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Bucs DE Jacquies Smith headed to IR with knee injury

TAMPA, Fla. -- One day after he was carted off the field in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith is heading to injured reserve, the team announced Monday.

Smith, 26, suffered a torn ACL to his right knee during a punt return in the first quarter. He left the locker room Sunday with a bulky brace and a crunch, and underwent an MRI Monday.

"It's big," head coach Dirk Koetter said of losing Smith. "He's a guy that's a starter in our nickel package and a key contributor. It's gonna be tough."

Smith started 18 games between 2014-2015, registering nine tackles for a loss during that span. In 2015, he recorded seven sacks, along with a batted-down pass and three forced fumbles.

In 2014, after being claimed off waivers from the Buffalo Bills, Smith went on to start seven of the final eight games, finishing with 6 1/2 sacks, two passes defended and a forced fumble.

This year, his role shifted under new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who utilized Smith as a situational pass-rusher on the left side versus an every-down defensive lineman. His results this preseason -- four sacks, the third-most in the league and the most by a Buccaneers defensive lineman since at least 2000 -- suggested the arrangement was working.

"We've really gotta pick up the slack in other areas," Koetter said. "Some guys had to play more snaps than they might have before [Sunday]. We're gonna be tested on our depth. We've been saying that we thought we had depth at the defensive line and this is gonna test us right off the bat."

Two players who could step in would be Noah Spence and Howard Jones.

Spence, a second-round draft pick in 2016, played 35 snaps Sunday (54 percent). He typically lines up on the right side in the Bucs' nickel passing situations, when Robert Ayers slides inside next to Gerald McCoy. If Ayers remained outside at right defensive end, he could play there.

Howard Jones is another speedy-but-undersized pass-rusher. He started five games for the Bucs last season, finishing with five sacks, and could assume that role as well. He had a very strong training camp and preseason, finishing with two sacks.