Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden won't make a decision in terms of who his starting quarterback will be Sunday until later in the week, but it looks like Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson will start against Minnesota.
"If he's healthy he'll be our starting quarterback," Gruden said of Brad Johnson. "He's moving around much better. Before I can commit on anything we'll see how the week goes.
"He looked good to me, but I don't want to commit any more than that until I see how he feels tomorrow morning and how he performs here in the next 48 hours."
Johnson has been sidelined with a left broken rib he suffered against Philadelphia a few weeks ago. But he was also hit hard by a stomach ailment, which would have kept him out of last Sunday's game against Carolina even if he had healthy ribs.
"After this weekend I had such a bad virus," said Brad Johnson. "I was laid up in the locker room almost eight hours Sunday and I thought I was about three nails away from my coffin shutting. I was hurting. My whole family has had it. But now I feel pretty good. I sweat it out. I feel like I threw the ball pretty well today. I've really taken about a week and a half off. I feel good about the way things went today."
As far as his broken rib is concerned, Johnson felt good about the way he was able to throw throughout Wednesday's practice.
"I feel pretty good," said Brad Johnson. "I'll probably wear rib pads in the game like I always do. That won't change. I'm really not afraid to take a hit. I feel like I threw the ball fairly well. You never know how Jon (Gruden) is with things. He's got a wild hair about him. I just kind of got through it and felt good. The big thing has been the virus, more than anything. I don't think you understand. I keep telling you about it, because that's what it's been."
Gruden said the offense, which hasn't scored a touchdown in two consecutive games, should benefit upon Brad Johnson's return.
"Well, you get a guy in there who's got a good command of what we're doing," Gruden said about Brad Johnson. "He's a proven winner, not only this year but previous years. He's a leader, a captain on this football team, and a guy that has taken the majority of the snaps, at least for the last couple months. When your starting quarterback returns, that's got to be a plus."
Bucs backup QB Rob Johnson was held out of Wednesday's practice with a strained gluteal. He was, however, confident he'd be ready to play Sunday if needed.
"It's a little better," Rob Johnson said of his injury. "It would be different if I was going into the season and playing the whole year. When you only get a couple of starts here and there you obviously push it a little more than I would if I was a starter. I'll be ready to go this week. I'm fine."
Bucs third-string QB Shaun King took reps as the second-string quarterback Wednesday and if Brad Johnson is unable to start, there's a chance King could get his first start of the season Sunday.
"Shaun King took some reps today and if need be he'll be the starter," said Gruden. "But Brad did move around pretty good and appears to be closing in on being back and ready."
In other injury news, Tampa Bay wide receivers Keenan McCardell (fractured scapula) and Joe Jurevicius (knee/ankle sprain) were both held out of Wednesday's practice and their chances of playing Sunday are apparently slim.
"Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius did not practice and their status is unchanged," said Gruden. "We'll have to wait and see. (Joe) Jurevicius and Keenan (McCardell) look to be questionable at best. Until we see them out here running around and proving they're ready to play, we're going to go with the other guys."
Bucs wide receivers Karl Williams and Reggie Barlow practiced in place of McCardell and Jurevicius and will start in their place Sunday if needed. Gruden also said the team would activate WR Charles Lee for Sunday's game.
Bucs left guard Kerry Jenkins (fractured orbital) was also held out of practice and is listed as doubtful on Tampa Bay's injury report. The Bucs hope Jenkins will be ready to play after the team's bye week.
"I don't believe he's going to need surgery, which is a good sign," Gruden said of Jenkins. "There's some optimism that he'll be able to return after the bye. But he's wearing sunglasses around and he's got a legitimate injury that we're concerned about. As soon as the swelling comes down a little bit we'll do another evaluation and determine whether or not he can play against the Panthers after the bye."
Gruden also informed the media that both Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (fractured forearm) and linebacker Ryan Nece (ruptured ACL) had underwent successful surgery for their respective injuries.
BUCS LOOK TO START SECOND HALF OF SEASON WITH WIN:
Tampa Bay's first half of the season wasn't an easy one. The Buccaneers played five of its first eight games on the road, but still managed to finish the first half of the season with a 6-2 record, including 4-1 on the road.
But having a tough start to the season will have its advantages in the second half of the season. The Bucs will play five of its final eight contests at Raymond James Stadium, where the team has produced a regular season record of 26-9 over the last four seasons.
"We've been on the road a while so coming home is a good feeling for us," said Bucs tight end Rickey Dudley. "We want to come out and play very well at home."
In fact, Tampa Bay won't travel during the month of November.
"It's been a while, but we love playing at home," said Tampa Bay strong safety John Lynch. "We feel we have the best crowd, we have a huge home field advantage when we're at home, and we are looking forward to sticking around here for a while."
The Bucs have finished the first two quarters of the season with a 3-1 record and they're hoping to start both the third quarter and second half of the season off with a win against the 2-5 Vikings, who have never defeated the Buccaneers in Ray-Jay (0-4).
"The thing we want to do is continue what we have done the first eight games of the year, and that is win," said Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "We have two 3-1 quarters coming out and we are starting our third quarter this week. We just want to come out with another tremendous effort, get us a win, come out 7-2, take us a breath, line up and then go get it again. We put ourselves in a position to make a run, let's go get it."
With a win Sunday, Tampa Bay will tie the Bucs' 1979 club with best start in franchise history with a 7-2 record.
"The only goal we have is to be a 7-2 team," said Gruden. "That's because that's the best we can do. We want this game desperately. We're looking forward to playing in front of our home fans. We need to start the second half with a win. This is a huge game for us."
Tampa Bay isn't looking past Minnesota, but the team is well aware of the fact that they have a bye week after they play the Vikings.
"I've never been 7-2," said Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks. "That means a whole lot to me. We can start the third quarter 1-0 and go to 7-2, which is something we've never done. Then we can take a week off and keep ourselves in good position."
Despite its 6-2 record, the Bucs have fallen under some criticism for their lack of offensive productivity. But the team knows a win Sunday will certainly silent some or most of its critics for at least two weeks.
"We need to tune out all the negative," said Lynch. "I like what Coach Gruden said, that he likes the fact that people have high expectations and complaining when we are 6-2. That's all right because we have the same expectations for ourselves. We ‘re never satisfied, never complacent, and we need to be 7-2 going into the bye week. That would be real sweet."
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