Inside Slant / Bucs Focus on Gray

The Bucs have sustained a lot of injuries, but as long as quarterback Jeff Garcia remains upright, Tampa Bay has a chance. The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't as fortunate. For the seventh straight year, their starting quarterback is injured. This time, it's David Garrard who sustained an ankle injury that will force him to miss at least Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.

The last Jags quarterback to go wire-to-wire was Mark Brunell in 2000. Now Jacksonville will be forced to go with backup Quinn Gray, who is making his first NFL start in five pro seasons.

Gray was awful in relief of Garrard Monday night against the Colts, going nine of 24 for 56 yards with two interceptions. He also was sacked for a safety.

"He's a good quarterback," nose tackle Chris Hovan said of Gray. "He kind of got thrown into the situation on Monday night. Indianapolis capitalized on it, but I'm sure they're going to prepare him to get ready to play us this weekend."

Meanwhile, Garcia is having to adjust to a constantly changing cast on offense. Having already lost three top ball carriers, a left tackle and two receivers, the Bucs are trying to rebound from a devastating 23-16 loss at Detroit.

That defeat dropped the Bucs to 4-3 overall and a half-game behind Carolina in the NFC South.

This week, the Bucs will be without receiver Michael Clayton, who will miss several weeks with an ankle sprain. He will be replaced by second-year pro Maurice Stovall, whose first catch of the season went for a four-yard touchdown last Sunday against the Lions.

Garcia says he has come to trust the players who are in the game.

"I think my main focus is that they are going to step in and handle their job, that they're going to do what they're supposed to do and I need to focus and continue to do what I need to do in order to help this offense run efficiently and it's just a matter of trust really," Garcia said.

"We have suffered injuries, it has taken its toll on this team in ways but we have to find a way to plow through it. I think that is what this team is doing its best to do on the field. It's not an easy thing but we're all very capable; we wouldn't be here otherwise. And that's where I think the trust issue comes in and it's just a matter of repetitions during the week of practice and the comfort zone we have towards each other."

The Bucs' biggest issues have been on the offensive line. Somehow, Garcia has avoided throwing an interception this season. But rookie guard Arron Sears and second-year guard Davin Joseph has struggled, particularly in pass protection.

This week, they battle arguably the best tandem of defensive tackles in the NFL -- John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.

"These guys are outstanding," Garcia said. "They're excellent indeed. Henderson and Stroud have backed that up for years. I'm impressed with their defense. (Paul) Spicer -- no one talks about him. They've got (Bobby) McCray on one side and (Reggie) Hayward on the other but this No. 95, Spicer, is having a great year. He's a mean guy, a tough player. Getting Mike Peterson back to anchor the middle of their defense really helps them. They're a good football team and Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams gives them two good corners."

Defensively, the Bucs have done well against newbie quarterbacks. But their focus has to be on stopping the Jags' potent rushing attack.

"You can't necessarily look at last week's game or this past Monday night's game against Indianapolis as a true scale of how good they are as a team," Garcia said. "So that's something that we are very concerned about and aware of and we need to figure out how we can find ways to create positive plays on the field."

Jags Illustrated Top Stories