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Hilliard starting for hurt Clayton

By RICK STROUD and STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published November 11, 2005

TAMPA - Free-agent receiver Ike Hilliard will make his first start of the season for the Bucs Sunday against the Redskins.

Hilliard, a ninth-year veteran from Florida, will start in place of Michael Clayton, who is questionable with a right knee bruise and missed his second straight day of practice Thursday.

"Yep, he's been stepping up for us. Ike will play, Ike will start," coach Jon Gruden said. "And Edell Shepherd obviously will be part of the package, also."

Playing mostly in three-receiver sets on third down, Hilliard has 17 catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns. Shepherd, who has been active in all eight games, has two catches for 12 yards.

Clayton, who has played with a shoulder separation, was injured in the first quarter of Sunday's 34-14 loss to Carolina when he landed hard on his knee making his first pass reception.

If Clayton is unable to play, it will be the first game he has missed after playing in 24 straight during his young pro career.

The Bucs did get some good news Thursday. Tackle Anthony Davis, who sprained his right knee and was forced to leave the game against Carolina, returned to practice and is probable for Sunday's game.

Running back Michael Pittman (shoulder stinger) practiced on a limited basis. Pittman and safety Dexter Jacksonare questionable.

NO HUGGIES: Gruden made it clear the Bucs do not lack confidence and don't need motivational speeches. Just consider a few of his takes from Thursday's postpractice session with reporters.

Asked what, if anything, he has done or said to boost his team's confidence amid a two-game losing streak, Gruden responded, "What do you mean what have I done? Hug 'em? What do you want me to do? Pat them on the back and give them a fight song? No. You probably just let them know you're going to have moments in this league now where you're going to be tested. I try to explain that to them. I try not to get too deep and philosophical. Play one game at a time. Have fun playing, man. Just let it go and play."

Asked how the Bucs can get their swagger back, Gruden snapped, "I keep hearing that, "Gee, guys, let's get our swagger back. Go out there and play with swagger.' How 'bout smashing somebody's (butt). Put it on tape. That's what swagger is. You know what I mean? That's a bunch of (bull), you know what I mean? ... Swagger is execution and coming off the ball and making yards and doing the things that really good football players and teams do, in my opinion. I don't think we're lacking for confidence."

BUSINESS AS USUAL: With the Redskins and their multiple blitz packages coming to town, blocking from the tight ends is critical. But the key is to get adequate protection without sacrificing the playmaking ability of rookie Alex Smith.

Smith said his opportunities of late "are about the same as they had been," he said. "But there is a heavy emphasis on protection right now, especially this week because of this defense we're facing."

Smith is listed at 6 feet 4 and 258 pounds, but is built more like a basketball player than a burly tight end. Still, he said he has gotten positive feedback from his coaches about his ability to be physical as a blocker.

"They're really happy with the way I blocked in the last game," Smith said. "That was good because I felt like I fell off in the 49ers game. I feel like I'm getting better at it every week. I'm grading pretty well.

"I knew it was something I had to work at, but I knew it was something I was capable of doing."

Smith has managed to balance his blocking duties - the Bucs have frequently used the two-tight end set with Smith and Anthony Becht - and make plays as a receiver. Smith has 19 catches, fourth on the team behind Joey Galloway, Clayton and Pittman.

[Last modified November 11, 2005, 01:19:18]

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