For the first time since before Lavonte David's arrival in 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play a game without the services of both David and his fellow defensive captain, Gerald McCoy.
On Saturday, Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter confirmed that David and McCoy had been ruled out for Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves will also be sidelined for a fifth consecutive week due to a hamstring injury.
David, who leads the team in tackles (85), forced fumbles (five) and fumble recoveries (five), suffered a hamstring injury against Detroit last Sunday and did not participate in practice this week. McCoy, the Bucs' leader in sacks (5.0), quarterback hits (22) and tackles for loss (12), also sat out all three practices after sustaining a biceps injury in the same contest. After missing a month, Hargreaves returned to practice in a limited fashion to start the week but was back to being an observer by Saturday.
David missed two games earlier in the season with an ankle injury; prior to that, he had only sat out two contests in his first five NFL seasons. Those both occurred late in 2014, and McCoy was on the field for those games. Poor injury luck marked McCoy's first two NFL seasons (2010-11) and he lost 13 games to injured reserve in that span, but he hasn't missed much time since. He was sidelined for three games in 2014 and one each in 2015 and 2016 but had played in each of the first 13 games of the current campaign. McCoy's injuries in his first two years were both to his biceps, each requiring surgery. McCoy's current injury doesn't require surgery, which is why there was hope he'd recover sufficiently to play on Monday night.
The Bucs may be getting a reinforcement at McCoy's position, however, as defensive tackle Clinton McDonald practiced fully on Saturday and is considered "questionable" for Monday's game on the Bucs' official injury report. McDonald has missed the last two games with a back injury.
The Buccaneers promoted rookie linebacker Riley Bullough from the practice squad earlier in the week to add depth at the position. Rookie Kendell Beckwith could pick up some of the snaps usually played by David, as could third-year man Adarius Glanton and second-year player Devante Bond. When both David and starting middle linebacker Kwon Alexander were sidelined at the same time earlier in the season, Beckwith played middle linebacker, with Glanton starting on the strong side and Bond on the weak side. Beckwith and Bond have also recently seen a significant number of snaps as stand-up edge rushers in sub packages.
Beckwith, in particular, has been a very useful Band-Aid at multiple positions for the Bucs during his impressive rookie season. That includes his new pass-rushing role, which was not something the team anticipated needing to do at the start of the season.
"That's not what he came here to do," said Koetter. "We drafted him to be a linebacker and that's what he is. The way the numbers work out, you don't play your base defense a ton anymore. In our base defense, sometimes that guy is on the ball as an outside linebacker [or] sometimes he's in the bubble, which is where Kendell is more at home. We have had to use him just because of the situation we are in with numbers. We have had to use him basically as a defensive end sometimes, but Kendell has done everything that's ever been asked of him and he does it with a great attitude and goes out there and plays hard."
Three other Buccaneers are considered questionable for Monday's game: safety Josh Robinson, tackle Donovan Smith and guard J.R. Sweezy. Robinson, the Bucs' special teams captain, has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but practiced fully on Saturday.
Smith and Sweezy have started every game at left tackle and right guard, respectively; given that the team recently lost starting center Ali Marpet and starting right tackle Demar Dotson to injured reserve, any additional shakeup to the line would require some creative solutions. Smith practiced fully on Saturday; Sweezy was limited.