TAMPA — Receiver Joey Galloway, out since spraining his right foot sprain in Week 2, says he misses lining up on Sundays.
But no matter how much the team's No. 1 target longs to suit up, chances are the Bucs need him far more than he needs them.
The passing game has often been rendered ineffective in recent weeks, particularly when it comes to stretching the field and taking advantage of the man-to-man matchups the offense has been confronted with in recent games.
With a receiving corps made up mostly of players best suited to run short, inside routes, the Bucs have missed Galloway's speed and acceleration. The Bucs have completed just five passes for 20 yards or more, third fewest in the NFL. Galloway has averaged 16 such plays in the past three seasons.
He said Thursday that he is nearing his return and thinks there's a chance he could play Sunday against Carolina.
But coach Jon Gruden later lowered expectations when he said he first needed to see the 36-year-old participate in a full practice session — as opposed to one in which Galloway participates on a limited basis, as he did Thursday.
"He's just not ready to go," Gruden said. "It's not that he's not tough, that he doesn't want to (play) or he's not trying. He just can't go. He's still not back from it. It kills me, but that's the way it is."
In the meantime, the Bucs continue to search for ways to account for the loss of their most potent offensive weapon.
"We lose Joey Galloway, which is a deep threat for us, and you have to make up for it in other ways," receiver Michael Clayton said.
It has been painful for Galloway "to see the offense go through some struggles the last couple of weeks and not be there to help," he said.
"Now, I don't by any stretch of the imagination think that I would have changed those games, but I do my part in this offense and, right now, I'm not there to do that. It's tough to have to sit by and watch."
Galloway said he is running and cutting again under the supervision of the team's training staff.
And he participated Thursday in some of the team's practice drills for the first time, though none was of the full-speed, game-simulation variety.
Galloway cautioned against assuming that with his return will come the return of the long ball. Just as anyone who watches the Bucs regularly knows Galloway's strengths, so do opposing defenses.
"Defenses know that when I'm in the game, that's what we want to try and do," he said. "So, those looks are hard to come by. I've always given (Gruden) a ton of credit for finding those looks. The defenses that are designed to stop those things know what we want to do. They locate me when I line up. … I think we want to get them in a certain look, and when we get that look, we can attack it."
Of course, that isn't possible when Galloway's not healthy.
And lately, he seemingly has been injured more often than not.
The apparent trend — Galloway says they're freak, isolated events — dates to December, when Galloway injured his shoulder at San Francisco in Week 16.
He missed the following game — the season finale at home against Carolina — and was ineffective while playing sparingly in the NFC wild-card game loss to the Giants.
After having surgery on the shoulder, Galloway was limited in offseason activity. Then, while preparing for training camp, he had a groin strain that sidelined him the entire preseason. Two weeks after returning, he had his latest injury.
"I'm only 28, so I don't think the age plays a part in that," cracked Galloway, who turns 37 next month.
"It's one of those things where I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. A running back rolls on my foot. That would happen (even) if I was 21."
Later, though, he allowed that the healing process can be slowed by age.
"That goes without saying," he said.
"The body just does its own thing when you get a little older."
And without Galloway, the Bucs offense hasn't done much at all.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.