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STABILITY AT QUARTERBACK BEST NEWS GOING INTO BYE

For a change, the Bucs don't have to get a new starter ready during their time off.
Published Nov. 6, 2007|Updated Nov. 19, 2007

The Bucs will limit practice to one session Wednesday during the bye week to allow a slew of injured players time to heal.

Jon Gruden knows it could be worse.

The Bucs coach spent the bye week each of the past two seasons preparing a new quarterback after season-ending injuries to Brian Griese and Chris Simms, respectively.

But after nine games, Jeff Garcia is healthy and so are the team's chances of winning the NFC South.

"He's been great," Gruden said of Garcia. "He's played so well for us and has meant so much for our team. Given the circumstances, he really has been superb. You lose Cadillac (Williams) and (Michael) Pittman and (Mike) Alstott, you lose your tight end, your left tackle, (Michael) Clayton's gone, Mark Jones is gone, (David) Boston's gone, Paris Warren is gone - all the guys you work with in April, May, June, July and August are gone.

"It's a credit to him. He's been a great leader, he's been a consistent playmaker, and his poise, I think, shows through these times. He's been outstanding from day one. He's missed a few throws here and there, but he's completing close to 70 percent of his balls, he's made some incredible effort plays and some really heady ones, indeed. And he's a big reason we have a chance."

At 5-4, the Bucs own a half-game lead over Carolina (4-4) and red-hot New Orleans, which won its fourth in a row Sunday.

Gruden hopes to get several players back for the Nov.18 game at Atlanta, including Pittman (ankle), Clayton (ankle) and defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder). Defensive end Greg Spires (calf) might miss a few more weeks.

"On Wednesday, we haven't had a practice the last two weeks, we've had more of a walk-through because of the injuries," Gruden said. "They have mounted at certain positions. So we have used Wednesday as a day where we've gotten our reps in, maybe even some bonus reps, but not full speed, physical or normal. ... What we want to do is get back to a normal schedule if we can following this bye week, and to do that we need guys to practice."

Pittman's return could take some of the workload off running back Earnest Graham, who rushed for 124 yards on 34 carries - both career highs - against the Cardinals.

Normally, the Bucs would practice at least twice during a bye week, giving backups such as quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and running back Michael Bennett some extra reps. Two years ago, Gruden used it to get Simms ready to play after Griese's season-ending knee injury. Last season, Gradkowski needed the work to prepare to replace Simms, who had a splenectomy.

Instead, the Bucs will get an early look at the Falcons on Wednesday, take a team picture at Raymond James Stadium and be dismissed for a four-day weekend.

"We just look at each game, honestly, because the Saints have won four in a row and are probably playing as well as anybody in the league," Gruden said. "What can I say? There's some real surprises going on in pro football the first half of the season. That means there will probably be some the second half of the season. We'd like to be one of those surprise teams.

"Our players deserve some time off. They've played really hard, and I'm proud of them. And at the same time, I think we all understand we need to play better to be a really good football team. We're good right now, but I think to be a really good football team, there's a lot of things we've got to do much better."

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