KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
- Fourth game. Jaguars lead the series, 2-1. Even though these teams are in the same state, they're in different conferences so they're virtual strangers to each other in the regular season although they meet frequently in the preseason. Their last meeting was in coach Jack Del Rio's first season in 2003 when they won, 17-10. Their only visit to Tampa Bay in the regular season was in their first season in 1995 when they lost, 17-16.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Jaguars hope to have RB Maurice Jones-Drew back in time for Sunday's game, and they'll need him with QB Quinn Gray making his first career start. Jacksonville hopes a week of practice with the first team will make Gray more comfortable than he looked Monday, but there's no disguising the Jaguars' need to run the ball. When Gray does throw, expect short, quick, safe passes against the Tampa-2. ... The Bucs aren't likely to run the ball successfully against the strong interior off the Jags' defensive line, so expect them to come out throwing in an attempt to loosen up the defense. However, with defenses playing a lot of Cover-2 to take away the deep pass to WR Joey Galloway, Garcia will likely have to again rely on short and intermediate routes. With Jacksonville's shaky quarterback situation, a field position game should suit the Bucs just fine.
Jaguars: QB David Garrard (ankle) is expected to miss 3-4 weeks; Jones-Drew (knee) insists he'll play; LB Daryl Smith (hip) and TE George Wrighster (head) are uncertain. Bucs: WR Michael Clayton (ankle sprain) will miss several weeks, replaced by Maurice Stoval.
Jaguars RB Fred Taylor needs 135 rushing yards to reach 10,000 for his career. ... Bucs RB Earnest Graham set career highs with 92 rushing yards and 13 receptions for 99 yards last Sunday.
--RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who didn't practice Wednesday, was limited Thursday with a knee injury, but he insists there's not anything wrong with his knee despite the injury he suffered Monday night.
--DT Marcus Stroud, who underwent microfracture surgery on his ankle, was limited as limited with an ankle injury for the second consecutive day Thursday, but he says his ankle is fine.
--DE Reggie Hayward (hamstring) was listed as limited with an ankle injury for the second consecutive day Thursday.
--LB Daryl Smith (hip) was listed as limited for the second consecutive day Thursday.
--TE George Wrighster (head) was listed as limited for the second consecutive day Thursday.
--DT Tony McDaniel (wrist) was listed as limited for the second consecutive day Thursday.
--QB David Garrard will likely be out three to four weeks, if not more, with a high-ankle sprain.
- With Quinn Gray making his first NFL start, the Jaguars are likely to stress the ground game against a Bucs defense ranked 21st against the run. They tried to pass early against the Colts, but that didn't work and David Garrard got hurt on a sack. They'll go back to the run against the Bucs no matter how many players they put in the box.
In the first five games of the year, the Jaguars hadn't had major injury problems. But then Garrard was lost for at least three to four weeks with a high-ankle sprain and Gray was thrust into the starting lineup.
--RB Michael Pittman did not practice this week due to a high ankle sprain. Pittman is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
--TE Alex Smith did not practice Thursday due to an ankle sprain and is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
--WR Michael Clayton says his sprained right ankle is improving but he has not practiced this week and is not expected to play in Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
--WR Chad Lucas took reps as the Bucs punt returner, but that job is expected to be shared by WR Ike Hilliard and DB Phillip Buchanon Sunday.
--CB Brian Kelly was limited in practice Thursday with a groin strain. He is not expected to play in Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah was limited in practice with a shoulder injury and is not expected to play in Sunday's game against the Jags.
--RB Michael Bennett took reps as the Bucs kickoff returner with the season-ending knee injury to WR-KR Mark Jones.
- The Jaguars will go with Quinn Gray at QB. He will be making his first NFL start. Traditionally, the Bucs have feasted on young signal-callers.
But this time, it could be different. The strength of the Jags offense is running the football with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew (if he plays due to a knee injury).
As Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says, the easiest thing for a young quarterback to do is to turn around and hand the ball off.
"We have to stop their running attack," LB Derrick Brooks said. "Obviously, what Fred Taylor and Maurice (Jones-Drew) have done so far this year has really made the offense and given the quarterback position a lot of balance because they have been able to run the ball, get into some play-action situations and hit teams with big plays. (They are) very physical, similar to Tennessee. We have had the fortune of playing them every preseason here for 10 years, and it is no different with the physical aspect of their ball game. Their running backs are probably playing at a high level; probably the highest level two running backs can play right now."
Offensively, the Bucs know the Jaguars have a big advantage on their offensive line with tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.
Look for coach Jon Gruden to continue to come out throwing and loosen up the defense for a ground attack. The problem is that teams are playing Cover 2, which forces Jeff Garcia to check the ball to running back Earnest Graham.
