Bucs Blog in review: Nov. 19-24

Buccaneers Blog is my personal blog on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You can follow the Bucs every through this blog, or you can catch up each week by hitting the archives to check the entries for the past week.

Saturday, Nov. 24

Final injury report, 10:48 a.m.

My apologies for the tardiness. That drive to Clewiston and back is a long one. Covered Tampa Catholic, which won Friday night and will play some school from Miami next Friday in the 2A Florida State Semifinals. A guy cannot make a living on Bucs alone, you know.

Here is the final injury report: For the Bucs, DE Greg Spires (calf) is out. RB Michael Pittman (ankle) is doubtful. FB B.J. Askew (ankle) is questionable). WR Michael Clayton (ankle) and RB Earnest Graham (ankle) are probable. For the Redskins, OL Randy Thomas (triceps), S Sean Taylor (knee) and WR James Thrash (ankle) are out. RB Mike Sellers (back) is doubtful. OL Todd Wade (knee) is questionable. RB Ladell Betts (illness), DL Cornelius Griffin (foot), OL Stephon Heyer (illness), OL Pete Kendall (ankle), WR Santana Moss (heel), WR Antwaan Randle El (chest) and LB London Fletcher (ribs) are probable.

Pittman probably won't play, but I think Askew will start without issue. The Bucs have to like the fact that Taylor won't play. My colleague in Washington, John Keim, said this is an average secondary without Taylor. We'll see how the Redskins shift things to compensate on Sunday. Also, losing Thrash gives Campbell one fewer option, but Thrash hasn't been a big threat this season so it's not a big loss. And I don't by Randle El being probable, though he'll play. He supposedly sprained a rib last week and I see that bothering him.

Get ready for the game, 9:45 a.m.

If you're a premium subscriber, get ready for the game with my exclusive "Observation Deck" preview of Sunday's game. It comes with analysis, key matchups, predictions and keys to the game. It's a great way to get ready for the game in one place. And since this is our free weekend, if you're not a premium subscriber, you can read it and see what it's all about. Click here to give it a read.

Graham still shaking off rust, 9:40 a.m.

Though we're all impressed with how Earnest Graham has stepped up this season, he told reporters on Friday that he's still shaking off the runs of three years of NFL special teams work. Read more at TBO.com.

Pittman's just about out, 9:30 a.m.

Michael Pittman hasn't practiced all week, and Jon Gruden's talking about how Michael Bennett is now better prepared to be Earnest Graham's backup. Sounds like a recipe for a day off for Pittman to me. Read more at Tampabay.com.

Friday, Nov. 23

Put it in Garcia's hands, 10:16 a.m.

Earlier this week I told ESPN Radio's Scot Brantley that the Bucs had to have a productive running game this week to win. Now, I'm changing my mind to say that they'll need a big game from Jeff Garcia to win.

Why? Three factors. First, RB Michael Pittman appears all but out after re-aggravating his ankle injury. Second, Bucs FB B.J. Askew is definitely questionable, and a rookie — Byron Storer — would take his place if he can't go. Third, Redskins safety Sean Taylor has missed practice this week and is a crucial element of the Redskins' secondary.

All of that, to me, adds up to a big day for Garcia, partly out of necessity and partly out of what could be a favorable matchup if Taylor can't patrol the middle.

At Bucsblitz.com, 10:13 a.m.

DE Gaines Adams seems to have taken to a starting role, and I explore his progress in his first two starts in this premium article. Additionally, the first part of our "Behind Enemy Lines" series is up, with warpathillustrated.com's John Keim answering my questions about the Redskins.

Today keep an eye out for my premium Q&A with former Bucs receiver and current Redskin Keenan McCardell. He has some interesting things to say about his holdout during his Tampa Bay days. It's one of my best Q&A's of the year. Plus we'll have the final injury update in the afternoon.

Bolden playing for a title, 10:11 a.m.

Where, you ask? The Canadian Football League. Juran Bolden, the former Bucs nickel cornerback, is with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are preparing for the Grey Cup this weekend. This article outlines his journey back to the CFL. Read more at Theglobeandmail.com.

Askew's status concerning, 10:08 a.m.

