TAMPA — For the first time in seven games, the Bucs could have their full complement of featured running backs Sunday against the Vikings.
Earnest Graham, who injured a knee Nov. 2 at Kansas City, returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Warrick Dunn, who did not play against the Chiefs because of a back strain, also benefited from the bye week. Even FB B.J. Askew appears ready to go for the first time since a hamstring strain Sept. 21 at Chicago.
"(Graham) looked pretty good. I think he looked good," coach Jon Gruden said. "Obviously, the bye week came at the right time for him. Warrick appeared quick. So we're counting on those guys at this point."
Graham, who has been pulling double duty at fullback the past four games, said the first half took a toll on him physically.
"Definitely, I've had a lot of work this year, at different positions, of course — lead blocking, running the ball, everything else you can do as a football player," Graham said. "Most guys around this time of year … it's pretty common to be beat up a little bit. That off week did us all some good."
For Dunn, the rest was even longer.
"Just the days of not running around, not getting hit — that helps. I don't care who it is, that helps," Dunn, 33, said. "And for me, I pretty much had two weeks, two and half weeks. It's good. I'm good."
Gruden said that the only limitation on Askew will be on special teams.
"We might isolate some of the things we keep him away from. Maybe special teams or the long speed plays, we might try to eliminate or moderate those," Gruden said. "But the short area plays, where a fullback is generally accustomed to being, we think he'll be fine. But we need him, we do need him and Jameel Cook will be part of the game plan, also."
S Jermaine Phillips (broken left forearm) and TE Alex Smith (ankle) did not participate in practice. QB Brian Griese was limited. Griese has not played since an elbow injury Oct. 5 at Denver.
"We're just trying to get the arm totally healed," Gruden said. "Just kind of keeping an eye on him right now. We think he'll be okay hopefully in a few days. But we've got plenty of quarterbacks to work with."
BYE UPS AND DOWNS: Navigating the bye week can be a tricky thing in the NFL. In his 11 seasons, Gruden is 9-2 entering the bye week and 7-3 after the break. Since 1996, the Bucs are 6-6 after the bye.
"I've always said I don't like the bye at all," Gruden said. "I'm not going to complain about it. You're playing every day, twice a day in July and August and once a day, every day, you're here with these guys and all of a sudden everybody disappears and then you have to try to get back to reality. It's a challenge for everybody, I think."