The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a little extra time to evaluate Austin Seferian-Jenkins after the shoulder injury he sustained in New Orleans, but the final result at the end of the week was unsurprising: the second-year tight end will not play on Sunday in Houston.
Seferian-Jenkins was the only player listed as "out" on Friday's injury report, though center Evan Smith and safety Major Wright got the doubtful tags. Teams use the "doubtful" designation when it seems very unlikely the player will suit up but they don't want to close the door completely on the possibility.
"He's [out] for sure," said Head Coach Lovie Smith of Seferian-Jenkins. "Evan and Major haven't practiced all week. I don't want to [say] they are out and then by some chance they're really ready to go, so I don't want to lead [people] down the wrong path."
Wide receiver Mike Evans is listed as probable on the injury report, which is not a surprise given that he played in the Week Two game at New Orleans and suffered no setback with his previously-injured hamstring. The more significant listings on the report are his daily practice status markings: full participation on all three days. The Bucs won't need to ease him back into action as they did last Sunday. That's good news for Jameis Winston as he loses one of his favorite targets from the first two games but gets a healthier version of the player he should be targeting for years to come.
"Mike is as good as there is," said Smith. "He poses a lot of problems, especially for a team that pressures you. The corners are, a lot of times, by themselves out there. We have a favorable matchup most weeks with Mike one-on-one versus whoever he is playing. It has to help you. We were a better offense last week with Mike getting plays. With Mike getting more plays this week, our offense should even take another step."
Given that Seferian-Jenkins has seemed like a long shot to play since the beginning of the week, the team has had plenty of time to devise ways to replace his production at tight end with the trio of Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers and Cameron Brate. The solution at center is more straightforward, as Joe Hawley will step in for Smith just as he did on Sunday in New Orleans.
The Bucs didn't add Hawley to the roster until September 14, a day after their season opener. The former Atlanta Falcon started 23 games over his first five seasons in the league, including the first four last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He spent the past three seasons learning Dirk Koetter's offense in Atlanta. His addition was seen as a helpful boost of depth for the Bucs' interior line, but the team had to call on that depth sooner than expected. His first action came six days after he joined the team and his likely first start seven days after that.
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"It was huge for us," said Smith of the signing of Hawley. "[He] came in last week and we didn't miss a beat. Evan was playing really well before that. To be able to get a player like that that's been in the system, is a veteran that has seen an awful lot – he's blended right in with our group."
Hawley will draw a tough task in his first Buccaneer start as the Texans anchor their three-man defensive line with the massive Vince Wilfork, a long-time standout in New England.
"There are not a whole lot like him," said Smith of Wilfork. "To play at a high level for so many years, again, I vividly recall when he was coming out and spending time, with him, I knew he would be a good football player in the league, but to maintain that for that long period of time, and he is still playing well. He's a force we will have to deal with in order to get the running game going – it starts there. He can get some push, so Joe and the rest of the guys, it will be a big challenge for them."
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Houston's injury report is 11 players long and includes five members of its offensive line. Standout left tackle Duane Brown will not play due to a thumb injury, but his likely replacement, Chris Clark, is probable with knee and elbow ailments. Jeff Adams, who has started one game at left guard and the other at right tackle, is also out due to a knee injury. Adams seemed destined for injured reserve earlier in the week but has not officially been placed on that list, so he was added to the injury report on Friday. Derek Newton, who alternated those LG/RT starts with Adams, is probable with an elbow issue. Xavier Su'a-Filo, one potential replacement for Adams, is questionable with a calf injury.
Photos of Texans' projected starters as listed on team's depth chart.
It appears Houston will have to do at least some shuffling up front as it prepares to face three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Jacquies Smith, the NFL's sack leader. That's an added challenge for the Texans, who have started off 0-2 with losses to Kansas City and Carolina. No team has made the playoffs after an 0-3 start since the Buffalo Bills in 1998, so this would appear to be close to a must-win for the home team. However, Smith said the outcome was just as important to his visiting squad.
"No one wants to win any more than we do," he said. "I said earlier in the week, I assume every team in the league is desperate for a win. I know we are and having an opportunity to do something that we haven't done in a while – to be over .500. I don't want to hear about them being desperate. We're desperate.
"It's tough winning, period, in the league. To have an opportunity to win two road games in a row – there's a lot on the line for us this week."