RB Michael Pittman is all but out for Sunday's game. But of bigger concern is FB B.J. Askew, who has an ankle injury and didn't practice on Thursday. Jon Gruden has a contingency plan if Askew can't be Earnest Graham's lead blocker on Sunday — but that plan involves either a rookie fullback or a tight end. Read more at TBO.com.

Gruden was right, other important info, 10:04 a.m.

Jon Gruden found out Thursday that he was right about that replay review in the second quarter — the Bucs should have had the football after Cato June fumbled it. The NFL basically said it's on the official to review the entire play.

Also, these are the days when I wish I could clone myself. RB Michael Pittman has severe swelling around his ankle and will probably be out a few weeks, though not for the season as I've see some outlets report. And, WR Michael Clayton is unhappy he was only used on special teams last week. Here's more at Tampabay.com.

Alstott hinting at decision, 10:01 a.m.

Mike Alstott spent part of his Thanksgiving delivering food to needy families. But he also told St. Pete Times NFL writer Joanne Korth that a decision on his future is coming "very soon." Read more about what Alstott's doing in this article at Tampabay.com. As sad as this may sound, the play of B.J. Askew has made a potential decision by the Bucs on re-signing Alstott after the season a heck of a lot easier.

Thursday, Nov. 22

Injury update, 5:43 p.m.

It does not appear as if we'll get a transcript today. The Bucs probably had a short workout today so their players could spend the rest of the day with their families.

Here is the injury report for Wednesday — Bucs: Out — DE Greg Spires (calf); Did not participate in practice — FB B.J. Askew (ankle), RB Michael Pitman (ankle); Full participation in practice — WR Michael Clayton (ankle), RB Earnest Graham (ankle). Redskins: Out — OL Randy Thomas (triceps); Did not participate in practice — DL Cornelius Griffin (foot), S Sean Taylor (knee), WR James Thrash (ankle), RB Mike Sellers (back), OL Stephon Heyer (illness); Limited participation in practice —WR Santana Moss (heel), OL Todd Wade (knee); Full participation in practice — RB Ladell Betts (illness), OL Pete Kendall (ankle), WR Antwaan Randle El (chest), LB London Fletcher (ribs).

Bucs DE Patrick Chukwurah came off the injury report today. And that's two days without Taylor in practice for the Redskins. That could be bad news for them on Sunday.

Practice squad moves, 1:22 p.m.

The Bucs haven't announced any of them yet, but they've made some practice squad moves the past two days. The Bucs have released OT Ryan Gibbons and CB Marcus Hamilton and signed OG Brian Johnson and RB Lionel Gates. That'll add some fuel to the belief that Pittman may be re-injured.

At Bucsblitz.com, 10:13 a.m.

This is our free Thanksgiving weekend at Bucsblitz.com, which means all of our premium content is free for all readers. Right now, check out yesterday's Jon Gruden press conference transcript. Also, catch up with the defensive line and find out Jon Why they're finally making progress on the pass rush. The premium content really begins flowing today with our "Press Pass" feature on DT Jovan Haye; Inside Slant, our updates on the rest of the Bucs' division rivals; and the first part of our "Behind Enemy Lines" series. And, we'll also have a feature on the progress of Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who will be a key factor on Sunday.

Like most of you, I'll be watching football all day while I'm writing, so let me take this chance to say Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Graham's all the rage at … church?, 10:12 a.m.

Bucs fans certainly love talking about bowling-ball back Earnest Graham. But did you know he's also a big point of discussion around Bay-area churches? Graham didn't know either until people started telling him. Find out why Graham is a touchstone for churchgoes in this article by Roger Mooney at Bradenton.com.

Don't look ahead, 10:09 a.m.

It's a holiday week, the Bucs are in first place and a 5-5 opponent is coming to town. If you think like me, that sounds like a recipe for a flat game. The Bucs know the ramifications of a win and a loss on Sunday, and that's why the Bucs are intent on not looking past Washington this weekend. Read more at TBO.com.

White's road to the NFL, 10:05 a.m.

