LB Antoine Cash proved to be a valuable player for the Bucs in 2006, and his move to IR is a
The NFL career of Antoine Cash had been on a steady rise since he was left undrafted in April of 2005. Now he must endure a bit of a plateau before once again reaching for new heights.
On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced that Cash, a promising young linebacker who shined on special teams last year, has been placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury. Cash tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during Saturday night's game in Jacksonville and will miss the entire 2007 season.
"It's unfortunate; he was really coming on," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's a good young linebacker and he'll be out for the season. That's a big loss for us."
A standout at Southern Miss, Cash slipped through the 2005 draft but was signed the next day by Atlanta. He impressed in Falcons camp and beat the odds to earn a roster spot for the regular season. After appearing in three games for the Falcons, he was released in November but quickly snapped up by the Bucs for their practice squad. Another strong training camp, this time with the Buccaneers, earned Cash a roster spot again last fall and this time he held it throughout the season.
Cash, in fact, emerged as one of the Bucs' best special teams players. He had 17 kick-coverage stops in 2006, including four in one game against Philadelphia on October 22. Tampa Bay coaches also still believed he could help on defense, and they moved him from the outside to middle linebacker this summer to test his acumen at that spot. The move went well and Cash had a very good shot to make the team again and provide depth and versatility to the linebacking crew.
Now, the Bucs may need to shuffle the lineup or add another player at that position, because they actually lost two linebackers to injury during the Jacksonville game. Rookie Sam Olajubutu, a rookie out of Arkansas, suffered an Achilles tendon tear during warm-ups before Saturday's contest and has undergone surgery to repair the injury. Olajubutu has also been placed on injured reserve.
Though the Buccaneers were relatively fortunate with injuries during training camp, especially as compared to some recent summers in Disney, they do have a growing IR list. Second-year DE Charles Bennett was placed on that list before camp started due to a knee injury sustained on the practice field in June. And fullback Mike Alstott was lost for the season during training camp when unacceptable stress levels were found in his neck, which he had injured in a different spot in 2003.
Three other Buccaneers left Saturday's game with injuries worth watching, though none are considered IR candidates. They vary in severity from rookie safety Tanard Jackson's slight hamstring twinge to cornerback Phillip Buchanon's hand injury to guard Jeb Terry's ankle sprain.
Jackson is expected back in action in a day or two, according to Gruden. Buchanon had a cast on his hand on Monday but Gruden said that X-rays on the hand were reassuring and he should only miss a couple of days, though an update is expected later in the week. Terry, on the other hand, has already been ruled out for this Saturday's game in Miami, though the Bucs hope to have him back shortly thereafter.
End to End
Defensive end Kevin Carter started at left defensive end against the Jaguars Saturday, eight days after starting at right end in the Bucs' preseason opener. Rather than a hint that Carter is ticketed for one specific starting spot on the D-line or another, that should be taken as an indication that the Bucs are going to rotate their top ends liberally this season.
Carter started ahead of fellow 2007 free agent signee Patrick Chukwurah against the Patriots and replaced long-time left end starter Greg Spires against the Jaguars. He also took a lot of early snaps that could have gone to rookie first-round pick Gaines Adams in both contests. All four of those players are very much in the team's defensive end plans for the season.
"We're going to play Spires, we're going to play Carter, we're going to play Gaines Adams, we're going to play Chukwurah," said Gruden. "We're going to use all of these guys because we're going to need them. It's just great to have some guys that are working hard and have talent. I think they're getting more coordinated with one another."
Carter was a revelation working out of the left end spot on Saturday, fighting his way into the middle of many plays. However, Spires is a proven force from that spot, Chukwurah has edge-rushing speed to burn and Adams had a fine game against the Jaguars, too.
"He had a sack, he caused a fumble," said Gruden of Adams' efforts in Jacksonville. "Any time you have a sack and you cause a fumble, those are two impact plays in a game. I think he's getting better as a base end. He's rushing from both sides, right and left in the nickel. He is a very good athlete with some really good natural pass rush and closing speed. He's getting better."
The Buccaneers kept practice relatively light on Monday, working out in shorts and coming off the field about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the team will hold its two lengthy scouting practices in preparation for the Dolphins, followed by a walk-through on Thursday and a flight to Miami on Friday.
The final week of the preseason will be a greatly abbreviated schedule since the team plays on Thursday. Players get Sunday off but will return for two full-scale practices on Monday and Tuesday, followed by the usual walk-through on Wednesday.
The first round of roster cuts, from the current level to a maximum of 75 players, must be made by next Tuesday, two days before the Bucs take on Houston in the preseason finale. The final cuts, down to 53 players, will be made on or before Saturday, August 1.