The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent their bye week getting rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski ready to make his first regular season start vs. the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 8. As it turns out, Gradkowski won’t be the only Bucs rookie making his first NFL start on Sunday.
Bucs starting right tackle Kenyatta Walker was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after undergoing season-ending surgery on his right knee. Walker, who has started 73 of the 75 regular season games he’s played in since entering the league in 2001 as a first-round pick out of Florida, had been plagued by the knee ailment for a significant amount of time.
“His right knee has been scoped two times in the last three years,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Walker. “We monitored it during training camp. He had surgery yesterday. They went in and looked around, and it was more severe than it has been. His season is over, and it’s obvious a big loss to our football team.”
With Walker out for the year, Bucs rookie T Jeremy Trueblood will make his first career start in his place. The second-round pick out of Boston College spent the offseason making the transition from left to right tackle, but the 6-foot-8, 316-pound Trueblood feels he reaped the benefits of the amount of playing time he received in training camp and preseason while Walker was sidelined with the knee injury.
“It’s going to help me out a lot because I did wind up starting a couple of those games,” Trueblood said when asked how the playing experience in camp and preseason would help him. “I played an awful lot in those preseason games. If I had not played in those games and was starting right now I might be a little nervous, but right now I think I’ll be fine.
“My biggest thing is to make sure I go in there extremely confident and know that I can do it. Not just do it, but try to dominate.”
The Bucs offense could also feature another rookie in the starting lineup on Sunday. First-round pick Davin Joseph, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since the first week of the regular season, returned to practice for the first time Wednesday and is listed as questionable on the team’s injury report.
However, although Joseph could be ready to play Sunday, Gruden suggested he would not start in place of Sean Mahan at right guard and would be limited to special teams play vs. the Saints.
With Walker on injured reserve, Tampa Bay secured an insurance policy Wednesday by signing rookie offensive lineman Donald Penn off of the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. Penn (6-5, 305) started 42 games during his collegiate career at Utah State before entering the league as an undrafted free agent in April.
While Penn was added to Tampa Bay’s active roster, Bucs T Cornell Green will serve as the backup offensive tackle on both the right and left side of the offensive line.
In other injury news, Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece (knee), who missed Tampa Bay’s third regular season game vs. Carolina, returned to practice and is listed as questionable. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly (foot) also practiced and is questionable for Sunday’s game vs. the Saints.
Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, who was released from the hospital Sunday after undergoing an emergency Splenectomy after Tampa Bay’s 26-24 loss to Carolina on Sept. 24, is scheduled to speak to the media at One Buc Place on Thursday afternoon. Simms is out indefinitely and hasn’t been placed on injured reserve. The Bucs are expected to use the next 7-10 days to determine whether he’s recovering quickly enough to have a chance to return to action in December.
In the meantime, the Bucs are prepared to take two quarterbacks – Gradkowski and Tim Rattay – into their next regular season game vs. the Saints. The team will get a third signal caller back after their sixth regular season game. That’s when Luke McCown, who is recovering from knee surgery, is eligible to return from the physically unable to perform list.
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