I've already written a couple of pieces on DE Greg White this year, but his road to the NFL bears reading once again, thanks to columnist John Romano at the St. Pete Times. White is coming off his best game as a pro, and that's all the more impressive when you consider a year ago on Thanksgiving he was working at a Best Buy in Orlando. Here is the story at Tampabay.com.

Marking his Gaines, 10:03 a.m.

You're going to be reading a lot about Gaines Adams this week. In fact, I'll have a piece on the rookie DE this afternoon on the site. Here, Rick Stroud of the St. Pete Times explains that, from the moment Adams became a starter, the rookie's play and approach began to change. Check out the article at Tampabay.com.

Pittman's situation, 10 a.m.

You probably noticed that RB Michael Pittman missed practice yesterday. Jon Gruden only said that Pittman did not practice and did not update the media on what might be a re-aggravation of Pittman's ankle injury. Here's a blog entry at Tampabay.com. This is a pretty tame entry compared to the one I saw at draftsharks.com, which explained that Pittman might be out for the season and referenced something Gruden said about it. If he said it, he didn't say it to the media on Wednesday. Pittman's situation bears watching the rest of this week, whichever entry you're inclined to believe. I lean toward the St. Pete post myself. By the way, Pittman was not in the locker room on Wednesday.

Wednesday, Nov. 21

June will start, 5:48 p.m.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden made it clear Wednesday that LB Cato June will start on Sunday, despite his Monday morning DUI arrest.

"Yeah, he's starting," Gruden said. "Yes."

Incidentally, no one in the media corps knew who the TV person was that asked Gruden on Monday if "Cato June had a drinking problem?" All we're sure about is that he's from Channel 28 in Tampa and that he probably won't be allowed back to One Buc Place.

Gruden also said he'll take a couple of hours with family on Thursday for Thanksgiving. He might even play some football himself.

"Usually my brother [Jay] and his boys come over and we have a nice meal and a flag football game out in the yard," Gruden said. "It's his kids against my kids and we're 26-point underdogs right now."

Apparently Jay's kids are the New England Patriots of pee-wee football.

Read the rest of Gruden's Wednesday transcript by clicking here.

Injury update, 5:43 p.m.

Here is the injury report for Wednesday — Bucs: Did not participate in practice — FB B.J. Askew (ankle), RB Michael Pitman (ankle), DE Greg Spires (calf); Limited participation in practice — WR Michael Clayton (ankle), WR Joey Galloway (team decision), RB Earnest Graham (ankle); Full participation in practice — DE Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder). Redskins: Did not participate in practice — OL Randy Thomas (triceps); Limited participation in practice — RB Ladell Betts (illness), DL Cornelius Griffin (foot), OL Pete Kendall (ankle), WR Santana Moss (heel), WR Antwaan Randle-El (chest), S Sean Taylor (knee), WR James Thrash (ankle), OL Todd Wade (knee); Full participation in practice — LB London Fletcher (ribs), RB Mike Sellers (back).

The Cover 4, 3:52 p.m.

You probably saw our link to a story on the Cover 4 defense the other day. I asked defensive backs coach Raheem Morris about the formation and what it's done for his secondary this season:

"You know, really it's a mixture of coverages. We've had it before in the past. Right now for whatever reason it's getting a little more pub than it did the last time we had it in. It's just ties in well with what we do, what people consider the Tampa 2. It looks like Tampa 2, but it's a different coverage. It gives you more man principles. Everything that was said in the paper this morning. Those guys enjoy playing it. It gives the safeties the ability to make more plays and use their playmaking skills, which we're seeing this year. It's given the corners the chance to transition against the ball and make some plays they wouldn't have made in the Tampa 2. It's not real big difference. It's just another coverage and we go out and play it."

The best part of this coverage, to me, is how it's disguised. The fact that it looks like a Cover 2 and is actually a Cover 4 must throw teams off offensively.

Scoring change, 3:49 p.m.

We were just informed of a scoring change regarding defensive tackle Chris Hovan's interception against Atlanta. It's not an interception anymore. The NFL has ruled that the play was in fact a forced fumble by Gaines Adams and a fumble recovery by Hovan. The best we can figure is that the NFL ruled that Falcons QB Byron Leftwich's arm wasn't moving forward when he lost the ball, which would not make it a forward pass. So Adams now has 3 ½ sacks this season and Hovan is still looking for his first interception.

