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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Waiting Game

There were few solid answers on four injured defenders Tuesday, but the Bucs hope a couple days of recovery will provide a clearer – and more positive – outlook


Bucs LB Jamie Duncan, injured at the very end of Sunday's game in Green Bay, believes he'll be ready to play again by next Sunday

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach went down the list as if he was in the defensive meeting room, taking roll.

"Marcus Jones, Jamie (Duncan) - Steve White got a hip pointer - and Derrick (Brooks)," said Dungy, summing up the Bucs' most significant injury concerns on Tuesday. "We'll probably know a little bit more on Friday."

Tampa Bay has been fairly fortunate on the injury front in 2000, with none of its opening-day starters landing on injured reserve to this point. Still, just as various forms of the flu become more widespread around the holidays, this time of the year is a busy one for the NFL injury bug. The Buccaneers seemed to have picked a critical week to come down with the virus.

Brooks has a right shoulder sprain that kept him out of most of Sunday's game against Green Bay. Jones suffered a right foot sprain against the Packers and also sat out much of Sunday's contest. Duncan wasn't hurt until the second-to-last play from scrimmage, but he's now battling a right knee sprain. White, as Dungy mentioned, sustained a left hip pointer.

Those are four key members of the Bucs' feared defense, and the prospect of playing without that quartet in Philadelphia on Sunday is not very appealing. Fortunately, Dungy doesn't believe the scenario will play out quite that grimly.

"It's hard to say," said Dungy. "It's playoff time, and I think these guys will be ready to go by game time. Hopefully, they will; if they're not, then the guys that back them up will get in there and do the job."

On Tuesday, however, there were few concrete answers as to how much any of the four would practice or how limited they would be when Sunday rolls around. Dungy was at least willing to take a guess at which players are closer to being healthy.

"I think Steve and Jamie should be able to go and play," said Dungy. "Derrick and Marcus, will have to see."

It might be particularly hard to imagine the Bucs taking the field without Brooks, the four-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker who has played in all 96 games of his six-year NFL career, starting 93 of those. They were forced to play without out him for much of Sunday at Lambeau Field when Brooks took a first-half hit on an already ailing shoulder, causing his right arm to lose strength. It is that issue, more so than the level of pain involved, that makes the linebacker's injury somewhat troublesome.

"We're just going to have to see how that goes," said Dungy. "He's got a shoulder strain, and if he gets hit in the right way, it's painful. He has had it for several weeks. He's gone through most of the games without it getting hit to that extent, or at the right angle, where he's had to come out of the game.

"He could, I guess, get hit the first play of the game and be out like he was, or he could make it through and not have a problem. That's kind of where it is until he's able to rest it up."

Of course, for Brooks himself, the issue is less of a mystery. Buc fans hoping to see #55 roaming Veterans Stadium from sideline to sideline should take comfort in his determined words on Tuesday.

"It's going to take a lot for them to keep me out of this game," said Brooks. "It's do or die. You work all year long to get in this situation here. You look at Tennessee last year, in the same position we're in now, and they got to the Super Bowl. That's our driving force at this point."

Brooks indicated that he was regaining strength in his right arm even as Sunday's game was concluding, which must be considered encouraging, if cautiously so. "It's just one of those things that we'll evaluate day by day, and we'll see how it feels on Sunday, as far as playing," he said.

In the meantime, Brooks will practice with the team, beginning Wednesday, simply avoiding contact on the shoulder.

"It doesn't have anything to do with my legs," said Brooks. "I've got to practice, get ready to go."

Jones was not available for comment on his injury because he had been sent home earlier in the day after his back 'locked up' while he was lifting weights on Tuesday. How his back responds will not be known until Wednesday, but he is still listed as probable on the injury report due to his foot injury.

"Marcus Jones has a foot sprain and it's a little bit tough, too," said Dungy. "He's got his foot in a boot right now, and we're just going to have to see. He'll be day to day. We're not sure at this point whether he'll be able to go or not."

With Brooks on the sideline on Sunday, Duncan came up with a key play late in the game that could have led to a Buccaneer victory. His fourth-quarter interception of a Brett Favre pass in Buccaneer territory led to Martin Gramatica's unsuccessful field goal attempt in the closing seconds of regulation. The Bucs then had to play an overtime period and the Packers took the opening possession all the way down the field for the winning drive. One play before De'Mond Parker broke free for a 21-yard run down to the Bucs' four-yard line, Duncan injured his knee on another run by Parker.

"Jamie Duncan has a right knee sprain as well and he's getting an MRI today," said Dungy. Again, that one, he's probably going to be day-to-day as well."

Duncan had a first-hand description of the injury.

"I just got kind of kicked on the outside of my knee, in overtime, the play right before the long run," said Duncan. "I just kind of got it kicked and had my foot planted a little bit. That's about it, really.

"I should be ready for the game by Sunday. I'm not sure if I'll be back in practice tomorrow. They may want to keep me out, I'm not sure."

The Bucs' linebacking corps seems to have been bitten particularly hard by the late-season injury bug. Before Brooks and Duncan were added to the list, LB Alshermond Singleton suffered a left knee sprain against Dallas on September 3. He has missed three games since but may make it back for the first round of the playoffs, providing valuable depth for his banged-up unit.

"We could possibly have Al Singleton back," said Dungy. "He's going to practice tomorrow, and if he makes it through without any problems, he should be able to play."

Before his injury, Singleton split time at strongside linebacker with starter Shelton Quarles. Either is capable of helping fill the weakside void if Brooks is unable to play. Fifth-year LB Don Davis, who saw his first extended action on defense in two years with the Bucs, is also available to help after acquitting himself nicely in Green Bay.

"Don played well," said Dungy. "He had to go in there and play, the first time in a long time Derrick hasn't been in, and he did a good job. That's kind of what you expect from your veteran guys, and Don did a good job."

Unless Singleton is back in the mix, Davis will remain Brooks' backup on the weak side and Jeff Gooch will provide the depth behind Quarles on the strong side. Rookie Nate Webster is Duncan's backup on the inside. All four of those players saw extensive action in Green Bay.

There may not have been many solid answers as to how Tampa Bay's injury report will shake out by the weekend, but there was no panic at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, either. The Bucs don't seem to feel their situation is particularly unique.

"It's a long season," said Duncan. "This is the time of year when injuries start to kick in and take effect. Everybody, I'm pretty sure, is banged up, has little nicks. But I expect to play, just like everybody else."

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