S Jermaine Phillips has turned in several game-changing plays for the Buccaneers this year, including a fumble return for a touchdown against Green Bay
As many hits as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense has taken in the training room, the team's defense has been mostly unscathed.
The Buccaneers did lose cornerback Torrie Cox to injured reserve before the season began, and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud have had to overcome some troublesome leg injuries to stay on the field, but the starting lineup has remained intact on that side of the ball. In fact, Tampa Bay has started the same 11 men on defense in each of its first eight games, which is not common.
However, that streak may not reach nine games. It survived Brooks' hamstring pull and Ruud's tweaked knee, but it may end with strong safety Jermaine Phillips' arm injury.
Phillips hurt his left forearm late in the first half of Sunday's loss at Dallas and did not return to the game. On Monday morning, Head Coach Jon Gruden said the extent of Phillips' injury is still being determined, but did concede that a fracture might be involved. The team may not know until Wednesday or later in the week if Phillips is going to miss any time.
"He's had a heck of a season for us and hopefully it's not serious, but we are concerned," said Gruden. "It [would be] a big loss for us. He's a heck of a player. He's a big-time player. If he is out, hopefully it's not for long and if he does miss some time then we will go in to that secondary room and we'll shake it up a little bit and we'll do the best we can without him."
Phillips is second on the team with 58 tackles, behind only Ruud's 78. He has also recorded one interception, one fumble recovery and two tackles for loss and has broken up four passes. He returned his interception 58 yards and scored on a 38-yard runback of his fumble recovery against Green Bay. Phillips' strong play over the last two seasons is a major factor in the secondary ranking first in the NFL against the pass in 2007 and seventh so far this year.
With Phillips out, second-year safety Sabby Piscitelli finished the game, helping the Bucs hold Dallas to 102 net passing yards on the day. Piscitelli has yet to make an NFL start, but he was already playing a significant amount of snaps before Phillips' injury. Piscitelli frequently subs in at both safety spots, sometimes giving free safety Tanard Jackson a rest.
"Sabby Piscitelli will have to obviously step up," said Gruden of the Bucs' plans if Phillips is out. "There are the resources in our secondary to get that done."
Piscitelli was drafted by the Buccaneers out of Oregon State in the second round in 2007. He played only three games in his rookie season before landing on injured reserve with a foot injury. This year he has contributed 23 tackles, one interception, one pass defensed and one tackle for a loss in his dual-substitution role.
The team's depth chart at safety also includes fifth-year man Will Allen, the Bucs' special teams captain. Allen started 24 games in Tampa Bay's secondary during the 2005-06 seasons. He had three interceptions in part-time play in 2005 and then posted an 83-tackle season while starting every contest in 2006.
Phillips' arm ailment was the only new injury that Gruden introduced in Monday's press conference. The Bucs went into the Dallas game with a number of existing injury situations, including several in the offensive backfield. Fullback B.J. Askew missed his fifth consecutive game due to a hamstring injury, while running back Warrick Dunn was limited by a sore back on Sunday to one carry and two receptions.
Gruden said he hopes that Askew and Dunn, among several other banged-up contributors, will be able to improve enough during the week to be factors on Sunday in Kansas City. Dunn, one of the league's tougher players despite his 5-9, 187-pound frame, was the latest Buccaneer to tough it out and help the team when not at 100 percent.
"Hopefully he's more healthy [next Sunday]," said Gruden. "He played yesterday. He just clearly wasn't himself. I love that guy, and what he and Ike Hilliard did yesterday for me, for our team, for our fans, for our organization speaks volumes. Their presence means a lot and their performance obviously means a lot. Hopefully they have a good week of practice. Hopefully they feel much better and can perform to the standards that they are capable of performing from a health standpoint and they'll deliver for us.
"With the injuries, I give a lot of guys credit, I really do. Ike Hilliard and Warrick Dunn played through it yesterday. Barrett Ruud has played through it; Derrick Brooks has played through it. We have a bye week coming up and we need to muster as much energy, focus and concentration as we can. We need to win this game somehow and some way in Kansas City and get to the bye and try to get our troops healed for the final seven weeks. That is our objective.