WR Antonio Bryant will likely miss his first regular-season game since joining the Buccaneers in 2008
A week of doubt has turned into "doubtful" when it comes to Tampa Bay Buccaneers star receiver Antonio Bryant.
That was the game designation given to Bryant when the Buccaneers released their more detailed injury report on Friday afternoon. Bryant has been bothered by soreness in the knee that required arthroscopic surgery in early August, and it now appears that ailment will keep him out of Sunday's Week Two contest at Buffalo.
Officially, listing a player as "doubtful" on the Friday injury report indicates at least a 75% chance that he will not play in the upcoming game. In practice, however, players with that designation virtually never play unless they are first upgraded to questionable at some point before the game.
"Right now he's doubtful for this game," said Head Coach Raheem Morris after Friday's practice, from which Bryant was held for the second straight day. "He could possibly show up. He could possibly come out there and be running around full-speed like 89 will do. We'll just have to see. We'll have to wait. If he's not there, you've got to deal. You've got to figure out how to win without him. And if he is there, we're all happy and excited to play him."
As discussed on Buccaneers.com on Thursday, the team's plan to replace Bryant's contributions is three-pronged: Brian Clark, Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter. In addition, opening-day star Michael Clayton may be targeted more often.
"We've got the four guys that have been here and they've got to do it by committee," said Morris. "They have to. Personnel groups will dictate what position they go in, when they go in and why they go in."
Of course, the Buccaneers did manage to ring up 421 yards of non-Bryant offense against the Cowboys (he contributed two catches for 29 yards) so they clearly have the weapons to remain effective. However, even on plays in which Bryant did get the ball, he remained a threat that surely affected Dallas' coverage. Buffalo won't have to worry about that threat, so they may make a point of stopping another specific offensive weapon. That means the busiest target for quarterback Byron Leftwich could be tight end Kellen Winslow, or it could be running back Derrick Ward or it could be any of the skill-position players.
"You've got to get more from Kellen," said Morris. "You've got to get more from Sammie, you've got to get more from Maurice Stovall, Jerramy Stevens. You've got to get more production from your backs. Everybody's got to step up a little bit on offense, be a little more attentive to details. Maybe the coverage does roll to Clayton, maybe it doesn't. Maybe it rolls to Kellen. Whoever's getting the attention, the others have to step up and do things."
Bryant was one of three Buccaneers who did not participate on Friday as the team finished its week of practice, joining center Jeff Faine and cornerback E.J. Biggers on the sideline. Faine (triceps) and Biggers (shoulder) have already been ruled out for the Buffalo game.
Two other Buccaneers who missed the season opener — tight end John Gilmore (ankle) and defensive end Kyle Moore (groin) — are considered questionable, but both took a step forward by participating fully in Friday's field session. Gilmore had previously been limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but Moore went straight from sitting out to running without limits on Friday. That was a bit of good news to balance the list of Bucs who will miss Sunday's outing.
"Kyle Moore was very encouraging," said Morris. "He went full-speed today for the first time in awhile. He looked good. He went out there and did a lot of scout-team stuff for us, moved around really well. So we're fired up about that, getting a young pup back. He had a major role and was going to be a part of that rotation. Unfortunately, he wasn't there for the first game. We'll have to see what he can do this week if we can get him out there. We'll just have to check it out."
Safety Jermaine Phillips (calf) practiced without issue on Friday and is considered probable.
The Bills have ruled out just one player so far, but he is a key member of their defense. Starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny went out with a forearm injury against New England on Monday night and definitely will not play against the Buccaneers. The Bills will presumably turn to second-year man Marcus Buggs to man the middle, though they could also move starting outside linebacker Keith Ellison inside and move up Ellison's backup, Nic Harris.
Morris knows the Bills will miss Posluszny, who had surgery on Tuesday to insert a new plate in his arm, the same one he broke in 2007.
"The importance around here of A.B., the importance of Faine, it's the same thing with those guys losing Posluszny," said Morris. "You're talking about the leader of their defense, talking about the guy who makes the calls, the guy who places it for them. You're talking about the guy who's their emotional guy, their leader, their young stud. That's going to be tough for those guys. But, you know, we have to deal with our injuries, they have to deal with theirs. That's why this game is football. It's fair."
Morris doesn't anticipate the absence of Posluszny affecting the Buccaneers' game plan, however, as he expects Buggs or one of the other Bills reserves to fill in nicely.
"You hate to say you can exploit anything because they've got that guy being a backup for a reason," said the Bucs coach. "That guy comes in and can make plays. You can't really judge a guy when he comes into a middle of a game because he hasn't practiced for them. This week, that guy's got all the reps, he's got all the first-team reps, got everything ready to go. The game plan is put in right from the beginning with him knowing he's the guy. You'd like to have him do that every week, but unfortunately it doesn't happen like that a lot of the time. That guy has an opportunity, so he'd better step up."
Both of the Bills' starting defensive ends, Chris Kelsay (knee) and Aaron Schobel (back) missed practice time this week, but both returned to full-participation on Friday and are considered probably for Sunday's affair. However, Terrence McGee, Buffalo's starter at left cornerback, was added to the injury report on Friday after sitting out practice. He is considered questionable due to a back ailment.