The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacker position took a major hit in Sunday's win over Cleveland, both in terms of volume and on-field leadership.
Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter confirmed on Monday that both Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy will miss the rest of the season due to knee injuries suffered in the 26-23 overtime victory. Alexander sustained a torn ACL just before halftime and Cichy, filling in on defense because his veteran teammate was sidelined, did the same in the third quarter. MRI examinations on Monday confirmed the suspected diagnosis for both linebackers.
Alexander was injured just two days after he was named one of the Buccaneers' five captains for the season. His misfortune came at the end of perhaps his best half of football in 2018, as he had already racked up seven tackles and a pass defensed. It was Alexander who nearly sacked Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and flushed him from the pocket on the play that Lavonte David forced a fourth-down fumble.
"[It's] unfortunate," said Koetter. "Kwon was playing so well and he's the heart and soul of our defense. It's just very unfortunate. Our locker room at halftime was extremely emotional last night. Kwon came out of the training room right about the time we were getting ready to go back on the field. It was emotional. You can tell that the guys really care. Kwon talked to the team there for a couple minutes right as we were going back on the field."
Cichy, a sixth-round pick out of Wisconsin in this year's draft, had primarily played on special teams through the first five games of the season, contributing three tackles. He had seen two snaps on defense in Week Four when the Buccaneers fell well behind Chicago, and was on his fourth defensive snap on Sunday when he was injured. He recorded his first career defensive tackle earlier in the game. Cichy also missed his entire senior season at Wisconsin due to a knee injury.
Alexander is not only a team captain but one of the Buccaneers' most productive defenders. He will finish the season with 45 tackles, currently just two behind David for the team lead, along with six tackles for loss, one sack, two quarterback pressures, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles. After his injury on Sunday, starting strongside linebacker Adarius Taylor slid into the middle. The Buccaneers currently have two other linebackers on the roster in Cameron Lynch and Devante Bond. Lynch and Bond are two of Tampa Bay's best special teams players but neither has played extensively on defense. In addition, it would be difficult for any player to fill Alexander's leadership role on the field and in the locker room.
"What the players love about Kwon…is just his passion for playing football," said Koetter. "Kwon goes hard every play and he wears his emotion on his sleeve. He's a terrific competitor and he brings energy to our defense. We would always like guys to communicate more but Kwon's a talker out there. He's the guy that's trying to amp everybody up."
The Buccaneers drafted Alexander in the fourth round out of LSU in 2015. He won the starting middle linebacker job as a rookie and immediately produced a 93-tackle, three-sack, two-interception campaign despite missing the last four games of the year. In his young career, Alexander has played in 46 games, starting all of them, and amassed 381 tackles, seven sacks, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.