By RICK STROUD and ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
TAMPA -- Paul Gruber is ready to begin training to play for the Bucs again, trainer Todd Toriscelli said Thursday.
Gruber, 35, met with Toriscelli at his Tampa home Thursday for monitoring of rehabilitation of his right leg, which was broken in the final regular-season game of 1999.
The left tackle has spent the past month training in Colorado. No date is set for his return.
"That's really a question for him," Toriscelli said. "But for his leg and his rehab, he's probably about there now. He really is. I kept in contact with them, and they faxed me his reports. "We're going to meet and set out a plan for not only his leg, but he's got other areas, like his shoulders. He's going to start lifting, getting into football condition."
Because Gruber is an unrestricted free agent, Toriscelli said, he was uncertain whether Gruber could begin working out at One Buc Place.
"I'm trying to find out what the rules are," Toriscelli said.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Gruber's return is the uncertain status of starting left tackle Jason Odom.
Because Gruber is several weeks from being in playing shape, the Bucs can't afford to carry on their roster two tackles who are unable to play.
Toriscelli said he still is optimistic Odom will be able to play this season. Odom was unable to finish practice Tuesday after experiencing more back pain and is out indefinitely.
"He should be okay," Toriscelli said. "With rest and exercise, he gets better. "The operation was a success. And this off-season, he was playing golf and literally doing everything he wanted to do. That's why I honestly thought the kid wouldn't have back pain again in his life."
Coach Tony Dungy said he will wait until at least Sunday to determine whether to put Odom on injured reserve when the team reduces its roster to 53. TICKETS FOR TONIGHT: Kansas City returned 400 tickets for the game, and the Bucs put them on sale Thursday. Check for availability through Ticketmaster at outlets, on the Internet at www.ticketmaster.com and by phone: Hillsborough (813) 287-8844, Pinellas (727) 898-2100, central Florida (407) 839-3900 and north Florida (904) 353-3309. Also, tickets will be available at the Raymond James Stadium box office at 4:30 this afternoon.
MCLEOD CONCERNS: Fullback Kevin McLeod was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital on Wednesday and again Thursday to have tests as a result of chest pains.
"Kevin came in Wednesday and complained of chest discomfort, and we sent him over to St. Joseph's, where they conducted a battery of tests," said Reggie Roberts, the team's director of communications. "He was admitted again Thursday for ongoing tests."
McLeod, a second-year player out of Auburn, is under the care of team physician Josepy Diaco and will not play tonight as a "precautionary measure," Roberts said.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: The Bucs maintain that players make the team on their work in practice. But Dungy said tonight's game could help a player secure a spot.
Intriguing battles will happen at tight end, receiver and running back.
"It's going to boil down to whether it's four tight ends, three tight ends, five receivers, six receivers, two fullbacks, three running backs or four running backs," Dungy said. "We're going to try to get the best 53-man team and see what that entails. As it usually does, every year it boils down to special teams and who could play more than one spot."
Of particular interest will be what happens at tight end. Veterans Dave Moore and Patrick Hape likely are secure, though Hape has a right foot sprain. The Bucs still are looking at Henry Lusk, James Whalen and Todd Yoder. Wednesday's signing of Blake Spence adds intrigue.
"We're trying to sort out the tight end situation and really see how Patrick is," Dungy said. "All indications are right now that he'll be fine, but Blake is a guy that we liked coming out of school (Oregon in 1998), and we had a chance to get him and work with him a few days and see if he can help us."
ALSTOTT FINE: Running back/fullback Mike Alstott said his hamstrings feel fine after a week of practice but he was not sure how much he would play tonight. Considering the first team may see limited action, Alstott said he may not get into the game.
"We haven't decided that yet," he said. "We'll make that decision (Thursday) night."
Alstott, who rushed for a career-high 949 yards last season, missed the first two preseason games with a left hamstring strain. He is listed as probable for tonight with sore hamstrings in both legs.
"I'm fine," he said.
IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY: Defensive end John McLaughlin, who had a crucial sack in the preseason-opening win against Washington, will be back in the lineup tonight. McLaughlin, fighting for a roster spot, missed several days of practice and Sunday's game against the Patriots with a staph infection in his right knee.
"There's still some discomfort in there, a lot of discomfort, but I have to play," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin was a special-teams standout last season and won the NFC special-teams player of the week award Sept. 26. He said he was told he would not play special-teams tonight.
"Joe (Marciano, special-teams coach) told me (Thursday) that I'm not down on special teams, so I'm not playing special teams," McLaughlin said. "I don't know who told him or if he kicked me out himself or what, but that concerns me.
"I would like to play a lot in the game because I really didn't do much on special teams since I've been in camp."
FINAL RETURNS: Aaron Stecker has received praise for his kickoff returns, but the Bucs continue to look at other players to return punts. Team officials have said they would prefer sticking with one returner.
"All the guys have done good job," Dungy said. "We have returned better in the preseason than we have in any preseason since we've been here. But we'd like to settle on one or two guys. So, hopefully, we get some opportunities for punt returns."
FLAG DAY: The Bucs have been flagged for an uncharacteristic number of penalties, and Dungy has made it clear that some were not warranted. But Dungy said the Bucs have to clean up their act or take into account the officials' interpretation of the rules.
"We've had too many (penalties)," Dungy said. "We either have to get adjusted to how they are going to call them, (the officials are) going to have to change how they call them or we're going to have to change. ... We're going to try to adjust to how they're going to call them."
RUNNING OUTSIDE: The Bucs say their running game is improving, and Dungy said he is particularly encouraged by the way the backs are able to run outside. Warrick Dunn said he can sense things beginning to click.
"I think week in and week out we're getting better running the ball overall," he said. "I think the inside game is going to complement the outside game once we get everything going. We haven't really played a type of football that we're capable of playing.
INJURY REPORT: Out -- Odom (lower back), safety Shevin Smith (dislocated left big toe), safety Dexter Jackson (right ankle sprain), McLeod (chest pains). Questionable -- Running back Ketric Sanford (shoulder). Probable -- Alstott (left and right hamstring strains), linebacker Jamie Duncan (left knee), defensive end/defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson (left rib strain).