inch line against the Seahawks. But I was confident that we would get the center/quarterback exchange. Fortunately, we did get the time to get a few snaps before the first the ball was hiked between Mahan and Griese.”
Gruden suggested that O’Dwyer, who will practice Wednesday for the first time since tearing his pectoral muscle in a weight-lifting accident in June, could play against the 6-2 Falcons.
“Yes, why not,” Gruden said when asked if O’Dwyer could play Sunday. “We’ve got so many guys coming and going, it’s just another opportunity to get another big physical football player on our roster. Jeb Terry has made progress. Anthony Davis is making progress. Two young guys that we may call upon this Sunday. But O’Dwyer will get his first practice time in some time this week. We’ll see.”
Overall, Gruden feels like Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which some believe struggled at the beginning of the season, is starting to come together and has played a big part in the Bucs’ two-game winning streak.
“They’ve been playing pretty good the last three or four weeks,” said Gruden. “They really have. I credit them with a great performance yesterday and I’m really excited about the progress that we’re making. We’ve got a long way to go to be great, but the efforts there. The guys are working hard. The execution has improved. We had over 400 yards of offense yesterday. People try to diminish that by saying we didn’t play the greatest of defenses, but they’re playing good. They had two 90-yard drives against the Bears and played very well on the road in St. Louis. So I’m encouraged.”
MORE INJURY UPDATES:
Aside from Bucs center John Wade, the most significant injury sustained during Sunday’s game was by defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who missed the entire second half of the Bucs’ 34-31 win against the Chiefs due to a right tricep strain.
“He’ll be very questionable for the game in Atlanta, although we’ll be optimistic that he’ll be able to play,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
Should Gruden not be able to play against the Falcons, Jon Bradley, who was promoted to the active roster on Saturday and saw action on about 20 plays against the Chiefs on Sunday, and Dewayne White, who normally plays defensive end, will both see playing time at the under tackle position. Since they are already without DTs Ellis Wyms and Damian Gregory due to injury, the Bucs could also look at the possibility of signing a free agent.
“We might go outside and bring in a couple more defensive tackles,” Gruden said. “I don’t know who that might be, but if anybody is listening that has eligibility let us know. We need some help in there, obviously with our injury situation.”
Bucs wide receiver/punt returner Joey Galloway, who returned to action Sunday after being sidelined in Week 1 with a severe groin injury, aggravated the injury after catching two passes for 39 yards against the Chiefs. He will be listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Atlanta.
“I am sure he is going to struggle throughout the season,” Gruden said of Galloway. “It’s unfortunate. I think he is a great player; what he did yesterday on two touchdown drives. He has two huge 20-yard receptions, beating bump-and-run guys down the field. He gets a key pass interference on another long play down the field. I am so excited to have him here and as time moves forward, we are going to continue to add more speed to this offense. We want to have a fast, explosive offensive team and you have to have receivers like this; that can run fast and play football. He certainly delivered in his first game, having been out for two months.”
Safety Jermaine Phillips sustained a right forearm fracture against the Chiefs but still managed to haul in a interception late in the fourth quarter to help protect the Bucs’ 34-31 lead. The good news for the Bucs is Phillips looks like he’ll be ready to play against the Falcons.
Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, who sustained a left shoulder sprain in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s game against New Orleans on Oct. 10, served as the Bucs’ third-string signal caller Sunday and should be able to back up starting QB Brian Griese against the Falcons next Sunday.
“Chris Simms will return to full speed, ready to go, on Wednesday for practice,” said Gruden.
GRAMATICA QUESTIONABLE FOR SUNDAY’S GAME:
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica, who missed a 46-yard field goal attempt and a extra-point try and had one of his kickoffs fall out of bounds on Sunday, is questionable for the game against the Falcons with a right hip flexor.
That injury, along with the fact that Gramatica has made 11-of-16 (68.7 percent) of his field goal attempts, will likely prompt the Bucs to take a look at some free-agent kickers just as they did several weeks ago.
“If he can’t play, we’ll have to sign a kicker,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “(General manager) Bruce [Allen] and the personnel staff are working on contingency plans right now, but we are confident that he’ll be ready to go. That’s where we are right now.”
Last year, Gramatica made just 61.5 percent of his field goal tries, but his latest woes and injury, which Gruden believes contributed to his two misses on Sunday, won’t necessarily convince the Bucs to go out and sign another kicker unless they feel he won’t be ready to go against the Falcons.
“It’s not like we’re going to bring in a kicker and kick all day,” Gruden said. “I’ve been through this with kickers in the past. We expect him to kick. We don’t think this injury is going to hold him out of the game. I don’t want to create that much concern. We expect him to be okay. He’ll probably be off his kicking routine on Wednesday. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go later in the week.”
BROWN’S STREAK COMES TO AN END:
Tampa Bay wide receiver Tim Brown was held without a catch against Kansas City Sunday, which broke his streak of 179 straight games with a catch. His streak is the third-longest all-time and was the longest active streak in the National Football League.
Despite winning the game against Kansas City, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said he was sad to see Brown’s streak come to an end, but he credits the 17-year veteran with helping rookie WR Michael Clayton, who has hauled in a team-leading 42 passes for 595 yards, start one of his own.
“I was very fortunate in my career to be associated with about half of that streak,” said Gruden, who spent four seasons coaching Brown in Oakland. “I credit Tim Brown with helping Michael Clayton to begin his own streak. I think it is one of the truly great things I have seen in my career as a coach, one of the masters of pro football, come in here and help a young guy really develop far beyond his years. I think Tim is responsible for one of the great streaks in pro football history. Hopefully, he has a lot of responsibility in Michael Clayton putting one together.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on whether there are playoff possibilities for the Buccaneers and whether some of the members of the media buried them too soon:
“I try not to read. I try not to stay on top of all of your columns, for good reasons, in good times and bad. I would never bury some of the guys we have in our locker room. I just have a philosophy that once you are a champion, you are a champion forever. I don’t want to sound corny, but if you watch some of these guys play, there is always a chance.”
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