The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense has averaged 333 yards over the last three games despite not having the services of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a team captain who owns a streak of four straight 1,000-yard seasons. The Buccaneers' defense just put together its best performance of the season in a 10-6 win over Dallas despite playing without starting right end Jacquies Smith, the team's sack leader in 2015.
Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, November 18th, at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.
As encouraging as those performances were, the Bucs would very much like to see what they can do with those two back in the lineup.
Jackson and Smith are moving towards their return from knee and ankle injuries, respectively. There's still no indication that either player will be in the lineup this Sunday in Philadelphia, but at least they're both back on the practice field. Smith got in his first work in three weeks on Monday and Jackson joined him on Tuesday; neither player was full-go, but even limited participation is good news for a Tampa Bay team that could definitely use help at those two positions.
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"[Jackson] was limited today," said Head Coach Lovie Smith after Thursday's practice. "Yesterday [he] didn't do anything. Today he was able to get a few reps, able to run around a little bit, which is a step in the right direction."
Last year, the Buccaneers started a pair of six-foot-five, 1,000-yard receivers in Jackson and standout rookie Mike Evans. Evans missed the first game of the 2015 campaign with a hamstring injury and started out slowly but was just starting to hit his stride when Jackson suffered his knee injury in Washington in Week Seven. Evans has had two 125+-yard games since but perhaps more importantly he's been targeted 41 times in those three games. Undrafted rookies Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries have made some critical supporting plays during Jackson's absence and thoroughly impressed Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter, but there's no doubt the passing game would be more dynamic with Jackson in it.
"It's always good to get the guys back there at least doing something," said Lovie Smith. "We want as many options as possible on game day.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense has three sacks in the two games it has played without Smith, but only one by a defensive lineman. And that was before defensive end George Johnson ended last Sunday's game on the sideline with a calf injury and rookie defensive end Josh Shirley suffered his own calf injury in practice this week. Smith doesn't yet know if he will be sufficiently recovered by Sunday to avoid missing a third straight game, but he's glad he's taken the process to the next level by getting back on the practice field this week.
"It went pretty good," said Smith of Wednesday's workout. "I'm just taking time to get back out there, trying to get in the flow and see how stuff feels. We'll see what happens the rest of the week.
Photos of Buccaneers vs. Eagles matchups through the years.
"We'll have to continue to go through practice days and see how it responds, basically, until I get the okay from the doctors and the head coach to go out there and play to the best of my ability, not just be out there. Obviously we have to finish this week of practice and see what happens. Just being out there with the guys and doing as much as I can is obviously better than sitting out."
Johnson was the only Buccaneer to sit out practice completely on Thursday. Shirley was added to the injury report under the limited participation tag. Guard Ali Marpet, center Evan Smith and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins continued to take part in a limited fashion, as well.