During the last two seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have given new contracts to Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David that clearly establish them as long-term cornerstone pieces for their defense. During that time, they've occasionally had to play games without either McCoy or David, but never both of them at the same time.
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Thus, it can be a little jarring to see McCoy and David as the two players listed as questionable on Friday's official injury report for Sunday's must-win game against the New Orleans Saints. The former is recovering from a hand injury that required a surgical procedure on Monday of last week; the latter sustained an ankle injury in practice on Wednesday.
Both players were limited in practice on Friday and will be evaluated again as the game approaches, but David does not sound like a man who plans to be on the sideline on Sunday.
"I feel good, ready to go Sunday and to get back out there," he said after the last practice of the week. "Just a precautionary issue. Nothing really serious. Just something to be smart about and they thought that was the best thing to do, so we went ahead and took action. I was back out there today full-go and I'll be ready on Sunday."
The Bucs will definitely be without starting right end Jacquies Smith, who has been ruled out for a second straight week due to a hamstring injury. Fellow defensive end George Johnson is likely to miss a fourth straight game with a calf injury and has been listed as doubtful. Head Coach Lovie Smith was optimistic on Friday about the rest of the roster.
"Everybody else should be available, hopefully," he said. "We're ready to go. We had a good week of practice. Again, getting healthy. We realize what's at stake in this game – December, we're relevant, we need to play our best football, simple as that."
As for McCoy specifically, Smith said that his Pro Bowl defensive tackle hadn't yet been medically cleared to play but that very well may change over the next two days. "We have a few more hours before game time," said Smith. "He's right on pace to hopefully be ready by Sunday."
David's continued presence on the field seems particularly important this week given that the team is already shuffling its linebacking corps in the absence of rookie starter Kwon Alexander. Alexander's suspension is giving Bruce Carter, a significant free agency addition this past spring, his first extended chance to play on defense.
"[I'm] very excited," said Carter after practice on Friday. "It's an opportunity; with that being said you have to be prepared and you have to be ready. Coach Lovie [Smith], the whole defense, the entire coaching staff expects me to go in there and make plays. They don't want any drop-off from when Kwon was in there and that's what I expect to do – go in there and make plays. I'm a vet, I've been around for a while. I know what's expected of me and I'm go in there and do it."
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Smith said that Carter, who missed last week's game with a concussion but is probable for Sunday's contest, had a strong week of practice and is ready to provide the sort of production the team was getting from Alexander. Carter's teammates are fully confident in him.
"When you get used to a guy like Kwon, his attitude, his mentality when he's out there on the field, it's going to be difficult to adjust to somebody else you're going to be out there with, but I have all the trust and faith in the world in Bruce," said David. "He's a veteran guy, he knows what he is doing so I don't think there is going to be any drop-off and the main thing we really have to work on is just our communication when we are out there – just talk to each other to make the game easier for both of us."