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Bucs will be without three starters in home opener vs. Rams

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will officially be without three of last week's starters against the Los Angeles Rams in their home opener Sunday.

Earlier this week, running back Doug Martin underwent an MRI that revealed a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out for three weeks.

The team still held out hope that the three others who left Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals -- defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) and wide receiver/kick returner Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) -- could all return. None of them practiced Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, however, and are listed as out.

Starting left tackle Donovan Smith missed Wednesday's practice with a hip injury, but returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday and then in Friday's team walk-through. He is officially listed as questionable, the highest designation on the team's injury report.

Starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who's been dealing with a shoulder injury, was a full participant in this week's practice. Safety Ryan Smith, who has yet to see NFL game action, continues to recover from a hand injury. Both are officially listed as questionable.

On offense, Martin is the biggest loss. The team's run-first offense relies heavily on the ground game to set up play-action, and Martin is a tough inside runner. Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers will handle the workload, with Sims handling the bulk of the carries and contributing in the short passing game.

Ayers' loss is significant, too. Along with Gerald McCoy, he gets the most snaps of any defensive lineman on the team because he's part of their base and sub packages, and he lines up outside and inside during nickel passing situations. Rookies Noah Spence and DaVonte Lambert, along with pass-rusher Howard Jones, who had five sacks last season, will divide up Ayers' responsibilities.

Stocker, whose name you don't hear much compared to the other pass-catching tight ends, is the team's best run-blocker and pass protector, which could be a real problem against the Rams' top pass rush.

The team is also down another tight end following Austin Seferian-Jenkins' release Friday afternoon. Brandon Myers and Cameron Brate will handle that load, with Brate staying late after Friday's practice to work with quarterback Jameis Winston on some plays in the end zone.

Rookie tight end Alan Cross, an undrafted free agent, was called up from the practice squad to replace Seferian-Jenkins.

Shorts returned one kickoff last week for 19 yards. Wide receiver Adam Humphries, who already handles punt returns, could handle kickoffs too, having returned one against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1.