LAKE BUENA VISTA - Mention Jeff Garcia's name to Michael Pittman and he develops a smile as big as his biceps.
The backup to RB Cadillac Williams could take center stage this season on third down, when Garcia has a tendency to dump the ball off effectively to his tailback. Brian Westbrook caught 40 passes in Garcia's eight starts with the Eagles in 2006, and Pittman's history suggests he could thrive as a safety valve this fall.
'Garcia keeps plays alive and I'm excited about the opportunities I might have this year,' said Pittman, who has topped the 70-catch mark twice in his career, leading all NFC backs with 75 receptions for the 2003 Bucs. 'This will be another way for me to be involved.'
After averaging 6.2 yards per carry in 2005 during Williams' glorious rookie season, Pittman was used sparingly last year, with only 50 rushing attempts. He prides himself on maintaining a good attitude, despite the frustration.
'I'm not going to go over to coach and tell him to put me in,' he said. 'I know my role on this team. I'm the backup, I'm the third-down back, but I'm still going to fight to be the best running back on this team. Sure it's hard sitting on the sidelines, but I stay motivated. I do other things, I volunteer for special teams.'
QUICK LEARNER: Cato June may be the eventual successor to Derrick Brooks as Tampa Bay's weakside LB, but for now, the agile veteran who helped the Colts win a Super Bowl is doing just fine on the strong side.
'Cato is a playmaker,' said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has been working Jamie Winborn at Brooks' spot while the perennial Pro Bowler is sidelined with an injured hamstring. 'He's a good football player. Until you really have a guy in your system and in the meetings every day and on the field, you never know for sure. Cato is outstanding. He comes to play every day.'
June's arrival as a free agent has relegated Ryan Nece to a backup position. Because of his superb cover skills, June is likely to remain on the field even when Tampa Bay shifts to its nickel defense.
Playing for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis has helped June make a smooth transition to Tampa.
'When you call Tampa-2, it isn't like he's never heard that before,' Kiffin said. 'There are a lot of things that are very similar, although I think wherever he went he'd be a darned good football player.'
QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'Nobody is expecting us to win. Nobody is expecting us to do anything, so if we just go out and play like we have nothing to lose, I think we'll be great.' - third-year TE Alex Smith
TIME TO SHINE: It's Barrett Ruud's turn - and he knows it.
After two years as understudy to Shelton Quarles, the former second-round pick out of Nebraska has Tampa Bay's starting MLB job all to himself. Since Quarles was released this spring, Ruud has been gearing up for the opportunity.
'I actually feel a lot more comfortable,' said Ruud, who started five games in 2006. 'I think last year I was always kind of in the mind-set of don't screw anything up. Now, it feels more relaxed, you just go play. You're going to make some mistakes, but you don't have to worry about looking over your shoulder to see when you're going to go out.'
BUC BITS: After three days of barking out messages of approval and indignation to his players, Coach Jon Gruden arrived at the morning practice with a hoarse voice. ... WR Joey Galloway returned Monday after being granted an excused absence to attend the AFL championship game in New Orleans. ... Matt Bryant nailed each of his six FG attempts in morning practice before the afternoon session was canceled by rain. ... DT Ellis Wyms turned in a nice play, stripping Garcia of the ball while he attempted to scramble. ... LB Antoine Cash registered a pick when Luke McCown floated a pass intended for Smith in the end zone.