The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pay tribute to their newest Ring of Honor member, Mike Alstott, at halftime of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith would actually like for his team to do that before halftime.
"The type of player Mike Alstott was, a physical football player that brought it every day, that's what we need to do," said Smith. "What better way for us to honor a player like Mike than to play his brand of ball today, and that's what we plan on doing."
Alstott is the second-leading rusher in franchise history and he became one of the most popular figures in franchise history due to his relentless running style. Smith's formula for offensive success definitely begins with a rugged rushing attack, and he believes the Buccaneers have the ballcarriers to make it work in Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey. Martin will start his fourth consecutive game despite missing some practice time during the week.
"[Martin] bumped his knee earlier but no problems," said Smith. "He finished up the week strong. He's starting today and he's good to go. At the running back position we've gotten good solid play. Whether it's Doug in there or Charles Sims. Charles of course had a big touchdown last week and he's looking good running between the tackles. The guys are looking good catching the ball. We'll need both of those guys, and Bobby too, today."
READ: HOW TO WATCH THE GAME
Sims scored against the Texans on a nifty 32-yard catch-and-run that was extremely well-blocked downfield. As Smith mentioned, both Sims and Martin ran hard in the Houston game, but the rushing attacked generated just 57 yards. Tampa Bay's offensive line was rightfully lauded for holding Houston's outstanding group of pass-rushers without a sack; against Carolina, the Bucs need that plus more push up front in the rushing game.
"Big challenge with Carolina's defensive line but our offensive line has been playing pretty good," said Smith. "All five guys played well last week. Joe Hawley has really given us good play at the center position with Evan Smith being down. Again, we'll need that today to control that front in order for us to run the football and throw it."
That Panther D-Line lost a key contributor last Sunday when Charles Johnson suffered a severe hamstring injury, but the team quickly traded for former Bears and Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Smith is familiar with Allen's game from their shared time in the NFC North and he expects the Panthers to throw the 12th-year pro right into the mix.
"When you bring a veteran player like that in during the season, you don't bring him here to ease his way in," said the Bucs' coach. "We expect to see him quite a bit. He's played in this system all his life, so it should be fairly easy for him to get up to par. We're expecting that. Tough duty – he's one of the best pass-rushers of all time."
Throwback to the Bucs 16-10 win over the Panthers in 2012.
The Panthers will also be without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is missing his third straight game due to a concussion. The Buccaneers had a lengthy Week Four injury report of their own but did see some good late-week developments on the list, including the return of starting left tackle Donovan Smith. However, starting cornerback Johnthan Banks was unable to work due to a knee injury and will be inactive today.
"We've been playing a few guys at the cornerback position," said Smith, who also promoted rookie corner Jude Adjei-Barimah from the practice squad on Saturday. "We'll start Tim Jennings at one corner, Mike Jenkins will start at the other and Alterraun Verner will be in relief.
WATCH: WEEK 4 PEWTER PANEL
The Buccaneers declared their seven game-day inactives 90 minutes prior to kick off: Banks, QB Ryan Griffin, S Major Wright, C Evan Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE Luke Stocker and WR Russell Shepard. All but Griffin were out due to injury.
Carolina's inactives did not include Johnson, who has been placed on short-term IR, but did include Kuechly. The other six were S Dean Marlowe, RB Brandon Wegher, T Daryl Williams, G Amini Silatolu, WR Kevin Norwood and WR Jerricho Cotchery, Kuechly, Williams, Silatolu and Cotchery were out due to injury. Without Cotchery or second-year standout Kelvin Benjamin (already on injured reserve), the Panthers might be expected to look more often to tight end Greg Olsen. Of course, they have already been doing that; Olsen is tied with New England's Rob Gronkowski for the most targets by a tight end this season and he leads the Panthers in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
"I don't really matters who the other receivers would be or are, [QB Cam Newton] would be looking to Greg Olsen," said Smith. "Why wouldn't you? He's one of the best tight ends around. But we still have to keep our coverage on the wideouts; you can't throw it to Greg every time."
The Buccaneers take on the Panthers on Sunday afternoon with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be played at Raymond James Stadium and will be broadcast by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.