Of course that led to the best line of the day. When the Bucs P.R. guy came in and informed us there was a scoring change, a writer said, "Did y'all lose?" Priceless.

In the locker room, 12:43 p.m.

I had a nice one-on-one interview with Bucs DT Jovan Haye today, which will be our "Press Pass" feature for this week on Thursday. He's always a good quote and he talked a lot about the defensive line's progress this season.

In fact, most of our focus will be on defense this week, as I'm working on articles on the progress of the pass rush and a feature on Gaines Adams' progress since being named a starter. You can check in later today for a short feature on the Bucs-Redskins "rivalry," once I speak to Washington head coach Joe Gibbs at 1:30 p.m.

And no Cato June today. He wasn't in the locker room.

Coming later, 9:31 a.m.

We've got stuff going on all day at One Buc Place, including open locker room and Jon Gruden's post-practice press conference. I would expect LB Cato June to not show up in the locker room today. To put June's arrest in perspective, go to TBO.com and read the story about WFLA's respected news anchor and his arrest on the same charge Wednesday morning.

We also have conference calls with Redskins coach Joe Gibbs — who is a better quote than you think — and former Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell.

Harrington to start, 9:30 a.m.

A week too late, Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino made Joey Harrington the starter for Thursday's game, citing Byron Leftwich's tailbone injury. Not surprised he's hurt after the beating he took against the Bucs.

Holmes may retire, 9:26 a.m.

Just got done reading our Jay Glazer's story on Kansas City running back Priest Holmes. Apparently Holmes re-injured his neck against the Colts on Sunday. Glazer reported this story first on our NFL Experts Web site and at Foxsports.com. Here's the link.

NFL.com is already reporting that Holmes will retire on Wednesday, via a team source.

This is a big blow to Kansas City, which is already without Larry Johnson. If Holmes can't play, the load falls to rookie Kobie Smith.

Funny how things work. Michael Bennett, who was a Chief about a month ago, could have been the starter this weekend had the Chiefs not dealt him to Tampa Bay. Bennett was inactive last Sunday. Seems he can't catch a break.

My NFC South predictions review, 9:23 a.m.

Last week I made my final NFC playoff predictions (in seeded order) — Dallas, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay, the New York Giants and Arizona. How did I do?

Well, all six of those teams won, and if the postseason started today I would be right on five of those six picks. The Detroit Lions (6-4) are a game ahead of the Cardinals (5-5). But there are still six more games and the Cardinals are playing pretty well right now. Also, remember that the Cardinals beat the Lions two weeks ago and the Cards' remaining schedule is marshmallow soft. The Lions have Green Bay on Thursday and still have Dallas to come. It'll be interesting.

At Bucsblitz.com, 9:20 a.m.

Take a look at our premium "Film Session" article, which breaks down some of the top plays from Sunday's win over Atlanta. You can look at this article for free beginning Wednesday night when we have our Thanksgiving special. From Wednesday night through Sunday night, all premium content is free. It's a great chance for you to see what Bucsblitz.com is all about and take a look at our services, which we believe stack up with the best any team-related NFL Web site has to offer. Here's the link to Film Session.

Power up, 9:19 a.m.

Our Scout.com NFL analyst, Tom Marino, has more than 30 years experience scouting talent for the NFL. He just unveiled his current power rankings and look who's vaulted into the Top 10? Check it out at Scoutnflexperts.com.

The devil is in the details, 9:16 a.m.

I mentioned last week that the Bucs are using a lot more Cover 4 defense than usual. That's a defense that divides the secondary into quarters for the defensive backs and safeties in zone — and man — coverage. It's a very deceptive formation, the St. Pete Times' Stephen Holder writes, because it looks like the Bucs' base Cover 2. Here's a primer on the formation at Tampabay.com.

Magic numbers, 9:14 a.m.

Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune writes that it's a bit premature for the Bucs to start talking about a "magic number" to clinch the division. There is still plenty that could go wrong — or right — for the Bucs in the next six games. Read more at TBO.com.

You'll miss the Colts game on Thursday, 9:12 a.m.

