TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to face the Carolina Panthers for Monday Night Football, they're likely be very shorthanded. Several players sat out of Friday's practice, which was held at Raymond James Stadium due to gusts of wind from Hurricane Matthew making it unsafe for video staffers to shoot practice from up high.
“I know you had your binoculars," head coach Dirk Koetter said, chuckling. "You might not have needed your binoculars today because [the media] had a nice, close view [of practice]. You look over there where you guys were sitting and you see how many guys were sitting on the other side [injured].”
The list of injured players keeps piling up, as does the bench (two benches Friday) of players not practicing. The latest includes Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (calf), second-round pick Noah Spence (shoulder), backup running back Charles Sims (knee) and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Broncos, was limited in Thursday's padded practice and sat out Friday.
McDonald, who normally starts at nose tackle, slid into McCoy's three-technique spot Sunday and finished with 1 1/2 sacks, with Akeem Spence stepping in to fill his spot. Losing him would be a significant blow, and if he doesn't play the team would have one starter along the defensive line in William Gholston.
The team has already been without starting defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), running back Doug Martin (hamstring) and wide receiver/kick returner Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) for two weeks, when all four went down with injuries in Arizona in Week 2. Stocker returned to practice this week on a limited basis, as did Brandon Myers, who suffered a hip injury against the Broncos. Ayers even did a few light drills Thursday, but he, Martin and Shorts aren't expected to play this Monday.
Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes (hamstring) and backup center/guard Evan Smith (back) were added to the injury report Friday and both were limited. Backup safety Keith Tandy, who missed Thursday's practice with a knee injury, was limited Friday.
“We’ve got some guys banged up, there’s no doubt about that," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. He is hopeful they may be able to get some guys back by the end of the weekend but is realistic about those expectations. "It’s one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity," Smith said. "And guys are going to get opportunities to play some significant snaps this week that [they] probably weren’t going to play last week.”
Defensive end/tackle DaVonte Lambert and defensive end Channing Ward, both 2016 undrafted free agents, were inactive in Week 1. With Ayers out and Spence going down with injury, Lambert played 68 percent of the defensive snaps against the Broncos while Ward played 39 percent. Peyton Barber, also an undrafted free agent in 2016 who has seen three weeks' worth of special-teams action, is likely to take his first offensive snaps.
"Everybody has to step up, week-in and week-out," said linebacker Lavonte David, a Pro Bowler and one of two captains on defense. "That's the name of the game. People are going to go down. People are going to get hurt. Most of our starting guys who we're counting on this year are down. We have some young guys who have been stepping up."
In Carolina, the injury situation is just as bad, if not worse. Starting quarterback Cam Newton is still in the concussion protocol after taking a vicious hit at the goal line against Atlanta, as is offensive tackle Michael Oher. Linebacker Thomas Davis, who picked Jameis Winston off twice last year, has a hamstring injury, as do running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Cornerback James Bradberry hasn't practiced all week with a foot injury. With Bene' Benwikere's release, the Panthers are expected to start two new cornerbacks this week.