The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a sizeable effort to increase their defensive line depth in 2016, and that depth will be tested almost immediately.
On Monday, the Buccaneers announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith will be placed on injured reserve after he sustained a right knee injury in the season-opening win in Atlanta on Sunday. Smith had an MRI examination on the knee on Monday and it revealed an ACL tear, which will prevent him from playing again in 2016.WATCH: BUCS VS. FALCONS HIGHLIGHTS
Though Smith was not listed as a starter on the Buccaneers' depth chart, he was manning left end in the team's oft-used nickel package and was essentially considered a starter by the Tampa Bay coaching staff. He had 13.5 sacks in 27 games during the 2014-15 seasons and was the team leader during the 2016 with four QB takedowns. His loss is a significant blow to the Buccaneers' pass rush.
"That was very unfortunate, a non-contact injury to Jacquies," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who saw his third-year end go down on a punt-coverage play. "That's the unfortunate part of this game that sometimes you get things like that that you can't see coming."
By sheer numbers, the Buccaneers do appear to have the depth to fill the void created by Smith's misfortune. The team kept 10 defensive linemen after last weekend's roster cutdown to 53, and on Sunday they had both DE Channing Ward and DT DaVonte Lambert among their seven inactives. However, Defensive Line Coach Jay Hayes and Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith prefer to rotate their down linemen heavily during games, so the removal of any talented pass-rusher from that rotation presents a challenge. The team may not have one individual player who can replace Smith's expected contributions.
"He's a guy who's a starter in our nickel package and a key contributor," said Koetter. "It's going to be tough. We've got to pick up the slack in other areas. Some guys have to play more snaps than they might have played before. We're going to be tested on our depth. Any time you lose a key guy like that it's going to be some mixing and matching."
Moving Smith to injured reserve will open a spot on the 53-man roster. The team has not yet announced how that spot will be filled, but it will likely occur before practice resumes on Wednesday.