It appears that injuries will be a factor in Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers…on both sidelines. That's not terribly surprising as the first quarter of the 2015 season nears its completion.
The Buccaneers and Panthers submitted updated injury reports on Friday that featured a combined 22 players, 11 for each team. Four Panthers have already been ruled out for the teams' Week Four matchup at Raymond James Stadium, while four Buccaneers are considered doubtful and another six are questionable.
Carolina has officially ruled All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly out for the third straight game as he remains in the NFL's concussion protocol. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery will also be sidelined for a second game due to an ankle injury. Last week, A.J. Klein and Brenton Bersin started in place of Kuechly and Cotchery, respectively as the Panthers defeated the New Orleans Saints.
The other two Panthers already ruled out are reserve offensive linemen Amini Silatolu (ankle) and Daryl Williams (knee). The other seven players on Carolina's injury report are all considered probable to play on Sunday, including six listed starters: wide receiver Corey Brown (illness), weakside linebacker Thomas Davis (chest), cornerbacks Josh Norman and Charles Tillman (both "not injury related"), running back Jonathan Stewart (tibia) and fullback Mike Tolbert (groin). Both cornerbacks and both running backs participated fully in practice on Friday.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers' starting running back, Doug Martin, was limited on Friday after suffering a knee injury in practice on Wednesday and sitting out the next day. He is listed as questionable on the injury report but is personally optimistic that he'll play against the Panthers.
"I nicked it," said Martin of his knee. "It was just one of those things, you know – a full day would probably be the best for it. I practiced today, because I nicked it early in [Wednesday's] practice and practiced the rest of the day so it's fine. I'll be perfect for the game."
Head Coach Lovie Smith doesn't think Martin's one practice absence should significantly impact his readiness for Sunday's game, assuming he gets medical clearance.
"It's good to see him out there," said Smith. "Sometimes when a guy misses practice in a week, it's about being ready for the weekend, especially with a running back like Doug. He knows the plays. Running back carrying the ball as much as they do for us, missing a day every once in a while isn't the end of the world, but he was good to go today."
The Bucs' four doubtful players are starting cornerback Johnthan Banks (knee), starting center Evan Smith (ankle) and the tight end duo of Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) and Luke Stocker (hip). If Seferian-Jenkins and Stocker don't improve over the weekend, the Bucs will be down to two healthy tight ends in Brandon Myers and Cameron Brate. The secondary could be a bit thin, too, with safeties Major Wright (abdomen, questionable) and Chris Conte (hip, probable) also on the injury report.
"That's not an ideal position to be in, but [it] could be that," said Smith. "You get in a game and you'll have injuries, so you have to have a plan two in place. We'll have that, whether those players are able to go or not."
Rookie Donovan Smith, the Buccaneers' starting left tackle, is also questionable for the game due to a knee injury suffered last Sunday in Houston. There is reason for optimism, however, from Smith's progression through practice this week. He was held out on Wednesday, but then practiced in a limited fashion Thursday before returning to full participation on Friday.
Defensive end George Johnson, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver Russell Shepard are all considered questionable as well. Shepard was added to the injury report on Friday after suffering a hamstring injury on the practice field.
"Kwon has done a great job for us in the middle of our defense this year and we are excited to see him getting recognized for his level of play," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith. "Defensively, we focus on making big plays and forcing takeaways, and that is exactly what Kwon did for us last week in Houston. He is getting more comfortable in his role each week and we look forward to seeing him continue to develop."