The only Tampa Bay Buccaneer defenders who played more snaps than Richard Sherman on Sunday night in Foxborough were inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White. David and White rarely come off the field and, indeed, they each played the maximum number of 59 defensive snaps in Tampa Bay's 19-17 win over the New England Patriots.
Sherman played 58. This is noteworthy mainly because, as of five days before Sunday's game, Sherman was not a Buccaneer. The five-time Pro Bowler signed on Wednesday morning and, initially, Head Coach Bruce Arians seemed to be targeting the Week Five game against Miami as the best time to let the newest Buc make his debut. By the end of the week, with Jamel Dean ruled out with a knee injury and Carlton Davis questionable with an abdomen issue, the best option was to throw Sherman right into the starting lineup.
Pierre Desir, a mid-September addition only promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, saw 26 snaps of defense after Davis was taken out by a quad injury. Ross Cockrell has been around longer, joining the Bucs about a year ago, but he opened the season as the team's fourth corner and a versatile backup who could also play safety. He was in for 35 defensive snaps. Safety Mike Edwards didn't start but logged 24 snaps with Antoine Winfield, Jr. leaving the game in the second half with a concussion.
It looks like the patchwork remedies in the Bucs' secondary are going to have to continue for a bit, as there is no guarantee Winfield or Davis will be ready to play next Sunday against Miami.
"Getting back so late, [for] Antoine, it's going to be hard to get out of the [concussion] protocol this week, probably, just because of the timing and the trip," said Arians on Monday. "Carlton's in the MRI tube. I don't know how or long the injury's going to be, so we've got more guys that are going to have to step in and step up."
There aren't too many guys left who haven't already been asked to step up. Cornerback Dee Delaney played about 50 snaps at outside corner in Week Three when Dean suffered the knee injury that is currently keeping him out. Rashard Robinson has been elevated from the practice squad the past two games but so far has only played on special teams. Andrew Adams has proved to be a solid replacement for injured safeties over the past three seasons.
Given the wild run the Bucs' secondary has been on, it wouldn't be surprising to see any of those three in on defense in the coming weeks. Arians said that he was hopeful Dean could get in some practice this week, which could get him back in action next Wednesday, but cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is "a ways away" from coming off injured reserve.
Barring additional injuries, the big adjustment in the secondary will likely be even more reliance on the veteran newcomer duo of Sherman and Desir. The Bucs gave up 31 completions in 40 attempts and 275 yards to rookie quarterback Mac Jones on Sunday, but they did help limit the Patriots to 17 points and Arians had a very positive review of how Sherman and Desir fared after being thrown into the fire.
"It's amazing," said Arians. [Sherman] played really, really well. He had the one penalty but, no, I was really, really pleased with Sherm and Pierre. I thought they both went out there and played really, really good. The bright side is, it's just going to get better, too, the more they learn what the hell they're doing. I think this week, again, fortunately we had Mike Edwards to step in there for Antoine, and we'll see who's going to back up those guys this week."
If the Buccaneers can get solid secondary play out of Sherman and especially Desir, who has plenty of NFL experience but not quite the resume the former boasts, it will be credit once again to Jason Licht's player personnel department. Every team in the league has to overcome injuries every season, but the most difficult problem to weather is when those injuries bunch up at one spot. That's what the Bucs are dealing with now, and the depth they are finding from their new additions is critical.
"There's so much to learn because we're a very multiple coverage team with a lot of checks in motion and things," said Arians. "Our coaches do a hell of a job. But Jason Licht and Spy (Director of Player Personnel John Spytek), they're outstanding at getting the best guys in here. Then our job is to get them ready to play on Sunday. I've always believed that if you're a smart player we can get you ready. We can't give you the entire package but we can give you enough to go out and win with."