CB Ronde Barber, who has never missed an NFL game due to injury, may be questionable this week after a rough weekend in Chicago
A Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that gave up 379 yards to Chicago on Sunday may have to face the New Orleans Saints without two of its best players.
At the very least, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive tackle Warren Sapp will miss most of the Bucs' practice time before they take on the Saints in Raymond James Stadium next Sunday, thanks to existing injuries that were aggravated in Chicago. Tampa Bay went in to Sunday's game at Soldier Field in remarkably good health but finished the contest with fresh concerns for the training staff.
"Yeah, we do have some guys banged up," conceded Head Coach Tony Dungy on Sunday. "We'll have to see how things go. Warren Sapp has a shoulder problem and it's probably going to limit his practice this week. Ronde Barber hurt his hamstring and he's going to be limited in practice. Frank Murphy has a severely sprained ankle and will probably miss this week. They're probably the three most severe ones."
Sapp is second on the team with five sacks and, as one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the league, generally draws frequent double-teaming up front. He worsened an existing left shoulder sprain during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and missed the last 11 minutes of the Bucs' loss. After Sapp was re-examined on Monday morning, the training staff estimated that he would not be cleared to practice until Friday at the earliest. The team's official injury report will not be released until Wednesday, but such a scenario usually results in a player being tabbed as 'questionable' on the report.
Barber's situation is similar. The team's leading interceptor (six) tweaked his left hamstring in the first quarter of Sunday's game in Chicago, but did come back into the game after only a short break and made it through the rest of the contest, tying for the team lead with nine tackles. He's likely to keep Sapp company on the practice field sideline until Friday, at least.
Both hope to play on Sunday, when the Bucs face a virtual elimination game against the Saints.
"They seem to think they're going to be able to play, and I wouldn't bet against them," said Dungy. "I don't know how much they'll be able to practice."
Barber has yet to miss a game due to injury in his five-year NFL career. Sapp missed one game in 1999 due to a hand fracture, one game in 1997 due to an ankle sprain and one game in 1996 due to an ankle sprain. This season, the Bucs' entire starting defense has missed just three games due to injury, two by DT Anthony McFarland and one by S Dexter Jackson, though Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks played through a badly sprained foot.
Another defender, CB Brian Kelly, sustained a left ankle sprain early in Sunday's game but is not expected to miss much practice time. He played most of the game on the injured ankle and reported to team headquarters on Monday morning in pretty good shape.
"It looks like today it's a lot better than it was yesterday," said Dungy. "Hopefully, he'll be able to practice, but he should be probable for the game."
With Murphy likely to sit out the Saints game, RB Aaron Stecker is likely to regain the kickoff return duties, as he did at the end of the Chicago game after Murphy left the field. Stecker has averaged 19.5 yards on six returns this season.
Murphy's injury may also mean a return to prominence for receiver Reidel Anthony, who was included among the team's eight inactives in Chicago.
"I think Reidel will factor in (against New Orleans)," said Dungy. "We had a situation where we were looking at special teams, how the game was going to be played up there. We just made that decision and felt it was going to be best for us overall. We went with four receivers and we had Jameel Cook who was a little bit banged up, and Warrick (Dunn) has been a little banged up, so we went with Aaron Stecker, with one more back. And Frank is a guy who did a lot of things on special teams. But I think Reidel will be more of a factor this week, definitely."
Anthony has 13 receptions for 162 yards this season, plus three punt returns for 12 yards. In his five-year Buc career, the former Florida wideout has 144 catches, 15th-most in team history.