TAMPA — Joey Galloway stood on the step of his locker Wednesday so the bank of cameras and microphones would have a better vantage point of the Bucs' elusive receiver.
Having missed training camp and the preseason with a groin strain, he spoke with reporters for the first time since June. Though Galloway sightings were so rare in the offseason that coach Jon Gruden dubbed him the "White Tiger," he is the Bucs' primary target, especially against the Saints.
In the last four games against New Orleans, Galloway has 19 catches for 501 yards and five touchdowns, a 26.3-yard average.
Given his inactivity, Galloway hopes the Saints lose sight of him again in Sunday's season opener.
"With me being unhealthy, I would suggest that they play man-to-man because they don't have much to worry about with the way I've been feeling lately," Galloway said. "It's probably safe to say that man-to-man coverage is fine for them.
"I'll be rusty. I'll probably be a little slow. If I was New Orleans looking at what I've done this preseason, I'd probably relax a little bit and think there's not much to worry about."
The biggest concern for the Bucs is whether Galloway will feel effects from his offseason shoulder surgery. He has not had full contact since the injury rendered him ineffective in the Bucs' wild-card playoff loss to the Giants, when a frustrated Galloway was held to one catch for 9 yards and left the field in the fourth quarter.
"That game is a game that made it tough to sleep some nights," Galloway said. "That would be a dream situation to go into healthy. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. So it's one of those things when you approach your offseason and you get ready to make another run at it, you prepare as hard as you possibly can and hope that you can play as many games as the team needs you to play."
Gruden has publicly chastised Galloway for his inability to play or practice in training camp and the preseason. But the veteran heading into his 14th season insists the White Tiger moniker was misunderstood.
"I think when he made the White Tiger comment … I think you misunderstood what he was saying," Galloway said. "I think when you see the White Tiger (at a zoo), there's always posted times of when he gets to eat. The zookeeper posts that time. And Coach is the zookeeper. That's what he's trying to say. It's his decision on when I get to eat. Now, I hope I get to eat on Sunday, but we will see.
"You know, the funny part is, these guys in the locker room are more understanding than Coach is. These guys sort of smirk and laugh and say, 'As long as you're ready on Sunday and everything is okay.' Now the zookeeper is a little different. He likes to see you out there."
While Galloway pronounced himself ready to play, the Bucs listed him as limited in practice Wednesday.
"I expect him to (play), but again, we have a couple more days to go," Gruden said. "We'll see how he feels. He's getting better."
The Saints would prefer not to see Galloway, who had four catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yarder, in the first game of their series with the Bucs last season. He followed that with seven catches for 159 yards at the Superdome several weeks later.
"Joey is a talented player who does a great job locating the ball down the field," Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. "Each game, it might be a little bit different wrinkle, but he ends up 30 or 40 yards down the field. But we've got to do a better job containing him."
Galloway won't be the only deep threat this season. Antonio Bryant, who did not play in the NFL last season, also is expected to start. He has been nursing a swollen knee and was limited in practice Wednesday.
Conditioning could be a factor for both players, especially in the second half. And Galloway said his shoulder is not back to normal, calling it "functional."
"Coach smacks me around all the time," Galloway said. "As far as contact is concerned, those days in camp when I wasn't with the team, later that night, he would beat me up pretty good, so I'm ready for some contact.
"Whenever he's ready for me to eat, which hopefully will be this Sunday, then I'll be ready."