Pictures of the Buccaneers arriving at Raymond James Stadium for the game against the Bears.
Running back Doug Martin is active for the first time since the second Sunday of the season, which is obviously the big news regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' lineup in Week 10. Still, as the Buccaneers try to get their first home win of 2016 at the expense of the visiting Chicago Bears, the status of their offensive and defensive lines is surely just as significant.
In that regard, there is good and bad news. First, the Buccaneers will be dipping into their O-Line reserves for the first time this season, as both left guard Kevin Pamphile (concussion) and center Joe Hawley (knee) are unable to suit up on Sunday. Even Smith will step in for Hawley and fifth-round pick Caleb Benenoch will see his first regular-season NFL action in place of Pamphile.
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Benenoch is obviously an unknown quantity, but the Buccaneers know what they're getting in Smith, who started most of the 2014 season and the first couple games of 2015 at center. In fact, had Hawley been cleared to play, the Bucs would have used Smith at left guard instead of the rookie from UCLA.
"Evan's going to do fine, whether he's playing center or guard," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "[He's a] proven vet, lots of starts in this league. He's been playing good in relief; he was a starter to start the year last year. Very little…almost equal as far as that goes at center."
Martin's return is, indeed, big news for the Buccaneers, who have started four different players at halfback this year. Martin and Charles Sims were the league's best running back duo in 2015, but Martin has only played five quarters this season and Sims has been on injured reserve since early October. Jacquizz Rodgers had three superb games in their place but will now miss his second consecutive contest with a foot injury. Martin had nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage last year and could still be the centerpiece of the team's offense during the second half of the season.
While the O-Line is experiencing its first tribulations, things are going in the opposite direction on the defensive line, which at times this year has seen almost its entire starting unit buried on the injury report. Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy has played the last three games after missing time with a calf injury, DE Robert Ayers returned from an ankle injury two weeks ago and now DT Clinton McDonald will play for the first time since sustaining a practice-field hamstring injury in Week Five.
"We're getting a little healthier on that D-Line," said Koetter. "Clinton will be back in the rotation at D-tackle along with Gerald and Akeem Spence. And Robert Ayers is a little bit closer to being healthy at D-end."
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Tampa Bay put great effort into amplifying its pass-rush during the offseason, landing Ayers in free agency and using a high-second-round pick on DE Noah Spence. The results have been mixed so far, but of course a string of injuries has made it hard to evaluate the true strength of that defensive front. With strong-armed Bears QB Jay Cutler coming to town, the Bucs hope they can have more impact in the opposing backfield this Sunday.
"We've got to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback and trying to get him to make some errant throws," said Koetter." Cutler is very talented, tremendous arm strength, can throw it from different angles. We've got to make him move around, we've got to get pressure in his face. If we do that, hopefully we can get him to throw some to us."
In addition to Rodgers, Hawley and Pamphile, the Buccaneers also declared the following players inactive for Sunday's game: QB Ryan Griffin, T Leonard Wester, DE Channing Ward and WR Russell Shepard. Shepard is also out due to injury.
Chicago's inactives are CB Deiondre' Hall, S DeAndre Houston-Carson, CB Bryce Callahan, LB John Timu, G Eric Kush, TE Daniel Brown and DE Mitch Unrein. Hall, Callahan and Unrein are out due to injuries.
The Buccaneers take on the Bears on Sunday, with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium. The game will be broadcast locally by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.