TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without starting middle linebacker Kwon Alexander against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Alexander has been battling a hamstring injury and missed practice all week. He was ruled out on Friday afternoon.
Alexander left in the second quarter last Sunday against the Chicago Bears and was replaced by rookie Kendell Beckwith, who slid over from the strongside position. Adarius Glanton stepped into Beckwith's spot.
Beckwith finished the game with five tackles, two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup. He also helped limit the Bears' rushing attack to 20 total yards. He currently carries Pro Football Focus' fourth-highest grade among linebackers this season with a score of 87.0. Teammate Lavonte David is currently No. 1 with a 91.3.
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook presents a different challenge than the Bears' Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, though. Cook had 127 rushing yards in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, breaking Adrian Peterson's Vikings rookie debut record. He ranks third in the NFL in total rushing yards and is averaging 5.6 cards per carry. He's also produced two runs of 30 yards or longer already this season.
“No disrespect to the Bears back that we played last week, [but] I think he is a different type of back," said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "He is a little bit bigger. I don’t know that he has the quicks that we faced last week, but he is a stronger running back. He runs well behind his pads. ... All you’ve got to do is show that clip to the team and they’ve got respect for him right away. ... We consider him a game-wrecker."
Alexander is considered one of the Bucs' better run defenders and has been a tackling machine, although he's had his share of misses and can sometimes wind up out of position. Still, his 108 solo tackles ranked first in the league last year. He's also a team captain, has played in Smith's defense for two years and has made the calls on defense for the last three.
A back like Cook gets to the second level with ease, putting extra pressure on the Bucs' front seven and particularly the linebackers, especially if they get him going in the short passing game.
"He is a game-wrecker," said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "He destroyed New Orleans and had some big runs last week. He's not a ‘run-and-get-out-of-bounds’ guy. He's a ‘get-that-extra-couple-yards’ guy. Anybody like that, you've got to bring your big-boy pants with you. Bring an extra set of pads because it's going to be a physical day."
Beckwith said he would have no qualms about starting at Mike linebacker this week and making the calls on defense, which he did Sunday. He went up against another bruising back, Leonard Fournette, in practice every day when the two played together at LSU. That was an offense Beckwith knew like the back of his hand, though.
Another problem the Bucs might have against Cook: defensive tackle Chris Baker has been dealing with the flu bug and is doubtful for Sunday. He was a big part of the Bucs' goal this offseason to bolster their run defense and be more physical. If he can't play, Clinton McDonald would start opposite McCoy, a change from the Bucs' usual rotation.