TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Cato June is doubtful and rookie left guard Arron Sears is questionable entering Sunday's Wild Card playoff game against the New York Giants.
June did not practice this week with a foot sprain suffered against Carolina last Sunday. On Friday Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn’t sound optimistic about June’s availability.
“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “He got hurt in the Carolina game. I probably should have rested him.”
Sears suffered an ankle injury against the Panthers, but he practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday and Friday. He told reporters on Wednesday that he expected to play.
If Sears cannot play, Matt Lehr would likely replace him. Lehr played in Sears’ place last week.
If June cannot play, Ryan Nece — who started at June’s strong side position in 2005 and 2006 — would likely receive the starting nod.
The Giants may be worse off.
Starting center Shaun O’Hara (knee) and starting cornerback Sam Madison (abdominal strain) are both doubtful after failing to practice this week. Both suffered injuries against New England.
Grey Ruegamer would likely start for O’Hara and R.W. McQuarters for Madison if the starters cannot play.
Linebacker Kawika Mitchell (knee) finally practiced in a limited fashion on Friday, giving the Giants some hope he can play. He is listed as questionable, along with cornerback Kevin Dockery (hip flexor) and defensive end Dave Tollefson (concussion).
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (calf), wide receiver Plaxico Burress (ankle), tight end Mike Matthews (illness) and wide receiver Sinorice Moss (back) are probable.
GIANTS IN TAMPA: While the Giants and Bucs have never met in the postseason, the city has hosted two Giants playoff games.
The Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV in the now-demolished Tampa Stadium. Ten years later the Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium.
Raymond James Stadium will host Super Bowl XLIII next February.
KIFFIN NOT GOING ANYWHERE: The news that Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will return to the coaching staff next season ends any speculation that Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin was out to hire away his father, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte, or Bucs secondary coach Raheem Morris to lead his defense.
The San Francisco Chronicle quoted team and league sources that said the younger Kiffin wanted to replace Ryan, who employs a man coverage defensive scheme, with a coordinator who would install the Cover 2 defense his father has helped make a household formation.
Monte Kiffin dispelled rumors earlier this week that he would be interested in joining his son in Oakland. Kiffin’s contract — which paid him $1.7 million in 2007 — expires after the postseason.
"I haven't thought about what is going on in Oakland," Monte told the St. Petersburg Times. "Lane hasn't discussed it with me. I love the Bucs. I've coached here a long time, and I'd like to continue to coach here.”
Morris’ coaching star is on the rise after turning around a moribund secondary in just one year, part of the reason the Bucs are ranked No. 1 against the pass. While the Bucs do not make their contract terms public, it is likely that Morris signed a multi-year deal with the Bucs when he re-joined the team before the 2007 season and would need permission to pursue a promotion with another team.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.