LB Kwon Alexander to miss Bucs' final 4 games due to PED suspension

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know that if they are going to make the playoffs, they will have to do so without starting rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander.

Alexander will miss the remaining four games of the NFL regular season after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Alexander had originally appealed the findings but has decided to drop the appeal and serve the suspension, which begins immediately. Alexander will be able to return to the team Jan. 4, the day after Tampa Bay's final regular-season game.

Word of a possible suspension was reported Nov. 22, and Alexander confirmed it following the Bucs' 45-17 win over Philadelphia. He said the banned substance was in an energy drink he had used since high school and that he would appeal the suspension. On Tuesday, he decided to take the punishment now instead of taking the chance that it would stretch into the postseason.

"I made a mistake by putting a product in my body that I did not know was banned by the league's policy," Alexander said in a statement released by the Bucs on Tuesday. "It's very disappointing and frustrating that I won't be able to be with my teammates during this important final stretch of games, but I have to own up to my mistake, learn from this and ensure it doesn't happen again. I have decided to drop my appeal in order to move past this issue and will focus on re-joining my teammates in four weeks."

In order for Alexander to rejoin his teammates on the playing field this season, the Bucs would have to make the playoffs, which would likely mean they have to win out. Tampa Bay is currently on the outside of the playoff field in seventh place in the NFC at 6-6. The Bucs are one game behind sixth-place Seattle and two behind fifth-place Minnesota for the final two playoff spots in the conference.

With Alexander gone, the Bucs will turn to either veteran Bruce Carter or fourth-year pro Danny Lansanah to fill the void.

Carter came to the Bucs via free agency in March to be the team's middle linebacker. But following the first preseason game at Minnesota, the club moved Alexander to that position permanently. Carter hasn't started a game with Tampa Bay but has 32 starts with Dallas. Carter missed Tampa Bay's most recent game with a concussion and has 11 tackles and one pass breakup in limited action this season.

Lansanah is normally the team's starting strongside linebacker, but he showed last season that he could play the middle. In fact, Lansanah started at least one game at all three linebacker positions -- strongside, middle and weakside -- in 2014 before returning to the strongside position this season. Lansanah has 30 tackles, one sack, two pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2015.

While both substitutes are capable, the Bucs will miss Alexander, their fourth-round pick out of LSU who turned out to be a playmaker on defense this season. He is the only player in the NFL with at least 80 tackles, five pass breakups, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery this season. His 93 total tackles led all rookies, while his nine pass breakups led all rookie linebackers.

"We are obviously disappointed to be losing Kwon at this point in the season," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said in the team's statement. "He made an error in judgment earlier this season and he has owned up to that situation. ... We will continue to stand by Kwon and support him the best we can until he is eligible to re-join the team following the last regular-season game."