The Bucs started the season with four defensive tackles on the depth chart; McFarland is the third to land on IR
On Thursday after practice, Head Coach Jon Gruden rather matter-of-factly announced the latest bit of injury news for his Tampa Bay Buccaneers: starting defensive tackle Anthony McFarland will be headed to injured reserve.
It's a major loss for the Buccaneers – McFarland is considered the team's top defensive tackle and that position is already woefully thin – but Gruden's level demeanor is no surprise. He has become quite used to passing on such news, as this year has been a replay of the injury-plagued 2003 season. McFarland is the 12th Buccaneer to hit injured reserve this season, and that doesn't include players such as Joe Jurevicius, Mike Alstott, Joey Galloway, Chris Simms and Matt O'Dwyer, all of whom have been out for extended periods.
Just a week earlier, Gruden had announced the loss of the man in the middle of the other line, center John Wade. Wade had gone down with a knee sprain on the first play of the Kansas City game on November 7. McFarland actually got hurt in that same game, before the first quarter was up, trying to defend a screen pass. It was not determined until Thursday, however, that McFarland's injury was severe enough to end his season.
McFarland got a second opinion from doctors in Birmingham, Alabama and the results were clear: He has a partial tear in his right triceps tendon. It will require surgery, followed by approximately six weeks of rehabilitation.
"I was going to spend a couple weeks out and let it heal up," said McFarland. "Getting a second opinion, the doctor said that wasn't going to be the best thing to do, too much risk in that. It's one of those things where, if I try to let it rest and heal, the chances of it healing, they said, were very minute. And if I don't get it taken care of right away, at that point I could risk further injury and not being able to repair it. So it's pretty much a no-brainer to go ahead and get it done.
"Obviously, it's one of those things that you try to avoid, injuries, but they're part of the game. I'm going to go get it taken care of and I look forward to coming back."
McFarland also missed the second half of the 2002 season, as well as the Bucs' thrilling run to the Super Bowl title. Now he will be unable to help the team chase its goal of climbing back into the playoff race. McFarland was in good enough spirits on Thursday, however.
"I'm obviously disappointed," he said. "You realize when you play this game that injuries are a part of it. I've been unfortunate enough to have some, but injuries are a part of this game. That's what we signed up for. You can't sign up for all of the good things if you don't accept the bad ones, so I accept it, deal with it and move on."
Gruden accepts his team's fate, too, and points out that some of the injuries, while obviously unfortunate, have opened the doors for the emergence of other players. Without Galloway and Jurevicius available for most of the season's first half, for instance, rookie receiver Michael Clayton has emerged as one of the league's top pass-catchers. And Simms's injury in his first career start in Week Five allowed the team to discover an enormous asset in quarterback Brian Griese.
"It's been rough; fortunately, I've remained healthy," joked Gruden. "That's the way it goes, man. That's the way it is. But it's been damn good to see some of the guys come in and take advantage of their opportunities. Hopefully in the long run it will be better for the Buccaneers. But it has not been a lot of fun."
The Bucs could use an emerging youngster at defensive tackle but are running short on options, barring any additional signings. McFarland's move to IR comes less than a month after the team's two reserve DTs, Ellis Wyms and Damian Gregory, suffered the same fate. At the moment, the position consists of starting nose tackle Chartric Darby, recently-signed swingman Chidi Ahanotu, converted end Dewayne White and midseason rookie pickup Jon Bradley.
"We've got some flexibility with guys," said Gruden. "We're going to keep looking around with the nucleus of players that we have. We'll make that determination probably sometime Saturday. But Chidi's going to play the under position and he'll play the nose, and [Chartric] Darby will play both positions as well."
McFarland expects his linemates to come through in his absence and keep the Bucs in the playoff hunt.
"It's unfortunate; we lose myself, Ellis Wyms, Damian Gregory, all three [of whom are] defensive tackles inside," said McFarland. "It's like I said, injuries are part of the game. When you sign up for it, that's part of it. It's unfortunate for us as a team that we've had that hit one position so hard. But you can't complain. You've got to move on, and the guys that are there have got to suit up and go win one."
Additional Injury Updates
There was some good medical news after Thursday's practice to balance the disappointment of McFarland's fate.
For one, Griese returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday's workout and remains probable on the injury report. Griese has a sore (right) throwing shoulder and assorted aches and pains after absorbing seven sacks in Atlanta on Sunday.
"He threw the ball, he moved around well and he feels better," said Gruden. "He's feeling better and better every day, every minute, so those are good signs.
"I expect him to play [Sunday]. He'll be sore and all that stuff but we expect him to go."
That is probably true of fullback Mike Alstott, too, now that Alstott has been upgraded to probable. He began the week as questionable, but even that was a notable development, given that his knee sprain was supposed to keep him out for a month or more. Alstott has missed only two games since suffering the injury to his right medial collateral ligament against Chicago.
Safety Dwight Smith did not fully participate in practice for the second straight day but continues to be probable on the injury report. According to Gruden, Smith has made a practice of playing through minor injuries this season.
"He was very limited today but he's limited during the week for the last couple weeks, throughout basically this entire season," said the coach. "But he's going to give it a go and in the meantime it's been good for John Howell, Will Allen and Dexter Jackson to get some reps."