TAMPA — WR Antonio Bryant was the last player off the practice field Thursday. Who could blame him? Bryant, who is expected to start opposite Joey Galloway in Sunday's opener at New Orleans, is savoring every aspect of his return to the NFL.
"It's all about opportunity, man, and I appreciate it since Day 1, them dudes giving me an opportunity to get back into the game," said Bryant, who did not play in 2007, in part because he went unsigned after the league suspended him. "I come out here, this is my team now, I'm a part of this and I'm here to do whatever I can do to the best of my ability and that's just get better and help the team get better."
Bryant missed the last two preseason games with some swelling on his knee. But coach Jon Gruden said Bryant has looked good in practice the past two days and is expected to play.
"It feels good to be out there," Bryant said. "I just want to get into a rhythm and a zone completely for the season. I feel like I've been able to keep myself in that type of zone in preseason. I just want it to carry over into the season and go to the next session, which is hopefully a playoff situation and so on and so forth."
Missed tackle: The Bucs continue to search for an offensive tackle.
Their latest effort went for naught when Bengals Pro Bowl RT Willie Anderson canceled a trip to Tampa on Thursday to accept a three-year, $10.5-million deal with the Ravens.
The Bucs have not replaced T Luke Petitgout, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL's steroid policy one day after being released by Tampa Bay.
Anthony Davis is the only true backup offensive tackle on the roster. The Bucs also have pursued former Bears T Fred Miller.
ENDURANCE PROBLEM: One of the team's concerns is the lack of endurance among the starters, most of whom have not had many snaps in the preseason. Players such as Galloway, RB Earnest Graham and LB Derrick Brooks will be asked to go four quarters for the first time since January.
"I think it is (a concern), I think it really is," Gruden said. "You're used to having 80 guys dress for a game and no matter what team you're talking about, a lot of the guys that do play played eight or 10 or 12 plays. At the end of camp, some guys played 47 plays and some guys played 14 plays. It's not a big difference, but the sustained drives, the long pursuit plays where you've got to chase a guy that has the ball on a screen play and then you've got to come back and rush the passer — it will take a toll on you. But our team is in good shape. We've just got to go prove that."
NEED A SPARE? With TE Jerramy Stevens on the reserve/suspended list for two games, the Bucs might utilize DE Kevin Carter in short-yardage and goal-line situations. "He's looked good," Gruden said. "He's getting a workout. He has worked in our goal-line and short-yardage packages. There's a chance he could be in the field in those situations."