Well, I won't, because I'm a DirecTV subscriber. But for those in the Tampa area who use Time Warner or Comcast Cable, they won't see the game. That could be a good thing. But the battle between the NFL and those cable companies over the NFL Network is still raging after more than a year. The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman profiles the scope of the dispute in this article at TBO.com.

Tuesday, Nov. 13

The Gruden rumor mill, 9:13 a.m.

I've seen two coaching rumors about Jon Gruden in the past week. One has him replacing Lloyd Carr at Michigan and the other has him replacing Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee.

Can I just go on record now as saying these are both never going to happen?

I don't see Gruden taking either job by his free will for three reasons.

First, Gruden is a pro football coach. He's shown no desire to leave for the college ranks and seems to have no overwhelming love for the college game like a Nick Saban. I don't know many pro coaches who suddenly reverse course in mid-career and leave the pro ranks for college. Gruden has nearly 20 years of pro football experience. I don't think he changes his stripes at this point.

That actually leads to my second point. He would only take a college job if he was fired and had no other options. He's not the type to take a year off from coaching, so it would take being fired and missing out on another pro job to force him to look at the college ranks.

Third, Gruden would be dealing with 18 to 22-year old players. Their immaturity and mistakes would drive him nuts.

If the current situation holds, Gruden will be in Tampa Bay next year. I don't see the Glazer family firing a head coach that brings home two division titles in three years. And even if the Glazers do fire him, the line of suitors for Gruden's services would be long. It bears noting that Gruden's contract is up after the 2008 season and most NFL head coaches get an extension entering the final season of their contract.

June update, 9 a.m.

By now, you know about Cato June' DUI arrest in Tampa early Monday morning. His arrest has prompted plenty of message board chatter, most of it split between June being a derelict and June making a mistake in judgment.

June was arrested early Monday morning after failing a field sobriety test. He was pulled over for driving 66 miles per hour in a 45 zone. The officer noted that he smelled alcohol on June's breath. June did not submit to a breathalyzer test. He was taken to Hillsborough County jail and remained there until posting bail at 11:30 a.m.

All of this information comes courtesy of the police report.

June's DUI charge was a misdemeanor.

My sources in Indianapolis told me yesterday that June had never had a run-in with the law or the NFL during his four seasons there. He was a model citizen, one of them told me.

Lapse in judgment? Absolutely. Should he be punished? Absolutely, and the law will take care of that.

But June part of what one message board poster called "the criminal element of the NFL?" Hardly.

This appears to be the first time June has been caught committing such a lapse in judgment. It will likely count as a first strike in the league's substance abuse and conduct program. He'll likely have to go through drug education seminars because of this. The law will punish him as well. Players make mistakes, just like the rest of us. How June deals with his mistake in the coming weeks will distinguish whether this is a one-time only lapse or a sign of something larger.

For the moment, I'm inclined to give June some benefit of the doubt. He should thank the man upstairs that he didn't hurt himself or anyone else and exercise better judgment in the future. If he does, we'll likely never see his name in the police blotter again.

Here are links to latest stories on June, courtesy of Tampabay.com and TBO.com

Replaying the replay, 8:50 a.m.

It appears I was right about the whole replay fiasco in Atlanta. Turns out Jon Gruden didn't completely know the replay rules when he asked to have that second-quarter fumble reviewed. But, then again, the rules are so convoluted, writes the St. Petersburg Times, that it's hard for any coach to keep up. Read more at Tampabay.com.

This game was a good sign, 8:45 a.m.

Jeff Garcia statistics on Sunday weren't scintillating by any means. But for once, the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings writes, they didn't have to be. Players like Earnest Graham and a stifling defense aided Garcia's cause, and that's a good sign for this team entering the season's home stretch. Read more at TBO.com.

Monday, Nov. 19

June speaks, 3:04 p.m.

I was unable to make it to One Buc today, but the Tampa Tribune caught up with LB Cato June, who was arrested early Monday morning on a DUI charge. He didn't have much to say, but you can read it in this blog entry at TBO.com.

On a related note, I spoke to a source of mine up in Indianapolis and he said June was a model citizen up in Indy. Unless there's something we aren't aware of, this looks like a first-time offense.

