TAMPA — The spring is back in Jeff Garcia's step. The Bucs hope he can energize the offense as well.
Coach Jon Gruden said Thursday that Garcia looked sharp in practice and made it pretty clear the 38-year-old quarterback will start Sunday against Carolina.
Garcia's mobility, hampered by calf and ankle injuries, is back, Gruden said, and he looks like the player who led the Bucs to the NFC South title last season.
"You've got to witness it," Gruden said. "You guys didn't see him in training camp, you're not here watching practice. There's a certain functional ability that he has between the tackles, a creative element that he adds. When he has it, you can tell he has it, and he had it today, and I was really pleased how he performed out there."
Luke McCown also took reps, Gruden said. Starter Brian Griese missed his second straight practice with a bruised right elbow and shoulder strain. He has not thrown since Sunday's loss at Denver but will test his arm today.
McCown, the inactive third quarterback last week, is likely to be Garcia's backup against the Panthers.
Jake the Snake: Panthers QB Jake Delhomme has the Bucs' number. He is 7-1 against Tampa Bay and is off to a good start after offseason surgery on his right (throwing) elbow.
"He's a great competitor," Gruden said. "He's a very clutch performer. He's the best when the chips are on the table. He hangs around, hangs around, hangs around, and just when you think you've got him, he shoots you dead. He just jumps out and gets you. He's just a great clutch player, and he's a tough dude. He's a tough guy, and I've got a lot of respect for him."
Two years ago, Delhomme's fourth-down scramble iced the game for the Panthers. And he has had some fourth-quarter comebacks in Charlotte, N.C. He got the Bucs once as a backup in New Orleans.
"He's beaten me a lot, Jake has," Gruden said. "He came in off the bench, I think. Aaron Brooks got hurt, and (Delhomme) made a big play to seal the victory. Two years ago, we had them down by two, the game Chris (Simms) got hurt in, and he made a scramble. He beat us in Carolina on a last-second throw — twice, I believe. I tip my hat to him. He's a great pro football player. I've got a lot of compliments for him."
Injury update: LB Barrett Ruud, who has a right knee sprain, was limited in practice but still thinks he will play Sunday. Adam Hayward and Matt McCoy took reps at middle linebacker in Ruud's absence. … WR Joey Galloway was limited in practice. … S Sabby Piscitelli, who missed Sunday's game with an elbow injury, had full participation in practice.