The most difficult player to replace currently is WR/KR Mark Jones, who is out for the season with a torn patellar tendon. That means CB Phillip Buchanon and WR Ike Hilliard will take turns returning punts. Hilliard will be used in obvious fair-catch situations. Buchanon will be used to set up a return.
WR Michael Clayton is out for several weeks with an ankle sprain, so second-year pro Maurice Stovall will have to step up. Chad Lucas, who was signed from the practice squad, gives them another WR who can really run.
The Jaguars are finding it's not easy to find a quarterback seven weeks into the season. Now that Vinny Testaverde has been snapped up and Drew Bledsoe and Jake Plummer have apparently settled into retirement, the Jaguars had to resort to looking at Todd Bouman, Drew Henson and Doug Johnson, a quarterback they cut in their 2004 training camp.
They decided to sign Bouman, who had a connection to tight ends coach Mike Tice.
The 35-year-old quarterback was reunited with Tice, who was a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach when Bouman signed with them as an undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State in 1998. Tice later became head coach.
"He is a great guy and does a great job and I'm just excited to be here," Bouman said of Tice.
To make room for Bouman, they waived linebacker Pat Thomas. Like Gray and rookie Lester Ricard, who's on the practice squad, Bouman wasn't drafted. And Bouman has started only six games with three teams in the NFL, so they go to Tampa Bay with Quinn Gray making his first start and Bouman, who wasn't in an NFL training camp, as the backup.
Bouman is busy studying the playbook.
"Offensively, all the routes and run game is basically similar all across the league. It's just the terminology (that is different)," he said.
Gray said of his new status as a starter, "I knew it would come one day. It's kind of bittersweet that Dave (Garrard) had to get hurt and things had to come that way. At the same time, it is what it is and you have to be able to take advantage of your opportunities."
Gray isn't able to share the moment with his father, Otis, who died during camp.
"My dad would love it right now. I'm quite sure he is loving it anyway. I sort of speak to him night in and night out. He doesn't speak back. I'm quite sure he is smiling down. This is always what he has wanted for me," he said.
Here's how much the Jacksonville Jaguars thought of Quinn Gray. They were willing to cut ties with Byron Leftwich and make David Garrard the starting quarterback.
But that decision also promoted Gray to No. 2, even though the fifth-year player from Florida A&M had only appeared in three NFL games.
Gray, 28, will make his start Sunday against the Bucs with Garrard nursing an ankle sprain.
"I just expect to be able to lead this team hopefully up and down the field and put points on the board," Gray said. "There is really no pressure to anything except for the pressure I put on myself to go out and help this team win a football game. That is what it's all about.
"We are trying to win a football game. Tampa Bay just happens to be the next football game. We have to try to beat Tampa. Of course, they have a great veteran-led defense and it's going to be tough. At the same time, we have a great offense, a great offensive line, a bunch of guys just trying to come together and put points on the board. That's what we're going to try to do."
Gray struggled mightily in relief of Garrard against the Colts Monday night, going 9-of-24 for 56 yards with two interceptions. He also was sacked for a safety.
But Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Gray has gotten the attention of his defense.
"Late last year, they gave him plenty of snaps, so we do have a lot of tape we can look at, not only in preseason this year, but last year at Kansas City," Gruden said. "He'll get your attention. He played really well. He'll have a full week to practice as a starter. He's an athletic guy who can throw the ball that has some history there with the Jaguar coaches so I'm sure he's going to be ready to go."
Jaguars LT Khalif Barnes vs. Bucs RE Kevin Carter.
Even though Carter only has two sacks this year, he might be able to victimize Barnes, who gave up a sack to Dwight Freeney that gave the Colts a safety
Jaguars DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud vs. Bucs C John Wade, a former Jaguar, and Gs Aaron Sears, a rookie, and Davin Joseph.
Henderson and Stroud are the heart of the Jags defense and perhaps the best tandem in the NFL, but haven't been dominating this year. If Wade, Sears and Joseph can block them, the Bucs offense may be able to dominate the game. However, Sears struggled last week against the Lions' Shaun Rogers and Corey Redding.
Jaguars QB Quinn Gray vs. Bucs CB Ronde Barber.
Gray will be making his first start in five NFL seasons. He struggled in relief of David Garrard Monday night against the Colts, going nine of 24 for 56 yards with two interceptions and was sacked for a safety. Barber is good at disguising from the slot corner spot.
Jaguars RB Fred Taylor vs. Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud.
Taylor could see more action with the injury to Maurice Jones-Drew (knee). Ruud leads the NFL in tackles.