TAMPA - When RB Michael Bennett was traded from Kansas City to Tampa Bay on Oct. 16, following Michael Pittman's ankle injury, his speed was supposed to energize a desolate backfield.
After only 10 carries for 57 yards and one touchdown in three games, being declared inactive two weeks ago against Atlanta and not playing last week against Washington, Bennett is trying to stay encouraged.
"At least where I was in Kansas City, I was getting about 15 to 20 plays a game, which is OK," Bennett said. "I come here and expect just to play. I didn't expect to come in, start and take over, because Earnest Graham does a great job. Michael Pittman ... I'm still learning, but my thing is, I feel like I have learned enough to at least get on the field for a few plays."
Tampa Bay is playing New Orleans on Sunday, and with Pittman still recovering from an ankle injury, Bennett is optimistic he will see his first action since rushing five times for 12 yards against Arizona on Nov. 4.
"I'm definitely looking forward to getting out on the field. This is what I do," Bennett said. "I can easily sit back here and say, 'At least I'm getting paid,' but my thing is, I work my butt off all week to get in and play on Sunday, whether it's a little or a lot. That's what I want to do."
McCOWN GETTING THE REPS: Nothing changed Thursday on the QB front, and it still appears Tampa Bay is leaning toward starting Luke McCown if Jeff Garcia is unable to play because of his back injury.
McCown received the majority of the reps during Thursday's practice, which is a good indication Tampa Bay will play him if necessary. But Coach Jon Gruden will not reveal his contingency plan if Garcia cannot play. All he would say is Garcia is showing signs of progress, and he has not ruled him out of playing against New Orleans.
"He is improving," Gruden said. "He didn't really take many reps today, but he does feel a lot better, and we're excited about that."
According to the team's official practice report, Garcia did not practice Thursday.
JONES WALKING AROUND: KR Mark Jones said his recovery was going well after he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Detroit on Oct. 21. Jones, who said he had surgery Oct. 24, is walking without a brace. He was approved Thursday to start riding a stationary bike, and he expects to be 100 percent healed once training camp begins in July.
INJURIES: Garcia and FB B.J. Askew (ankle) did not participate in Thursday's practice, while DE Kevin Carter (groin), CB Brian Kelly (ankle), DE Greg Spires (calf) and Pittman (ankle) were limited in practice. Meanwhile, LB Barrett Ruud (knee) fully participated in practice.
BUCS BITS: RT Jeremy Trueblood said his $15,000 fine for accidentally running into an official during an altercation in the final minute of a 17-10 victory against Arizona on Nov. 4 was reduced to $7,500 after his appeal. Trueblood went after a Cardinals player once he saw teammate Davin Joseph getting hit. In the process, he bumped into an official and was ejected with 45 seconds remaining. ... WR Joey Galloway has caught a touchdown in six consecutive games against New Orleans and can become the third player in NFL history with a TD reception in at least seven consecutive games against one opponent. St. Louis Cardinals WR Mel Gray caught at least one TD in nine consecutive games against Dallas from 1974-78, and Cincinnati's Isaac Curtis caught a TD in eight meetings in a row against Cleveland (1973-76). ... Country music star Charlie Daniels attended Thursday's practice and gave Gruden an autographed football enclosed in a protective glass case. "He's actually a friend of some of our players," Gruden said. "I can't take any credit for anything. I was certainly happy to meet him. I will play 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' while I'm doing my scripts for tomorrow."
Anwar S. Richardson