The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into their Week Six bye hoping it would help them take a healthier roster into Week Seven. Despite a 12-man injury report leading up to Sunday's game in Washington, that appears to be the case.
Several players, including starting offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Evan Smith, remain question marks as the team prepares for its Saturday trip to the capital, but it appears likely that cornerback Johnthan Banks and tight end Luke Stocker will be able to return to action. Banks and Stocker participated fully in all three practices during the week and were listed as probable for the game on Friday's official injury report.
The only three players who have already been ruled out for the Washington game are tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and offensive tackle Reid Fragel. Seferian-Jenkins hasn't practiced or played since suffering a shoulder injury in Week Two, while McDaniel and Fragel suffered a groin injury and a concussion, respectively, in practice on Wednesday.
"The rest of the guys were able to do something today and we have a little bit of time before the game still," said Head Coach Lovie Smith after Friday's workout. "We'll see how it goes, but we should have more guys available than we've had in the past, which is a good thing."
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Mankins (groin) and Evan Smith (ankle) are two of the four Buccaneers who got a "questionable" designation on Friday's injury report, along with linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh) and wide receiver Russell Shepard (hamstring). All four of those players practiced on Friday, albeit in a limited fashion. While Smith has been sidelined for the last three games, veteran Joe Hawley has played well in his place. The Buccaneers weren't any more or less cautious with Smith's recovery because of Hawley's strong fill-in work, but they were able to gain confidence in another potential starter. Lovie Smith knows the Buccaneers will eventually need contributions from both Smith and Hawley.
"Joe Hawley's play is encouraging," said the coach. "I always tell the guys, if you deserve to play, some kind of way you'll get it. Something will happen where you will get an opportunity and then it's what you do with that opportunity. Joe Hawley has stepped up. We feel very comfortable with him playing. Just like Kevin Pamphile did last week too. Another guy got an opportunity to play and they put good play on video."
Pamphile filled in for Mankins in the Week Five win over Jacksonville, moving inside to guard from his usual tackle position. The Buccaneers may have both linemen available to play on Sunday.
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"[He's] looked good," said Smith of Mankins. "It's a groin injury, not a hamstring injury, so you can come back from those a little bit quicker. Again, we won't play a player if he's injured, but if a guy is good to go, veterans know their body. I'll lean on them a little bit too. Hopefully we'll have him available to play."
Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, October 21st at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.
Two other players returned to the practice field this week, though not yet to the active roster. Both tackle Demar Dotson and defensive tackle Akeem Spence began their 21-day practice window as they return from the injured reserve/designated for return and reserve/physically unable to perform lists, respectively. Dotson is not eligible to be activated to the 53-man roster until after the team's Week Eight game in Atlanta, but the Bucs could bring Spence back as soon as this week if they so choose. Simply having that option is a plus for the Buccaneers in the wake of McDaniel's injury. However, the team could probably get by on Sunday with an interior-line rotation of Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Henry Melton and perhaps William Gholston.
"We like the flexibility to be able to do that," said Smith. You want options as much as anything. [Spence] has looked pretty good at practice this week. "You need two to play, so two with a backup, you're okay with that, yes."
The improving health of the roster is another positive development for the Buccaneers, who were already feeling more confident after the Week Five win over Jacksonville. With some key players returning to action, the Bucs hope they can come out of the bye week the same way they went into it and win at FedExField for the second season in a row.
"[We're] excited about playing, had a good week of practice," said Lovie Smith. "We're fresh, anxious to play again. It's always tough duty when you go on the road, but we've found a way to win on the road. We know how it feels to win. We know how to win in this stadium."