C Tony Mayberry's neck is the Bucs' top injury concern
Though it was the day of Christmas Eve, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted their usual Friday workout in preparation for Sunday's crucial home game against the Packers. Only one player missed practice, and it wasn't to get in some last-minute shopping. C Tony Mayberry, who on Wednesday learned that he was headed to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, missed his third straight workout due to a neck strain.
Mayberry, who at times this season has struggled with a balky back, injured his neck during last week's game in Oakland, though he was not forced to the sideline. The injury did not respond well enough to treatment to get him back on the field for workouts on Wednesday or Thursday, but he was expected to return for today's practice. That he sat out the Friday session indicates that he is not a sure bet to play on Sunday.
"We were hoping that he would be able to practice today, so that's a little bit discouraging," said Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy on Friday. "If we have to play without him, we'll be okay, but we'd like to have him out there, that's for sure. He just wasn't quite ready to go. Other than that, I think we're fine."
If Mayberry is indeed sidelined against the Packers, the Bucs will likely fill his spot with a rotation of sorts. Third-year lineman Kevin Dogins, who recently replaced Jorge Diaz as the Bucs' starting left guard, would probably slide over to center to start the contest, with Diaz returning at left guard. Tampa Bay could also use second-year player Todd Washington at center, spelling Dogins or moving Dogins back to guard to spell Diaz.
That plan underscores the versatility that has made Dogins increasingly valuable to the Bucs. The former college free agent started out his 1996 rookie season on the Bucs' practice squad but was added to the active roster late in the season. He then made the 53-man roster again in 1997 and was considered C Tony Mayberry's primary backup at center for the next two seasons. However, his first chance at regular play came in the last four games of 1998, when he replaced an injured Diaz at left guard and rewarded the Bucs with strong play down the stretch. He opened the 1999 season as a swingman backup between center and the two guard spots before making the move to the starting lineup against Minnesota on December 6.
In addition to the strong play that has made him a Pro Bowl favorite, Mayberry has repeatedly shown the ability to play through injuries. Though he has endured a variety of aches over the past two seasons, he has managed to keep his remarkable streak of games started intact. Since opening the first game of 1991, Mayberry has started 142 consecutive games at center for the Buccaneers, an active skein that is tied for third-longest among all NFL players.
While Mayberry didn't see much progress during the week, DE Steve White improved from being inactive last Sunday to being probable for this week's game. White has been suffering from a turf toe injury to his right foot and was unable to play against the Raiders. After practicing this week, he is expected to resume his starting role at right defensive end against the Packers, pushing fill-in Marcus Jones back into the swing role between right and left end that he has handled so well.
In fact, while the Bucs' injury report remained 11 men strong through Friday, nine of those were probable for Sunday's game, with only QB Trent Dilfer (broken clavicle) and G Ken Blackman (knee sprain) definitely ruled out