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Rookie WR Stovall says he's ready for bigger role

Youth is being served on the Bucs offense - in smorgasbord helpings.

The season-ending knee injury to third-year receiver Michael Clayton means rookie Maurice Stovall will get more playing time Sunday against the Falcons.

Veteran Ike Hilliard is likely to start the game, but Stovall will be used in three-receiver sets.

Stovall had his first reception Sunday against Pittsburgh.

"There are no butterflies," he said. "It's more of, 'Okay, it's my turn. Let's get ready.' Just go through the things you usually go through preparing for a game but to a higher degree."

A third-round pick from Notre Dame, Stovall was inactive for seven games, including three while recovering from a back injury. But he didn't let that get him down.

"It's hard, but then it's not," Stovall said. "It's kind of like when you're a freshman in college. You've got people in front of you. But at the same time, you can't slack because the coaches see that and you're always having someone watch you.

"You just keep preparing until the opportunity is given to you. When it is given to you, you have to take advantage of it."

SLOW HOOK: Bruce Gradkowski is coming off a three-interception game at Pittsburgh. But coach Jon Gruden has pledged patience with the rookie quarterback.

"If you look at the film, there are six or seven plays that he makes that are big-time plays," Gruden said. "That's what I'm after, a big-time quarterback. (He) has got three or four plays that are boneheaded plays, and we've got to get rid of those. But he's doing some really good things, and, by God, I'm going to stick around with him.

"And I'm going to stay in the dark with him if it gets dark. If it gets damp and cold, we're going to stay together, huddle up and we're going to come out of this."

The only thing that might change that situation is if Gradkowski throws more interceptions.

"You've got to perform," Gruden said.

"We've all got to perform, or we're out of here."

INJURIES: Cornerback Juran Bolden (quadriceps), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle), tight end Alex Smith (ankle) and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (ankle) were limited in practice and are questionable for Sunday.

Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.