TAMPA — LB Derrick Brooks (ribs) was unable to practice but showed improvement Wednesday, bolstering hopes he will play in his 223rd consecutive game Sunday.
Brooks was injured at Atlanta and limited late in the overtime loss Sunday. He has been in significant pain, but coach Jon Gruden expressed optimism about his progress.
"We did get good news (Wednesday)," he said. "That doesn't mean (Brooks is) going to be out there running around (today). But there is at least a better chance that he can play (against the Chargers). Knowing Derrick Brooks the way I do and you do, he'll find a way to get to the field. And chances are he'll play one of his best games."
Brooks, in his 14th season and headed to his 11th Pro Bowl, has started 219 straight games, second among active players to Jets QB Brett Favre. Brooks' immediate goal is to make it back to the field today or Friday, when the team hold its final practice.
"You'd like to get the physical reps in. There's no substitute for that. Believe me," Brooks, 35, said. "But at the same time, there's no substitute for experience, either."
Other injuries of note include DE Gaines Adams' ankle, which has him wearing a walking boot at times. He and DE Greg White (shoulder) were severely limited in practice. DTs Jovan Haye (knee) and Chris Hovan (knee) practiced without limitations.
Because of their defensive line injuries, the Bucs helped their depth by adding DE Patrick Chukwurah to the roster. Chukwurah spent 2007 with the Bucs and had a brief stint with them in the preseason. Tampa Bay also signed LB Rod Wilson, a 2005 seventh-round pick of the Bears out of South Carolina.
Those roster spots were created by moving SS Jermaine Phillips (broken arm) to injured reserve and releasing backup RB Noah Herron.
PRO BOWL REACTION: Among the players left off the Pro Bowl roster Tuesday was MLB Barrett Ruud, who leads the team in tackles with 124. He had at least one powerful advocate.
"I just feel horrible," Brooks said. "I really thought Barrett is having the type of season that deserves that honor. My heart goes out to him. But hopefully we'll get a bigger award, and that's a Super Bowl championship."
Rookie RB Clifton Smith, who will be the NFC's return man in the Feb. 8 game in Honolulu, said he didn't believe the news when a friend called to congratulate him.
"I actually thought it was a prank phone call," he said. "I was like, 'Okay, is Ashton (Kutcher) supposed to jump out of the bush and say, 'Clifton Smith, you've been Punk'd?'
"It was a great phone call. I immediately called my mom."