S Dexter Jackson was held out of Thursday's practice but is a good bet to play on Sunday against the Dolphins
Second-year safety Will Allen has started the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' last two games, one at free safety and one at strong safety. Unfortunately for the Bucs, he can't play both positions at once.
Tampa Bay's starting defense had neither of its usual safeties on Thursday as the team practiced for the second time in advance of this weekend's home game against the Miami Dolphins. However, the situation probably won't be that dire on Sunday.
Safeties Jermaine Phillips (thumb) and Dexter Jackson (hamstring) currently make up half of the team's official injury report. Phillips missed last Sunday's game against the Jets, is considered questionable this week and seems to be in danger of sitting out a second straight contest. Jackson, however, is probable for the game and likely won't be limited by his mild hamstring strain.
Head Coach Jon Gruden referred to Phillips as "questionable at best," but didn't seem overly concerned about Jackson.
"We rested Dexter Jackson," said Gruden. "We've added him to the injury list as probable. It's more of a precautionary measure today with the hamstring."
Besides Allen, the Bucs have two other safeties on the roster: rookie fourth-rounder Donte Nicholson, who has been inactive for each of the first five games, and first-year player Kalvin Pearson, who was signed off the practice squad in Week Two.
The Bucs also added cornerback Juran Bolden to the injury report on Thursday, but he too is considered probable. The team's primary nickel back had a stomach ailment but was expected to be back on the field on Friday.
The fourth player on Tampa Bay's injury report is, of course, rookie running back Cadillac Williams. His status is the team's midweek saga for the fourth straight game, and as of Thursday there was still no clear indication on whether or not he would be able to suit up against the Dolphins. Williams first injured his left foot during the second game of the season, against Buffalo; he played in the next two games before being unable to go last Sunday in New York.
His return to the practice field on Wednesday was encouraging, as was the fact that he was able to make it two straight practices on Thursday. The Bucs spent the first half of the two-hour work in pads, and Williams did participate in those drills, which included a 9-on-7 running period.
"He practiced a little bit more today," said Gruden. "His routine is one that's increasing and moving towards the direction we want to go, but he's still questionable. He's still not where he needs to be if you ask me, but maybe he'll tell you differently. We'll see how he is tomorrow."
Williams said much the same thing on Wednesday, admitting that he was still running on his heels a bit. That his work on Wednesday didn't lead to a setback was a good sign, but the team is still interested in seeing how his foot responds after two consecutive days of practice.
"Right now we're still day-to-day," said Williams. "I'm going to see how this thing feels tomorrow, and we've still got a couple days 'til Sunday."
Miami brings the league's fourth-ranked defense into town on Sunday, and that's no surprise to Gruden. The Bucs' coach says the Dolphins have "always" been good on defense.
For the better part of the last seven years, a cornerstone of the Dolphins' stifling defense has been, well, its corners. Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, second-round picks in 1997 and 1998, respectively, started together for the last five years and played a physical, bump-and-run, man-to-man style that gave receivers fits.
Madison is still part of the Dolphins' great defensive core, but Surtain is now a Kansas City Chief, having been traded to that defense-hungry franchise in the offseason. Fortunately for the Dolphins, a little inside knowledge on draft day has helped the secondary move on without missing a beat.
The Dolphins used a fourth-round pick this past April on cornerback Travis Daniels, who just happened to come from the same place as Miami's new Head Coach, Nick Saban. Daniels has stepped right into the starting lineup and has produced 13 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed.
"Daniels is a good player," said Gruden, who got a good look at the former Tiger at the 2005 Senior Bowl. "It's a credit to them, drafting him. The coach must have known something about him."
Gruden meant that last line as a joke…partially. Saban obviously had a good feel for the specifics of Daniels' talents, and knew he could fit him into the defense he was installing in Miami. That defense, while still very effective, is not the same as it has been for years.
"I think Travis Daniels has come in and played well at the left corner position for them," said Gruden. "Their scheme isn't what it used to be. It's not the same down-after-down consistency, front and coverage-wise, that they had in some ways in years past."
The 6-1, 192-pound Daniels started his last 26 games under Saban at LSU, including all 14 in the Tigers' 2003 national championship season. That year he had 58 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a blocked kick. He is one of two rookies starting on the Dolphins' defense, along with third-round linebacker Channing Crowder.
Rookie defensive end Matt Roth, a second-round pick, is also in the defensive rotation. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dolphins' other nine starters on defense are all at least eighth-year veterans and at least 29 years old. Eight of those nine are over 30 years old. It's a mix that seems to be working.
"They have [good] personnel and their scheme is unique and they play hard," said Gruden. "They play very well."