TAMPA - Running back Charlie Garner is as eager as anyone to see how he looks in a Bucs uniform, but the unveiling might have to wait one more week.
Garner, 32, is nursing a sore hamstring and might not play tonight at home against the Dolphins, the third of four preseason games. The 11-year pro, who signed with the Bucs as a free agent after three productive seasons with the Raiders, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in March.
"Preseason has always been my nemesis," said Garner, who did not dress against the Bengals or Jaguars. "It's always been a struggle of mine just to get out of training camp and get into the season healthy.
"At the same time, I know it's urgent that people see me work with my offensive line and feel comfortable with that. It's never been important for me, but I understand what people want to see."
The playing status of Garner, linebacker Derrick Brooks and receiver Charles Lee will be decided shortly before kickoff, coach Jon Gruden said Friday after a brief walkthrough at One Buc Place. Brooks returned to practice Monday after missing nearly two weeks with a hyperextended left knee and Lee missed two weeks with a hamstring injury.
The Bucs have played without several key veterans. Though all could benefit from a little preseason game action, the primary concern is being healthy for the opener Sept. 12 at Washington.
"That's the only thing that matters," Garner said. "Everyone tries to fine-tune themselves for Sept. 12 and get healthy for that. ... If you go into that first game limping, you know for the rest of the season, that's how it's going to be."
The Bucs' preseason finale is Thursday against the Texans in Houston.
CRUNCH TIME: Tonight's game will be an important opportunity for several players fighting to make the team. The roster must be cut from 88 to 65 by Tuesday. The 53-man roster must be finalized Sept. 5.
IN AND OUT: Guard Matt Stinchcomb, one of several veteran free agents signed during the offseason to strengthen the offensive line, will see his first action of the preseason. Receiver Joey Galloway (groin), left tackle Derrick Deese (foot) and linebacker Shelton Quarles (wrist) will not play.