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News » Bucs Fight Injury Bug


Bucs Fight Injury Bug


Bucs Fight Injury Bug
Some losses have hurt the team as other players have struggled to step up.


By ANWAR S. RICHARDSON

arichardson@tampatrib.com

TAMPA - Critics of Bucs coach Jon Gruden say he uses injuries as an excuse, but defenders believe he is just giving reasonable explanations.

Either way, Gruden has mentioned injuries a lot this season.

Here is a condensed excerpt from Monday's news conference:

Reporter: Have you and Monte [Kiffin] discussed what's going on with the defense?

Gruden: Well, you know we have some injuries. That qualifies as a good starting point for this conversation.

Reporter: Why isn't Gaines Adams having the impact you would expect from a first-round draft pick?

Gruden: Well, he's had an ankle injury. Again, I'm not going to make any excuses.

Reporter: Has the defensive line played well enough?

Gruden: We haven't had as much production as we'd like. Jovan Haye has been hurt legitimately. And so is Chris Hovan and Gaines Adams and Stylez White. So, that does give you some reality here that it's hurt us.

Tampa Bay, which will host Oakland in its regular-season finale, has sustained its share of significant injuries this season.

The Bucs lost starters Earnest Graham (running back) and Jermaine Phillips (safety) to season-ending injuries. Backups Byron Storer (fullback), Maurice Stovall (receiver) and Geno Hayes (linebacker) also were lost for the season. Many others have been banged up.

"I think every team has to deal with injuries," Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "We can't look at it like it's personal or something that is felt just here in Tampa. Every team has to overcome injuries that allow other players to have an opportunity to rise to the challenge we're faced with.

"We've lost some good players this year. We lost good players last year. Every year you're going to lose good players. We have to be bigger than that."

Before this season, Tampa Bay did not have any problems dealing with injuries.

Cadillac Williams was Tampa Bay's starting running back last season, but sustained a season-ending knee injury against Carolina. Career backup Earnest Graham stepped up and rushed for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Luke Petitgout was Tampa Bay's starting left tackle until he sustained a season-ending knee injury last year. Although Donald Penn was a practice squad player in 2006, he stepped in and has not relinquished the starting spot.

"We've had injuries, but in the same way, you find guys who you never really knew had that before injuries," Bucs right guard Davin Joseph said. "It's something we've been able to do here. It's something not a lot of teams can do, but we have depth.

"This year we've had some injuries down the stretch and it nipped us in the bud a little bit and we weren't able to have a consistent rotation, and that hurt us."

The Bucs' lack of productivity has hurt them this year.

Although backup quarterback Brian Griese guided Tampa Bay to a 3-2 mark while Garcia was not at 100 percent, and rookie Jeremy Zuttah played well while Joseph recovered from a broken foot, Gruden has not received the same production from other players.

Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli has struggled as Phillips' replacement, running back Warrick Dunn has not rushed for more than 100 yards since Week 6, and members of Tampa Bay's bench have struggled to excel when asked to step in for starters.

"Guys who step in and get that opportunity for the first time have to be ready to take advantage of that opportunity," Garcia said. "That's how you get ahead in this league. That's how you make a name for yourself."

Certainly, the Bucs' depth has been tested.

"Well, we've played OK. We've had injuries, and certainly if you add them all up throughout the year, it's been challenging," Gruden said. "I like this team. I'm really proud of these guys. We've lost six games, but we've been close or ahead in all six of those in the fourth quarter. We've come from behind and we've hung there.

"Some of our captains have gotten hurt, veterans, which hurt us. Leadership voids, a little bit. We're alive and well. Our hearts are bumping and thumping, and we're anxious to play."

(CHART) CAPITALIZING ON AN OPPORTUNITY

Players who have shined in the NFL this season after replacing an injured teammate:

Injured Player Pos. Replacement Team

Tom Brady QB Matt Cassel New England

Osi Umenyiora DL Mathias Kiwanuka N.Y. Giants

Reggie Bush RB Pierre Thomas New Orleans

Vince Young QB Kerry Collins Tennessee

Marques Colston WR Lance Moore New Orleans

Anquan Boldin WR Steve Breaston Arizona

Willie Parker RB Mewelde Moore Pittsburgh

Damon Huard QB Tyler Thigpen Kansas City

Willis McGahee RB Le'Ron McClain Baltimore

Ahman Green RB Steve Slaton Houston

Reggie Brown WR DeSean Jackson Philadelphia

Anwar S. Richardson

Reporter Anwar S. Richardson can be reached at (813) 259-8425.

Photo credit: Tribune photo by JAY CONNER

Photo: The Bucs have struggled to run the ball since starter Earnest Graham was injured against the Vikings.

Photo: Jon Gruden

Copyright ? 2008, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail library@tampatrib.com



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 29, 2008

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