TAMPA — Quarterback Jeff Garcia played 32 snaps in one preseason game, a rusty performance that hardly inspired confidence in the 38-year-old veteran with a calf injury.
Receiver Joey Galloway did not play in the preseason at all, resting and not testing his surgically repaired shoulder and injured groin. Fullback B.J. Askew practiced Sunday for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery on his foot Aug. 15.
Earnest Graham, who used to be Mr. August, ignored the calendar and rushed 10 times for 20 yards. Warrick Dunn had two fewer attempts than that. They didn't run much behind guard Davin Joseph, who broke his foot in the second preseason game against the Patriots. Ike Hilliard was one of 22 starters who sat out Thursday at Houston, content with his five receptions in the preseason.
The Bucs' weapons of mass inaction treated preseason games like a junior varsity scrimmage, rooting on their younger teammates.
Missing preseason games is no big deal. Missing practice time together is a bigger concern.
"(The preseason) is not overrated, but I think what we missed out on was practice time together," Garcia said. "It's not even about the games as much as it is how much practice time we've missed. It's something that we can't do anything about it. We've just got to try to make up for lost time and do the best with a couple extra days of practice and find a way to get into rhythm and not think about it too much. I think if you start to think about it and focus upon it, that's when it starts to affect you."
In fact, Galloway, 36, will have a total of four practices and two walk-through workouts before the Bucs tee it up for real Sunday against the Saints. The last full contact he had was in the wild-card loss to the Giants.
Garcia has been slowed by a calf strain since July 31 that forced him to miss nearly all of training camp. Against the Jaguars in the third preseason game, he went 11-of-18 passing for 79 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Coach Jon Gruden believes Garcia's calf is healed well enough for him to be effective.
"We were out there about 21/2 hours before kickoff (Thursday in Houston), and I personally got to chase him around like a chicken and test his mobility," Gruden said. "We worked him hard, really hard, all those guys. I can't speak for him, but I do think he's close to 100 percent. I think he feels a lot better."
Dunn, 33, is a key element to the passing game. But he doesn't have a good feel for the touch Garcia puts on the football.
"I think Jeff didn't play well his last outing because he really didn't practice," Dunn said. "I think guys just have to get comfortable. And Joey, over the last week, he started being out with the team a little more, running routes, just really getting comfortable. And you have to. You cannot practice and be effective. This is not that type of sport."
What was it NBA superstar Allen Iverson said? "Practice. We're sitting here talking about practice, not a game … we're talking about practice, man."
Exactly. This isn't basketball, where individual talents can integrate quickly with any team.
The good news is that Galloway has three 1,000-yard seasons with the Bucs under his belt. Garcia is more familiar with the system, having been named to the Pro Bowl last season.
"It's actually refreshing to have the same guy (at quarterback) two years in a row," Gruden said. "We like Jeff a lot. He's had a tough offseason in regards to the calf injury. He's missed a lot of time, but he was outstanding here today. He's the strength of our offensive football team."
In theory, if not in practice.