Second-year S Sabby Piscitelli has already played significantly this season in a three-man safety rotation
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers feared on Sunday and officially announced on Wednesday, starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips has a left forearm injury that will keep him out of the lineup for an indeterminate amount of time.
Phillips will not play on Sunday in Kansas City and will be re-evaluated after the bye week that follows. He is not expected to land on injured reserve, said Head Coach Jon Gruden on Wednesday.
Second-year man Sabby Piscitelli will take over Phillips' spot in the secondary, making the Kansas City game the first one this season in which Tampa Bay's opening-day starting defense is not completely intact. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Piscitelli has been playing a significant amount of snaps already this season, working at both safety spots as he rotated in with Phillips and free safety Tanard Jackson. In fact, Piscitelli was on the field playing free safety when Phillips was hurt in Dallas, and then immediately slid to strong safety when Phillips left and Jackson came back in.
"We need his help now, obviously, and he's going to be replacing a very good football player," said Gruden of Piscitelli. "I don't want to underestimate the loss of Jermaine Phillips. He's played really good for us. Now it's Sabby's time. It's what we drafted him to do. I'm sure he's excited to play; at the same time we'll do the best we can without Jermaine."
The Bucs' starting safety tandem in Kansas City and possibly for a few games after the bye will be comprised of fellow 2007 draft picks. Tampa Bay took Piscitelli in the second round of that draft but the Oregon State star missed all but three games of his rookie season with a foot injury. Jackson, the former Syracuse standout, was added in the fourth round and has been a starter since the opening game of his rookie campaign.
An exuberant player who brings the same sort of hard-hitting/big play combination to the defense as Phillips, Piscitelli is looking forward to his first NFL start.
"It's what we all practice for and play for everybody," he said. "The coaches do a great job of preparing everyone on the team. The two-deep is all prepared to play. They're going to emphasize that you're only one play away from getting your chance to be in there and be a starter.
"Coach has done a great job of having a three-man rotation this year. We're all getting our plays and situations in. I think that's helped me a lot, even coming in last game. I think the transition was smooth. It just felt comfortable being in there because I was getting a lot of reps."
Piscitelli has 12 tackles, an interception and a pass defensed as a reserve through eight games. He intercepted a Matt Ryan pass against Atlanta in Week Two and posted a career-high five tackles the following weekend in Chicago. After taking over for Phillips in Dallas, he contributed four tackles, with his injured veteran teammate providing tips on the sideline.
"Jermaine's been great since I've been here," said Piscitelli. "Even when he got hurt in the last game he came out of the locker room in the second half and he was in my ear, trying to help me out and tell me situations. He's great like that. He really helped me. I told him hopefully he can be there this weekend to help me because he's one of those great players who shares his knowledge. He's been here for seven years and it's good to have a guy like that around."
Phillips was one of two Buccaneers who did not practice at all on Wednesday, as the Bucs continued to slow down the pace for the week's opening workout to accommodate a banged-up roster. Running back Warrick Dunn was also held out of the workout with a back injury, though he commonly is given extra rest on Wednesday anyway.
Dunn suffered a back injury against Seattle in Week Seven that kept him out for about half of that contest. The Bucs chose to keep him active in Dallas last Sunday but eventually only gave him three touches, one carry and two receptions. Gruden said that, in retrospect, given the way Dunn's back reacted to the live action on Sunday, it might have been better to hold him out of the game.
"We chose not to use him much," said Gruden. "But he is such a warrior. He has played this game for so long. Butâ€¦he wasn't himself Sunday in Dallas, and that's a big part of our offense. He and Earnest [Graham] have split 220 touches almost right down the middle. It's a unique combination that we have. We have concerns about Warrick. We know he's going to be okay but, boy, we miss him. And that goes for some others, too."
Some of those others surely include the six other men who were limited in practice on Wednesday, most of them offensive players. That list included fullback B.J. Askew (hamstring), wide receivers Michael Clayton (knee), Ike Hilliard (shoulder) and Maurice Stovall (hamstring) and guard Arron Sears (back). Defensive tackle Jovan Haye (foot) was the sixth limited player.
Askew hasn't played since suffering his injury in Week Three and his absence has caused a strain in the Bucs' backfield. With fellow fullback Byron Storer now on injured reserve, the Bucs have been employing Graham at that position, but that causes a corresponding dip in available tailback snaps. The Bucs would be ecstatic to get Askew back in the mix.
"He worked today a little, and that was a good sign," said Gruden. "He's missed five games now, so we'll see how he is tomorrow. There is a chance that he could play against Kansas City and we'd like to have him play."
Practice Squad Activity
The Buccaneers' practice squad roster has been somewhat fluid lately, and Week Nine will be no different. On Wednesday, the team announced the addition of two new players to that nine-man crew, and the corresponding release of one.
Joining the team are guard Matt Lentz and tight end Jason Pociask, a pair of Big Ten products. The Bucs already had one open spot on the practice squad thanks to the weekend promotion of running back Clifton Smith; they created another one by releasing wide receiver Paris Warren.
Lentz (6-6, 320) is a second-year lineman out of Michigan. He originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants in 2006 but spent his rookie season on injured reserve after sustaining an elbow injury in the preseason. In 2007, he split time between the practice squads in New York and Pittsburgh, and he remained with the Steelers for training camp this past summer.
At Michigan, Lentz started 36 games at right guard and won first-team all-conference honors as both a junior and a senior. He hails from Ortonville, Michigan.
The 6-2, 259-pound Pociask also started his NFL career in New York in 2006, as a fifth-round draft pick by the Jets, and he also spent his rookie campaign on injured reserve. However, the former Wisconsin standout did make it onto the Jets' active roster during the 2007 season, appearing in four games and recording one reception for seven yards.
After Pociask was waived by the Jets at the end of the 2008 preseason, he was claimed by division-rival New England. However, he was then released by the Patriots before the season opener. At Wisconsin, Pociask played in 41 games and recorded 12 receptions for 144 yards. He played his high school ball in Plainfield, Indiana.
Warren spent just one week on the Bucs' practice squad after being re-signed last Wednesday. Smith was added to the active roster last Saturday and was used as the team's primary punt and kickoff return man at Dallas on Sunday.
The Chiefs have struggled a bit on defense so far this year, ranking 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed through eight weeks, but the future in Kansas City looks bright thanks to some astute work on the most recent draft weekend.
The Chiefs were thrilled to get LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey with the fifth pick, and he is quickly developing into the inside presence their defense needs. Gruden has been impressed with what he's seen of Dorsey on tape, but had even more to say Wednesday about the second defensive player the Chiefs drafted.
In fact, Gruden made a rather flattering comparison with that player, second-round cornerback Brandon Flowers out of Virginia Tech, on Wednesday.
"It definitely looks like Coach [Herman] Edwards has foundâ€¦an up-and-coming all-out football player in Brandon Flowers," said Gruden. "He reminds me of a [Ronde] Barber, and that's the best compliment I could ever give Brandon Flowers."
Flowers is coming off his breakout NFL game against the New York Jets last Sunday. In game that the Jets won, 28-24, with a Brett Favre touchdown pass with two minutes to play, the Chiefs' rookie corner had the penultimate score that nearly gave the visiting team the victory. His 91-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter came on his second pick of the day and briefly gave the Chiefs a 24-21 lead.
"He's a great nickel guy; he's all over the field," said Gruden. "They took the Jets to the brink. They had the Jets down inside a minute, and Flowers had a lot to do with it. [Flowers and Dorsey] are playing hard, and those two guys are going to be tremendous pros."