The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the 2022 season with five defensive backs in what were essentially starting roles, with one key reserve. Mike Edwards and Antoine Winfield Jr. held the safety spots in the base defense and Logan Ryan came in as a third safety when Winfield went down to the slot in sub packages. Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean were the starting cornerbacks, with Sean Murphy-Bunting ready to step in if needed.
Heading into the eighth week of the season and trying to pull out of a 1-4 dive, the Buccaneers will have to face Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens without four of those six secondary regulars. Ryan is on injured reserve with a foot ailment and Davis (hip), Murphy-Bunting (quad) and Winfield (concussion) were all ruled out of Thursday night's game by Head Coach Todd Bowles on Wednesday.
That leaves the Buccaneers with Edwards, Dean, safety Keanu Neal and cornerbacks Zyon McCollum and Dee Delaney. McCollum, a fifth-round pick in this year's draft, made his first NFL start last week in place of Davis while Neal continued to fill in for Ryan. When Winfield was knocked out of the game with a concussion, Delaney came in to handle nickel duties. With a (short) week to prepare for Winfield's absence on Thursday night, the Buccaneers may have several different answers to the void in the slot.
"We had Mike and Delaney work there all week," said Bowles. "Depending on how [the Ravens] come out we may see different guys in there."
The Buccaneers could elect to add some game day depth by elevating one or two defensive backs from the practice squad, or promoting one of them to fill the open spot on the 53-man roster created by Tuesday's placement of inside linebacker K.J. Britt on injured reserve. The 16-man practice squad currently includes safety Nolan Turner and cornerbacks Anthony Chesley, Don Gardner and Quandre Moseley, though Chesley is likely unavailable due to a hamstring injury he suffered last Sunday. Chelsey and Turner were both elevated for game day in Weeks Six and Seven.
The Bucs are familiar with shuffling their secondary to account for multiple injuries. They encountered much of the same thing last season with injuries to Murphy-Bunting, Davis, Dean, Winfield, Richard Sherman, Rashard Robinson and Jordan Whitehead at various times.
"It's just as challenging [this year], but again, we have guys that make this team for a reason," said Bowles. It's throughout the league – you have to almost get used to it and get guys ready to play regardless. So we're prepared for it and we're comfortable with the guys we have."
The Bucs' Week Seven injury list is lengthy and not confined only to the secondary. Bowles also revealed that tight end Cameron Brate, wide receiver Russell Gage and guard Luke Goedeke have been ruled out for the Ravens game. He also characterized defensive lineman Akiem Hicks as "probably doubtful," though the official injury report has not yet been released, and called wide receiver Julio Jones a "game-time decision." The Ravens, of course, have their own injury concerns, including wide receiver Rashod Bateman's foot and tight end Mark Andrews' knee, and those only compound the most difficult part of a short week for both teams.
"Really, [it's] healthy bodies," said Bowles. "You want healthy bodies and you've got to do as much mental work as you can because you don't get the physical work. So that's the biggest preparation part of going into it, because you're going into a game playing full-speed when you really haven't seen it full-speed."