-Just when you thought the Buccaneers were finally going to have some stability in their secondary after activating cornerback Carlton Davis from injured reserve, the football gods say, 'nah.'
I don't know what they have against the Bucs' secondary but not only will Tampa Bay have to do without Mike Edwards due to a three-game suspension, they'll now have to contend with starting safety Jordan Whitehead's absence. Whitehead popped up on the Bucs' injury report on Thursday with a calf injury and on Friday, Head Coach Bruce Arians officially ruled him out of Sunday's divisional contest in Atlanta and went as far as to say the injury was 'very, very' significant.
"We'll see," said Arians. "His MRI can't happen until the swelling goes down. He'll probably get it sometime tomorrow and then we'll know more."
So, it's back to the drawing board for the Bucs. The good news is, they look like they could have a full outside corner rotation between the newly returned Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.
"I feel good about Sean and Carlton – Jamel, we'll see," said Arians. I think he'll be [available]. He has practiced all week and hasn't had a setback yet. I feel good about getting the corners back. Now we're a little short at safety but we'll get through it."
Dean is officially listed as questionable after suffering a shoulder injury early in last Sunday's win over the Colts but he practiced fully all week after tests showed no structural damage.
The full corner rotation would free up defensive back Ross Cockrell, who had been splitting reps at nickel most recently with Mike Edwards, to get more work at safety, a position in which he's been used at sparingly after being cross-trained at in training camp.
"Yeah, he's been there for a good while now," Arians said of Cockrell at safety. "He plays some nickel, but he's been training at safety for six or eight weeks. We have another plan or two and we'll get through it, no problem."
The shuffling is nothing new and has been an ever-changing puzzle for Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles since Week One when Murphy-Bunting went down with a significant elbow injury that landed him on IR for 10 weeks before making his return against the Giants in the Bucs' Week 11 win. And for as much of a puzzle as it's been for Bowles, it's been a test of the term 'next man up' for the players.
"I think they have done a great job understanding what we have to do to win ballgames and communicating with each other," said Bowles of the secondary. "Each guy brought something different to the table. To make it this far, get to 8-3 and still have a lot of guys to be juggled in there is a credit to those guys."
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