TAMPA - For 18 months, Earnest Graham waited for his chance to be part of an NFL team. That opportunity came Wednesday when the Bucs signed the former Florida running back from their practice squad.
Graham will fill the role left by fullback Mike Alstott, who will miss four weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
To make room for Graham, who has never played in a regular season NFL game, the team released receiver Marcus Knight for the third time this year.
"A very good back, a key cog in our attack, is out," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "Earnest Graham is a guy we need right now. A guy that can carry the ball, stand in there physically, pick up blitzes and a guy who knows our system. We're excited to have him active. We wanted to get him up here in weeks previous, but this is the right time for him."
Graham, who originally joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2003, reached an injury settlement with the team last year after suffering a shoulder injury. He recovered in time to join the practice squad last December and returned to training camp in July. Graham led the Bucs in preseason with 124 rushing yards, but was released and then re-signed to the practice squad.
"It's what you prepare for all through college, to have an opportunity to play here in the NFL and be a big part of a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Graham said. "When I get that chance, I'll be ready to go.
The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Graham will not play fullback like Alstott, but he will be used in short yardage and goal line situations.
Graham joins a backfield that includes tailback Michael Pittman, running back Jamel White and fullbacks Greg Comella and Jameel Cook.
"(Graham) could be a guy who could give Pittman a blow, he'd be a guy who could contribute on special teams," Gruden said. "You've got to have a backup at that position.
"His role will be determined by the situation in the game and how he practices here this week. But we'll always have some two halfback sets in the gameplan where he and Mike play together, possibly."
The Bucs also signed receiver Derek McCoy, a rookie who began the season in St. Louis and has had stops in Arizona and Tennessee.
SIMMS HEALING: Quarterback Chris Simms said he has begun tossing the football and is close to returning to full health. Simms has been inactive since suffering a shoulder bruise in his first NFL start at New Orleans.
"I threw about 60 balls yesterday," Simms said. "I've just a little bit more to go with my flexibility. The back of my shoulder, the muscles just aren't quite letting go yet, but they're very close.
"This (bye) week couldn't come at a better time for me. I'll get some good treatment during the week and just to be able to go home and rest it at night instead of running around here and doing a lot of things. Just rest and get it ready."
Simms was asked how he could regain his starting position from Brian Griese, who has led the Bucs to two wins in the past three weeks while completing more than 70 percent of his passes.
"Just through hard work, that's the only way I look at it," Simms said. "Work hard, practice hard and things happen for a reason. I just try to stay positive. Turn a negative into a positive and take it one day at time. I'll be out there before you know it, hopefully."
INJURIES: Receiver Joey Galloway participated in Wednesday's workout on a limited basis. Galloway, who has been inactive for six weeks since aggravating a groin injury in Week 1 against the Redskins, still is expected to be questionable when the Bucs play Kansas City Nov. 7.
"He's still methodical in terms of running," Gruden said. "I wouldn't make any predictions."