TAMPA — All indications point to the Bucs having a new starting receiver opposite Joey Galloway in Sunday's season opener.
Antonio Bryant is expected to start at flanker against the Saints based on coaches' statements to players.
Veteran Ike Hilliard was the primary starter in 2007. But the Bucs are pondering the possibilities of playing the speedy Bryant alongside Galloway because Bryant seems close to regaining his form of past seasons and possesses more big-play potential.
"We haven't had that — the guy's ability to make plays and run after the catch," coach Jon Gruden said, without saying specifically Bryant would start. "We're going to try to get him back in the groove here and certainly try to get him and Joey on the field. Nothing wrong with that if the guy is healthy."
Bryant has been dealing with a persistent knee injury that has caused occasional swelling. He recently had fluid drained from the joint.
Hilliard, who was listed as the starter in the preseason, seemed reconciled to the change.
"That's the decision coach Gruden made," Hilliard said of promoting Bryant. "He's obviously a guy we're looking forward to taking our offense to another level."
Bryant probably won the job based on his performance against the Patriots in the preseason. In that Aug. 17 game, he included among his feats a 33-yard reception and a 16-yard pickup on an end-around run.
KICKING FUNK OVER? K Matt Bryant has spent the past several days going over film of each kick he has converted in recent seasons, looking for differences between the successes and his recent misses.
Regarding his five preseason misses, including three from 36 yards or fewer, Bryant said, "Going into this week, the slate is wiped clean. It's a brand new beginning, a brand new season. It's over and done with."
He said he has struggled in particular from the right hashmark but believes he has pinpointed the technical flaw that led to his misses.
"The reason I'm missing kicks is because I'm not getting my hip through the ball," he said. "I'm kind of being lazy and not necessarily going out there and blasting it. I think I'm trying to be too smooth."
NO LINE CHANGES: Offensive line coach Bill Muir said the addition of G/C Sean Mahan in a trade Tuesday probably won't affect plans to use rookie Jeremy Zuttah as the starting right guard during Davin Joseph's absence.
Mahan is familiar with the system, having played for the Bucs for four seasons before joining the Steelers last season, but Zuttah is more prepared to play because he spent training camp and the offseason with the Bucs.
"Jeremy Zuttah's been with us from the beginning," Muir said. "We're very pleased with the progress he's made. … I think, basically, what we've just done is add a player who has experience starting at center and at guard. So I think you have to look at it at face value."
Joseph is expected to miss a minimum of several weeks with a broken foot.
AY-AY, CAPTAIN: Gruden announced this season's captains: QB Jeff Garcia and C Jeff Faine (offense), LB Derrick Brooks and CB Ronde Barber (defense), and S Will Allen (special teams).
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]