Bucs rule 3 starters out, but several key players expected back

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without Pro Bowl defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr., tight end Cam Brate, left guard Luke Goedeke and wide receiver Russell Gage when they host the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, coach Todd Bowles said Friday.

Winfield Jr., one of the Bucs' top defensive playmakers, suffered a concussion in Week 7 at the Carolina Panthers. He returned to practice this week in a limited capacity, as permitted by the NFL concussion protocol, but is still working his way through the protocol.

"Good to see him out here running around. He's going through the process right now but he's trending in the right way," Bowles said.

Brate, their starting tight end, has been out since suffering a neck sprain Week 6 at the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving the game on a stretcher. He did return to practice this week as a limited participant. Goedeke, their starting left guard, has been out since suffering a foot injury in Week 7 and has not practiced, while Gage, their fourth receiver behind Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones, has been out with a hamstring injury since Week 7.

The Bucs, who have not won a game since Oct. 9 and have fallen to a 3-5 record, are expected to have several key players back from injury. Starting defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who has been out since Week 2 with a foot injury, has been a full participant in practice all week. The Bucs' run defense -- typically one of the top units in the league the last few years -- has struggled as of late.

"It helps because it puts everybody back in their roles," Bowles said. "It puts everybody back in their roles and they can get the amount of time and play how they're used to playing, and it helps us up front because it gives us a dimension we haven't had over there."

Top cornerback Carlton Davis III, who aggravated a hip injury in Week 6 and missed the last two weeks, was also a full participant in practice this week, as was cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who suffered a quadriceps injury in Week 5.

The Bucs have dealt with a number of injuries to key defensive pieces this year, with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shaq Barrett suffering an Achilles tear and undergoing surgery earlier this week, ending his 2022 season.

Like the Bucs, the Rams find themselves in unfamiliar territory at 3-4. The Rams have never fallen two games below .500 under coach Sean McVay, but Bowles doesn't expect diminished competition between the last two defending Super Bowl champions, who will face off for the fourth time in three seasons.

"We know we're going to get the best Rams team we can face," Bowles said. "We're in the same boat -- we're both trying to win a ballgame. They've still got all their star players and high production, obviously, so it's going to be a battle."