By RICK STROUD, JOANNE KORTH
Published October 11, 2003
TAMPA - Here's a twist to the Tim Wansley story. On Friday, it was coach Jon Gruden's turn to play a little defense for the second-year defensive back.
One day after reports surfaced that Wansley might be benched because he was late to a meeting, Gruden said too much blame for Monday night's 38-35 overtime loss to the Colts had been heaped on the former Georgia star.
"We lost a game in dramatic fashion, and everybody is on Wansley as the reason why we lost the game," Gruden said. "All I'm going to say is I'm not going to comment publicly on whether a guy is late. I don't tell you when guys are doing extra credit all the time, either.
"Nobody's perfect. Wansley's got a long way to go to be great, but he's trying. We're going to suit up the guys that have earned the right to start. Obviously with (Brian Kelly's) injury, we're in a tough spot right now and somebody needs to step up. We're evaluating everything and we're going to play the guys who've earned the right to play. But I'm not going to publicly discuss what we're doing and why we're doing what we're doing."
With Kelly out with a left pectoral muscle sprain, the Bucs will move right cornerback Ronde Barber to Kelly's side. Safety Dwight Smith will play Barber's spot, and second-year pro Jermaine Phillips will start at free safety.
That leaves Wansley or Cory Ivy as the the extra defensive back on passing downs.
The Bucs did not accept interview requests for Wansley on Friday, deferring questions to Gruden.
"There's a lot of reports circulating around Tim Wansley and his sleep habits," Gruden said. "But I don't have any new news. I don't comment publicly on internal team matters if there are any. We're going to announce the starters on Sunday. Tim Wansley is a young guy we're going to work with.
"The guy's a good kid. He earned the right to make our team. I didn't hear anybody complaining for the first 141/2 quarters that he was playing. I don't want to say anything else except we're going to rally around the men that are healthy, the guys that have earned the right to play.
"We've had stuff happen, and some of it has become public knowledge and some of it has not. And I just kind of prefer to let the team handle things internally. I don't know how these things get out, how these sources leak information, whether it be accurate or inaccurate."
KEYSHAWN IMPROVING: Receiver Keyshawn Johnson was upgraded to probable after returning to practice "in a limited fashion" Friday. Johnson missed workouts Wednesday and Thursday with a deep thigh bruise sustained Monday night.
"He has shown us some progress," Gruden said. "We're encouraged by that."
The eighth-year pro has missed three games in his career because of injury, two as a rookie in 1996 after arthroscopic knee surgery and the 2001 regular-season finale with an ankle sprain. He returned for the playoff game against the Eagles.
WRAP IT UP: Pro Bowl linebacker Shelton Quarles is questionable, but Gruden said Quarles was spending Friday afternoon working with team doctors to test various forms of protection for his fractured left forearm. Quarles was injured Sept. 4 and has not played since.
"The key matter is what kind of padding or cast he has to wear on the area that's injured and whether or not it will inhibit his motion," Gruden said. "We'll see. We'll announce that probably sometime right before kickoff. But he's made great strides, he's very close."
INJURY REPORT: Fullback Mike Alstott is on injured reserve. Receiver Joe Jurevicius (torn right MCL) is out. Receiver Karl Williams (left hamstring strain), running back Aaron Stecker (right knee sprain), defensive end Greg Spires (right calf sprain) and Phillips (right hamstring strain) are probable.