QB Shaun King suffered a groin pull even before Sunday's game began
Welcome to December football in the NFL, where very few teams have much margin for error. Every play can be critical, every decision and, particularly, every available player. Injuries or lack thereof could swing the balance in a tight NFC race that features eight teams above .500 with three weeks to go.
So, the news from NFL training rooms is of particular importance each Monday in December, and we have the word from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' treatment center. The news on three particular injury situations was of particular interest this Monday: QB Shaun King's ailing back and groin, CB Donnie Abraham's hip, shoulder and head and LB Alshermond Singleton's knee.
Let's cut right to the chase: Abraham is doing well, King is a question mark and Singleton will be on the shelf for awhile.
Singleton suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain in his left knee when he was hit from the side by another player while covering a kickoff against the Cowboys. The type and severity of Singleton's knee injury matches that of FB Mike Alstott's almost exactly. Thus, it is the early word that Singleton, like Alstott, will miss four to eight weeks with his injury. That could end the 2000 season for the fourth year veteran, who played extensively on special teams and also split time at strongside linebacker with Shelton Quarles. Quarles will pick up the slack by playing almost every snap.
"Al Singleton has the same type of injury that Mike Alstott did – an MCL sprain," said Dungy. "It's probably going to be four to six weeks – very, very similar to Mike's. We'll have to see how he comes along in the next few days."
According to the Bucs' training room, Singleton's MRI examinations even look virtually identical to Alstott's, and the treatment will be the same: immobilization by a brace followed by rehabilitation when the brace comes off.
King went into the Cowboys game with some lingering back soreness, but that wasn't his only injury by the time the contest began. During warmups, the second-year signal-caller suffered a groin pull, a painful injury that grew steadily worse during the day. King wasn't offering excuses for an erratic throwing day against Dallas, but his decreased mobility probably played a part. Fortunately, the Buccaneers were dominant in the running game and didn't need a prolific passing day.
"Right now, he has some low back pain, but that really wasn't the big problem yesterday," said Dungy. "He has a little bit of a groin pull, and I think that affected his moving around and maybe affected him setting up to throw. Todd says he just needs to rest it a little bit…that's really the only treatment for it right now. But we feel like he'll be okay for the weekend."
The training staff must feel a bit of déjà vu, as they're in the same position as last week regarding King, only with a different injury. Last Monday, King's lower back was acting up and there was some concern over whether he would be able to practice on Wednesday. However, the QB progressed rapidly over the next two days and didn't miss a snap. Dungy hopes the same thing happens with King's current injury but concedes that he isn't certain of that yet.
"That's going to be up to (Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli)," said Dungy. "We're kind of playing it day-by-day; we'll see how it goes and how much improvement he makes."
Though King was clearly much improved by Monday afternoon last week, Toriscelli believes the decision on his practice status this week won't be made until Wednesday morning. If King is forced to the sideline, backup QB Eric Zeier will take on a more important role – and that could include Sunday in Miami.
"It will increase his (practice) reps if Shaun can't go, and that's what Todd has talked about early in the week," said Dungy. "Then we'll make a decision. If Shaun's going to be healthy enough and ready to go, then he'll play. If not, and Eric's going to do better because he's healthier and has had more practice time, then he'll go. Right now, we anticipate Shaun being in there."
Abraham is the best off of the three, as his cocktail of shoulder bruise, mild concussion and hip strain are not likely to keep him out of practice. Abraham has had a lingering hip flexor strain for weeks, but the shoulder injury and the concussion were incurred against Dallas on a hard tackle of RB Michael Wiley.
At the time of Abraham's injury, in the second quarter, it was thought that he would return to the game. However, the new ailments allowed the old one to flare up and he never got back into the action.
"He has a hip flexor injury," said Dungy. "He got the concussion, so he sat out a couple of plays. He got cleared to go back in by the doctor, but in sitting out, his hip got a little bit stiff. He was trying to warm that up, and by the time he got loose again, we were in a position where we were up and we didn't need to put him back in. But his hip flexor is probably the thing that is on the report, and the concussion was what made him come out of the game yesterday.
"Donnie Abraham probably could have gone back in the game, but at that point we had a lead and we didn't put him back in. He should be ready to go this week."
Brian Kelly filled in for Abraham and had an outstanding game, and safety Dexter Jackson slid into Kelly's nickel back role. That would probably be the same shift the Bucs would use against Miami if Abraham were sidelined or limited, with possible playing time given to CB Floyd Young in the nickel package.
That is not expected to be a necessity, however. Dungy had a good feeling on Monday that Abraham would be fine. Whether or not Zeier has to play for King will have to wait a few more days.