Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Step Up 2021: The Story of the Tampa Buccaneers This Season | Carmen Catches Up

The ‘next-man up’ mentality has never been more important as both the offense and defense battle through injuries headed into the last game of the regular season.

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-The ever-rotating cast of characters for the Buccaneers has meant we've seen some unfamiliar faces step up (on the field, not in the streets). But just because Bucs fans aren't familiar with Cyril Grayson, Tyler Johnson and Breshad Perriman, doesn't mean their coaches aren't.

"Nothing that I didn't already know," said Head Coach Bruce Arians about what he's learned from the aforementioned trio. "We really trust them and know them well and what they bring. Byron [Leftwich] has done a great job of putting them in positions to be successful. We trust all of those guys."

They aren't the only ones, either. Quarterback Tom Brady trusts them, too.

"That's what Tom does best," said Arians. "You start forcing it because of who's out there – you have to trust who's out there. He trusts the guys that are out there on the field."

Their offensive teammates are taking notice, too. A guy like tight end Rob Gronkowski has been around Brady for a decade. He's in his second year in Arians' system. He's seen a lot of things and he's still impressed with what some of the team's depth players have been able to do as of late.

"It's just great to see those guys step up," Gronkowski said. "They've been working hard all year since training camp, trying to be the best players that they can be. Just to seize that opportunity that they have and stepping up helps out the team big time. It helps them out with catching balls. It helps the team out tremendously so it's awesome to see. They've been working hard. You see them out at practice trying to get on the same page with Tom [Brady] and the rest of the players on the offensive side of the ball. You'll just see them keep stepping up and it's big. It helps the team out big when they do that."

That next man up mentality has permeated throughout the entire team. It kind of has to when you list 15 players on your first injury report of Week 18. In fact, it was really the defense that set the standard with all the injuries they faced early in the year. It's nothing new for a lot of veteran players, including inside linebacker Kevin Minter, who has become someone of a spot-starter this season due to injuries to both Devin White and Lavonte David.

"Regardless of what is going on, this league is about wins and losses," said Minter. "Not what is going on the sidelines, it's about what is going on in between those numbers, in between the hashes. Get the job done – plain and simple."

That is a very simple, no excuses mentality. And it's served the team well as they've overcome their fair share of adversity – injury or otherwise. They're sitting at 12-4, after all, matching a franchise-best 12 wins.

"We've definitely found ways and I think our coaches have done an amazing job of putting great gameplans together, in addition to understanding the guys in their particular roles, when they need to step up and when they're going to be called on," said defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. "As long as we stay on that particular route, roll with the punches and find ways to exceed them, I think we will be perfectly fine and will be where we want to be."

Hopefully, on the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs are trending in the right direction. They have both outside linebackers out and Lavonte David is still a question mark in the postseason but at least their ever-changing secondary seems to be gaining some continuity, which safety Antoine Winfield Jr. sees as a huge positive.

"I think it will help a lot," he said Wednesday. "I've been playing with these guys for almost two years now. This year we were kind of rotating because different guys were getting hurt, but I've played with pretty much everyone so I kind of know how everyone plays. It's definitely going to be good when everybody is healthy and back up there."

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