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STAFF: PETITGOUT TO RETURN TODAY

Tackle Luke Petitgout missed a fifth straight full-squad practice Friday, raising speculation that he might be hampered by a recurring back injury that plagued him with the Giants.

Petitgout, 31, has been treated for a back strain, but coach Jon Gruden said he expects him to practice today. He participated in some drills the afternoon but was limited.

''All I know is we've treated his back. It's nothing serious," Gruden said. "He's missed three or four days. He'll be back on the field (today) in pads."

Offensive line coach Bill Muir indicated it was all part of a plan to keep Petitgout healthy for the regular season. He hasn't practiced in pads since Monday.

"It doesn't bother me. Read my lips: does not bother me, all right?" Muir said. "It does not affect the continuity of the line.

"He'll play when it's time to play. Listen, he's a nine-year veteran in the league. I had a fellow who was a Pro Bowl tackle with the New York Jets named Jumbo Elliott. What you're trying to do is get your good players to the (first) game. You guys want to see him out here. You're not going to see him out here everyday. You'll see him enough that he'll be ready."'

SIMMS' ELBOW BETTER: Chris Simms' arm still is reacting slowly and he indicated his struggles might be related to the surgery he had to remove his spleen.

"My mind is not the problem as far as dropping back and finding the open receiver," Simms said. "It's just that I'm a little late trying to get it to him or a little inaccurate with it. It's like my mind says, 'Okay, there he is, he's open.' I'm just not quick and sharp with it.

"I don't know if anybody really knows. It's not an injury you can go back and look at the records of and say, 'This guy had it in '98.' It's an unknown thing, I think, to a lot of people. I'm just going to keep trying to plug away and we'll see what happens."

Simms took three throwing reps during 7-on-7 drills Friday, connecting on a deep pass to receiver Joey Galloway, a short toss to tight end Anthony Becht and running once. But he was a bystander during 11-on-11 periods. He did extra work after morning practice with quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett but watched Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski take most of the afternoon reps.

Simms has been struggling with symptoms of irregular proprioception, a sixth sense that allows a person to know the relationship of their arms and legs to their body. The condition is not uncommon following abdominal surgery. Simms had his spleen removed Sept. 24.

Simms said the sore elbow that bothered him early in training camp is no longer an issue.

"I've never had a sore arm in my life," Simms said. "I think you guys saw the amount of balls I threw last year in camp. ... I'm just trying to get myself used to those normal motions you do as a quarterback every day and just kind of retraining my body."

Simms, 27, said he feels healthy running and in his ability to take a hit. But he is having trouble regaining his throwing motion since resuming workouts in December. He is considerably behind Jeff Garcia, McCown and Gradkowski.

"But as far as just throwing the ball? I'm not going to put a (percentage) on it," Simms said. "You guys know enough to see what I look like, and I think you've seen me throw for four years straight. Throwing the ball has never been an issue for me. That's always been my strongest attribute. I'm just trying to make that click on all cylinders."

As for the deep ball to Galloway, Simms said it felt like old times.

"That was good," Simms said. "It was a long time since I've hit him on a deep ball like that. It really did, it felt good. We got the look we wanted from the defense and once he's even, he's leaving. That's the motto. He left."

ADAMS RETURNS: First-round pick Gaines Adams returned to practice but was limited with a triceps injury. "'He's got a serious injury - not severe - but it's a real injury that has taken a couple of days to let the swelling go down," Gruden said.

BUCHANON DEBUTS ON OFFENSE: Cornerback Phillip Buchanon played offense during 11-on-11 drills. Lining up at wide receiver, he caught a short hitch route before returning to defense on the next play.

"He's a guy we're going to work into our offensive plans a little bit," Gruden said. "He's a really athletic guy who can make plays. He's fast and he's got creativity after the catch, so there will be some things that we continue to look at with Phillip."

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