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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Gruden confident Hilliard will play



Hilliard Bucs coach Jon Gruden said he is ''confident'' Ike Hilliard will be able to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons but expressed concern about the upper back injury the veteran wide receiver sustained during yesterday's loss to the Houston Texans.

"Knowing Hilliard, he'll be ready to go,'' Gruden said during his weekly news conference Monday at One Buc Place.

Hilliard left in the first quarter and did not return. Gruden said he'll know more about Hilliard's condition by Wednesday.

If Hilliard is unable to play, Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall will have to step up, Gruden said. Hilliard's dependability on third downs is one of the things the Bucs will miss most.

"There's just certain instinctive traits that Ike Hilliard has that we try to magnify in certain situations,'' Gruden said.

Gruden reiterated that quarterback Jeff Garcia will return to the starting lineup on Sunday after missing most of the past three games with a bruised lower back.

"We really missed him ...,'' Gruden said. "That's a tough strain on anybody. We're eager to get him back and have him healthy.''

Gruden stopped short of apologizing for vague statements he made about Garcia's availability the past two weeks.

"I don't think any opponent needs to know who they are going against,'' Gruden said. "We felt it was a two-week injury. Jeff probably could have gone yesterday, and he probably could have gone in New Orleans, because he's tough as hell.''

Fullback B.J. Askew is "very questionable'' with an ankle injury, Gruden said. If he cannot play, Byron Storer will have to step into Askew's role as the main blocking back.

(Pictured: Ike Hilliard leaves the field at halftime. Times photo - Brendan Fitterer. Click to enlarge.)

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 2:53pm]


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