Rookie CB Dwight Smith's outstanding preseason ended with an injury that will keep him out for several weeks
Like every NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been heading into each preseason game with an active roster of 70-80 players. With the regular season set to begin next weekend, the Bucs will not only have to take just 53 players into each contest, but will have to declare eight of those 53 inactive before each contest.
At least for the first month, those inactive decisions might be quite easy for the Buccaneers.
That's because a significant number of expected Tampa Bay contributors will be unable to play when the season begins in Dallas next weekend. That list already included, most likely, center Jeff Christy (knee) and guard Russ Hochstein (foot); after Friday's preseason finale in Atlanta, you can add DT James Cannida (knee) and CB Dwight Smith (foot). There is also an ongoing concern with rookie DE Ellis Wyms (leg).
Cannida and Smith were two of three players to suffer significant injuries in Atlanta. Head Coach Tony Dungy addressed that situation on Saturday afternoon, less than a day after the team's 36-7 loss in the Georgia Dome.
"We had a couple of significant ones," said Dungy of the postgame training room analysis. "Kendell Mack has a torn triceps and he's going to be out for the year. James Cannida has an MCL, similar to some of the ones we've had, and he's going to be out a good amount of time, probably a minimum of 4-6 weeks. Dwight Smith has a sprained foot and is probably going to be out at least two weeks, probably until after the bye."
The Buccaneers have their bye in the third weekend, after the opening trip to Dallas and a much-anticipated home game against Philadelphia. Dungy admitted that the uncommon rash of injuries suffered on the Atlanta turf were unwelcome factors in the roster-shaping process, as the Bucs must make their final cut down to 53 on Sunday.
"Those three are tough ones," he said. "We had some other minor ones, but those are the three main concerns.
"It really does (impact Sunday's roster decisions). We've got a couple of issues – Jeff Christy, Russ Hochstein, now James Cannida and Dwight Smith. You have to play short at a few positions for awhile or keep some other guys, so we'll have some things to think about in the next day and a half."
Tampa Bay is expected to announce its roster cuts by 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Two areas, at an outside glance, appear to be significantly thinned by the run of injuries: interior offensive line and interior defensive line. Dungy indicated that, with Cannida's injury, the Bucs may take a glance at the free agent wire in the coming days to address the latter issue.
"We're going to have to look at it," he said. "We really don't have anyone else now to play the nose other than Anthony (McFarland). So we're going to either have to train someone here – which would probably be either Chuck Darby or Ellis Wyms – or look at bringing someone else in."
What apparently is not a likely decision is the move of DE Marcus Jones, a former tackle, back into the middle.
"We broached that subject with him and it didn't go over too well," said Dungy with a laugh. "In the regular season, though, anything is possible, whatever you have to do and I'm sure he'd be willing to do it. But that's down the list of options."
Same story for Steve White, who has played only end during his NFL career.
"When we talked to Marcus, Steve was standing right next to him and he didn't volunteer, either," said Dungy. "They were more in the let's-bring-someone-else-in mode."
One player that returned from injury on Friday also sparked a little roster debate on Saturday, as punter Mark Royals had an uncharacteristically shaky evening in Atlanta. Of course, Royals has an excuse, having not played since a July 30 knee sprain knocked him out for training camp and beyond.
Royals punted four times in the Dome and finished with a 39.0-yard average that wasn't exactly disastrous. However, his first two punts were short liners on which he appeared out of synch. Later in the game, Royals appeared to loosen up and regain the form that has made him one of the league's best and most consistent punters the last two years.
"What we have to decide is, was him being off still related to the injury or the fact that he hadn't kicked live?" said Dungy "That's what we have to find out. (Head Trainer) Todd Toriscelli seems to think that it's not injury-related, per se, that there's something keeping him from kicking, because he actually kicked well in practice. I think it's more (an issue) of first time through, trying to be perfect."
What does seem certain is that some of the Bucs' younger players will have to contribute in the early going, if not in a starting role then at least off the bench. Given the team's lackluster performance in Atlanta, that issue was up front on Dungy's mind on Saturday.
"I thought our first units were fairly sharp but, again, you're not going to be able to play with your first units all the way through a 16-game season," he said. "You're going to need those other guys to step up and perform and that's the idea we tried to get across today.
"They have to get better. We talked about that today. The guys who go into those backup roles, not only do they have to play a number of different roles, but they have to play them well, they have to be ready to win when they go in. It's a matter of continuing to coach and them continuing to get experience. We will need player 23 to 53 quite a bit this year."