With CB Elbert Mack (43) suspended, the Bucs have turned to first-year man Marcus Hamilton to provide depth at cornerback
Elbert Mack's suspension has been upheld and Aqib Talib's hamstring is still a question mark, so the Tampa Bay Buccaneers responded with a roster move Friday to restore some depth to the cornerback position.
First-year cornerback Marcus Hamilton has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster and is eligible to play Sunday in Chicago. Mack will not play, as he has been suspended for one game by the NFL due to a pair of flagrant-foul hits in the last three games. Talib might play but he was listed as questionable on the Buccaneers' detailed Friday injury report.
The Bucs did not have to free a roster spot to sign Hamilton. During his suspension, Mack does not count against the 53-man roster.
Hamilton has yet to play in an NFL game, but he has been with the Buccaneers since they drafted him in the seventh round in 2007. He spent the entire '07 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad – he and wide receiver Taye Biddle were the only two players to be on that crew every week of the season – and then was re-signed early in 2008. Head Coach Jon Gruden said that Hamilton very nearly made the team heading into the regular season two weeks ago.
"He knows the defense and he's a good player," said Gruden. "He was right in it 'til the very end and lost a tough battle for the 53-man roster. But he's active."
The 5-11, 188-pound Hamilton was a standout at Virginia, where he tied current teammate Ronde Barber for third in school history with 15 career interceptions. The Buccaneers made Hamilton the 245th player selected overall in the 2007 draft and have been impressed with his skills, investing more than a year in his development.
Thus, despite his inexperience, Hamilton does bring a core knowledge of Tampa Bay's defense with him into his first game.
"I feel like I know the system pretty well," he said after Friday's practice at One Buccaneer Place. "The coaches have done a good job of preparing me, and I've been around the veterans and learned from them for awhile now. I've had a lot of time this year and last year to learn the defense, so I feel pretty good about it.
"I've improved from last year, a lot of my technique and stuff has gotten a lot better. So I feel confident about how far I've come in this defense."
Talib and Mack have played extensively in the Bucs' first two games, essentially sharing the nickel back role behind starting cornerbacks Barber and Phillip Buchanon. Talib secured his first career interception against Atlanta on Sunday, setting up the game's opening touchdown.
Talib later left that game with a hamstring strain, the lingering effects of which have slowed him in practice this week. However, Talib went from not practicing at all on Wednesday to gradually getting more work on Friday and the Buccaneers are hopeful that their '08 first-round draft pick will be able to play in Chicago.
The same is true for Derrick Brooks (hamstring) and defensive end Gaines Adams (ribs), each of whom put in some encouraging work on Friday.
"[Brooks] practiced today," said Gruden. "Aqib Talib did practice and so did Gaines. We'll get to the stadium, we'll see how the guys feel as we always do, and we'll address it from there."
Like Talib, Brooks and Adams are considered questionable on Friday's injury report, the first one of the week to use such designations. Guard Davin Joseph and wide receiver Joey Galloway, two starters suffering from foot injuries, have already been ruled out for the game.
The Bears also have two players who have been ruled out: safety Brandon McGowan (ankle) and tackle Chris Williams (back). Neither is listed as a starter on Chicago's current depth chart, but Williams was the 14th overall pick in the first round of last April's draft.
The Bears actually placed McGowan on injured reserve on Friday and used the open roster spot to promote rookie linebacker Joey LaRocque from the practice squad to the active roster.
Another Bears safety, rookie Craig Steltz, is doubtful for Sunday's game due to an ankle injury. Steltz was not on the injury report as the week began, but he was added on Thursday and has not practiced since.
Of course, the most prominent name on the Bears' injury report belongs to third-year receiver/return specialist Devin Hester. Hester has not practiced at any point this week, but the Buccaneers expect that they will be facing the electrifying return man on Sunday.
"Oh yeah, we're prepared to see Devin," said Gruden. "You want to play against the best players. That's why you get into the NFL, that's why you want to be in this league. You want to see the best and perform at your best against the best, see where you stack up."
Hester is listed as questionable on the Bears' injury report.