It looks like October will be a month of adjustments for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At 3-2 and one game back in the NFC South standings, the Buccaneers may have to chase the first-place New Orleans Saints without two of their most productive players, at least temporarily. On Monday, Head Coach Raheem Morris discussed the injuries suffered by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and running back LeGarrette Blount in San Francisco, and appeared to be devising contingency plans for the absence of at least McCoy this coming Sunday.
Morris referred to McCoy's status as "week-to-week" but said he might not have a better prognosis on Blount until practices began later in the week. Morris was not ready to rule out either player for next Sunday's game against the Saints, but he did discuss how the team would cover for McCoy if the lineman is unable to play.
The Bucs have already made one adjustment, promoting first-year defensive end George Johnson from the practice squad. To make room for Johnson on the 53-man roster, the team released rookie tight end Collin Franklin. The Buccaneers actually have an additional opening on the roster to fill because rookie safety Devin Holland has been placed on injured reserve due to a back injury.
Johnson will give the Buccaneers added depth at defensive end and thus give Morris the option of using rookie defensive end Da'Quan Bowers on the interior line while McCoy is out. Johnson would back up Adrian Clayborn at right end, allowing Tim Crowder to move to left end and back up Michael Bennett. That, in turn, would allow Bowers to move to the three-technique defensive tackle spot, most likely in pass-rushing situations. The team has jumbo defensive tackle Frank Okam as good depth for McCoy on base-defense snaps.
Bennett has also played defensive tackle in the past, but Morris said he was more likely to use the larger Bowers on the inside this time around. Morris also indicated that defensive tackle Brian Price, a gifted pass-rusher will stay in his position at nose tackle rather than move over to the three-technique spot.
"I'll leave Brian at the nose," said the coach. "He's been really explosive and has been great for us. Brian was one of the few bright spots yesterday besides one play. Brian at the nose tackle gives us a lot of production. We have Frank Okam who can go in there and start at the three-technique. We also have some flexibility to put big Bowers in there to give us some of the explosiveness that we lose with McCoy, if we do lose McCoy."
McCoy, who leads the Buccaneers with 13 quarterback pressures and four tackles for loss, sprained his right ankle in the first quarter in Sunday's loss to the 49ers when another player rolled across the back of his legs. Morris said he could tell the difference in his defense's production almost immediately.
"His initial get-off, getting off the ball and causing disruption – that was clearly evident yesterday once he left the game," he said. "The thing he does well – get off the ball, cause disruption, disrupt runs – he left in the second period and he was playing lights-out up until that point. He'll be missed but we have the 'next man up theory' for us. It's another opportunity for somebody to go out there and play. Frank Okam went in there last year and played well versus [the Saints]. Hopefully we can get the same type of production out of Frank Okam and a little bit out of Bowers, so those two can perform and be better than what we had in McCoy."
Blount, the Bucs' leading rusher and the man Morris referred to as "the engine" of his offense before Sunday's game, suffered a knee injury when he was hit low by safety Dashon Goldson at the end of a 29-yard reception in the third quarter. If Blount is unavailable for one or more games – and Morris wasn't ready to make that sort of prediction on Monday – the Bucs will test their already-existing running back depth.
"I want to get some more detailed information on Blount," said Morris. "We'll see as the week of the practice goes on. If he practices on Wednesday, I'll call him day-to-day. If he doesn't, we'll see.
"We've got Earnest Graham, we've got Kregg Lumpkin and yesterday you got a little taste of Allen Bradford. So we've got some guys that are capable of running the football and they'll have the opportunity this week if [Blount] is not able to go."
Blount contributed 65 combined rushing and receiving yards against the 49ers before leaving with his injury, including that career-long 29-yard catch-and-run. After his departure, the Buccaneers split 12 carries between the trio of Bradford, Graham and Lumpkin, and they accounted for 50 rushing yards.
Through the first five games of 2011, Blount had contributed 328 yards and three touchdowns on 77 carries, picking up 4.5 yards per tote. He was also emerging in the passing attack, with four catches for 58 yards. In his previous outing before the trip to San Francisco, Blount helped the Bucs defeat the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night with 127 rushing yards and a touchdown. Last season, Blount led all rookies with 1,007 rushing yards despite not becoming a significant part of the Bucs' offense until six weeks into the campaign.