Gruden's reaction to June, 11:05 a.m.

Read this exchange between a television reporter and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden about LB Cato June's DUI arrest on Monday morning:

Does Cato June have a drinking problem?

"I don't have any comment on that right now, other than we're very concerned. We're getting all the facts. It's a serious matter."

Do you allow drinking on the team plane?

"I'm not going to comment. I have a strong opinion on Cato June. He's a great young man and as we gather all the information we'll make an announcement."

Gruden was visibly taken aback by the tact of the question. I'm sure he expected the question, just not in that form. I don't know who that reporter was, but it was a pretty tactless question.

Gruden, upon further review, 11:10 a.m.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden talked about the review of the Brian Kelly-Cato June fumble sequence in the second quarter:

"I'm under the impression that replay reviews the whole play, not a segment. I'm not going to go too far into that. I thought that's a challenge we should have won. We'll hear from the league later in the week. It's hard when a play like that occurs. There was a fumble, a recovery , a lateral and another fumble. There was lots of flying around. I thought it was worth a challenge. I was told I could challenge the play. We had a long discussion (with the official). When he went under the hood I thought that he would look at the whole play. I'm not going to say more about it. I was an emotional person at that point in time."

It sounds like there was a serious miscommunication between Gruden and the referee. Everything I know about replay leads me to believe that the coach has to be specific about what he wants reviewed.

A replacement for Carr?, 11:15 a.m.

The same TV reporter that posed the "Does Cato June have a drinking problem" question to Jon Gruden asked him later about a report that he might be a replacement for Lloyd Carr in Michigan.

Gruden was slightly amused by the question, and obviously perturbed by who asked him.

"I really don't know who you are but you're throwing me some fastballs," Gruden said. "I have what I think it is the best job in all of football. I'm very happy to be here."

Gruden to Michigan sounds insane to me. I've never seen him show any interest in coaching at the college level. He's been in the pros for more than 15 years and I don't see him going back to the college ranks unless he has to.

Last week there was a rumor circulating about him potentially replacing Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee. The only think that could chase off Gruden is if the Glazers don't sign him to a contract extension after the season.

June arrested after game, 9:37 a.m.

Bucs LB Cato June turned 28 on Sunday, and apparently a team-leading nine tackles in a 31-7 drubbing of Atlanta wasn't enough to celebrate. June was arrested early Monday morning on N. Dale Mabry Avenue for driving under the influence. Here's the story at TBO.com. To my knowledge, June has never had a run-in with the law during his NFL career, meaning an arrest such as this would only be a first offense under the league's substance abuse and personal conduct policy. Still, it bears watching because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been cracking down on player conduct and could suspend June anyway.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will speak at 11 a.m. and certainly be asked to comment. He'll most certainly comment little on this.

Evaluating this win, 9:35 a.m.

You can read my "Observation Deck" piece for more on my opinion on Sunday's game. But, quickly, I'll say this — the Bucs have no excuse not to win this division. With two games in hand, either Carolina or New Orleans will all but eliminate themselves when they meet next week. The Bucs did exactly what they had to do on Sunday, a sign that they're ready to make a playoff push.

That crazy play, 9:31 a.m.

Remember that Brian Kelly fumble recovery that turned into a fun mess on Sunday? Stephen F. Holder of the St. Pete Times breaks down the play — including Jon Gruden's reaction to the replay snafu — in this article at Tampabay.com. As I suspected on Sunday, Gruden wanted a different portion of that play reviewed.

A retro performance, 9:29 a.m.

Tampa Bay's defense turned Atlanta's offense into a confusing mush on Sunday, and St. Pete Times columnist Gary Shelton said it reminded him of the old days when the Bucs defense was ultra-dominant, according to this article at Tampabay.com.

White's big day, 9:27 a.m.

Greg White led the way for a big day from the Bucs defensive line, but he was down on one thing — he forgot to TiVo the game. And he had two sacks. Find out more at TBO.com.

Looking like a playoff team, 9:24 a.m.

Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson writes that the Buccaneers looked the part of a playoff contender as they dismantled the Falcons on Sunday, according to this article at TBO.com.

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