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Garner: Time for Bucs to hit stride

Running back Charlie Garner still has plenty of football left in his tank, even if his coach insisted he ran out of gas after 19 touches Sunday against Seattle.

Garner, 32, who averaged 5.8 yards (13 carries, 75 yards), said coach Jon Gruden was wrong to suggest his needle was on E.

"I don't know where Jon is coming from with all that," Garner said. "Jon hasn't played football at this level. He doesn't know me like that. I can play football, I just need the ball. I need to get the reps and get myself into game-time condition."

Here's something Garner is tiring of: the Bucs not scoring a touchdown.

"I never would've figured that," Garner said. "I would've thought we'd be averaging 21 points a game now and we don't have that in two games."

Maybe Garner could use more touches. He certainly showed improvement from Week 1 when he was held to 25 yards on 11 carries. It's still a mystery why the Bucs quit feeding Garner the ball in their 10-6 loss to the Seahawks. But Garner offers some clues.

"We can take something from that game," Garner said. "They were throwing a lot of blitzes at us, so we have to pick those up and try to make them pay down the field with the passing game. We would love to run the ball, but when you're getting blitzed like that, you have to make them pay and that's what we were trying to do. It didn't work out for us, but this week we'll try to do the same thing.

"We're starting to progress. But we're well into the season now and it's not time for progression. We need to go ahead and start hitting our stride."

NO TALK, JUST WALK: Warren Sapp said he was disappointed that Gruden didn't speak to him at the time he was considering signing as a free agent with the Raiders. Gruden said the Bucs couldn't match any offer, so there simply wasn't anything to discuss.

"I've talked to Warren several times since he's left," Gruden said. "When you can't make a guy an offer that justifies, maybe, what he's worth, you don't want to offer the guy something that's disrespectful. Warren knows how I feel about that. I'll leave it at that and that won't change."

IN THE PITTS: RB Michael Pittman is gone but not forgotten. He will be eligible to return from his three-game suspension after Sunday night's game at Oakland.

He has been working out twice a day at the IMG Academy in Bradenton and has remained in contact with the team.

"Pittman calls all the time," Gruden said. "He's been scrutinized. But I'm really proud of what he's done. He's stood in the face of some intense adversity and rightfully so. But he has screwed his world back together and he's been a real solid supporter of us. And I compliment him a lot. This is important to him. He puts his pads on three times a week and goes out and runs during the middle of the day. This is important to him. He wants to show the world that not only is he a good football player, but he's a good person.

"He'll give us some explosive playmaking ability. He's a 75-catch guy and he's a guy who led our team in rushing and has been a real good pickup guy in blitz situations. He's done a lot of things for us."

INJURIES: WR Joey Galloway is out 3-5 weeks with a groin tear. TE Dave Moore (elbow) is probable.

_ RICK STROUD, Times staff writer

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