TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris looked into LB Angelo Crowell's eyes last week and didn't like what he saw.
Having spent the summer rehabilitating a serious left knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2008, Crowell returned to practice last week only to be quickly derailed again — this time by a hamstring strain.
Now his roster spot might be in jeopardy because he has been unable to make a dent in workouts and was listed as the third-string strong-side linebacker Monday.
But, to Morris' surprise, Crowell is holding up.
"I looked at him last week, and I thought he was looking off in space somewhere," Morris said of Crowell. "Then, over the weekend, just out of the blue, I got a call from Crowell. He said, 'Coach, don't give up on me. I'm coming back.' "
Having lost valuable time during the offseason and first week of camp, the former Bills standout has had to tap into his mental fortitude.
"I have to keep my mind right," said Crowell, who turns 28 on Sunday. "It's really frustrating. I finally get my knee right, I practice three days and then I tweak my hamstring. When I get back out there, I just have to make it happen."
But he will have to do so in a hurry.
The Bucs are settling into a rotation at linebacker, and, as of now, it does not appear to include Crowell. The former Bills defensive captain and leading tackler is not among the Bucs' top six linebackers now. He still appeared to be favoring one leg Monday, but Crowell said he did some running and is hoping to "open it up" later this week.
Morris still envisions Crowell playing soon.
"I'm fired up to see him play," Morris said. "I was happy to see him give me that call. … He was starting to drift. Or at least I thought he was until I got that phone call. I'm excited about him."
Charting the Bucs: The team released its first depth chart. It offered few surprises but provided a starting point for tracking certain position battles.
At quarterback, Luke McCown was listed as the starter, no surprise considering Morris admitted Monday that he long ago decided McCown would start the first preseason game Saturday at Tennessee.
"I kind of knew that when I took the job," said Morris, who replaced Jon Gruden in January. "Let's give Luke an opportunity."
Byron Leftwich will start Aug. 22 at Jacksonville.
Elsewhere, RB Earnest Graham was listed ahead of Derrick Ward, though both are expected to split carries somewhat evenly. WRs Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton were listed as starters, but Maurice Stovall and Brian Clark were listed as their immediate backups.
Situation room: The Bucs intend to spend much of this week working on situations, and they simulated several important ones Monday.
In one scenario, Morris scripted a situation in which the offense was down 10 points with about two minutes remaining. But in attempts to overcome the deficit with QBs Leftwich, McCown and Josh Freeman, each ended the would-be rallies with interceptions.
"Those are tough situations that I put them in, but those are situations that happen during the season," Morris said. "You have to simulate that as close as you can."
Later in the workout, the offense sputtered again when it took two delay-of-game penalties in part because Freeman was late getting through his presnap checks.
But Morris took the rap.
"Ultimately, it was my fault," he said. "I have to give them the plays. He has to deliver it to the huddle. … He has to have (ample) time to get through his checks to get that play off."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.