Greg Schiano has numbers tumbling through his head these days, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2012 regular-season opener looms ever closer. A few specific numbers, in particular, are making repeat appearances in his thoughts.
First, there's 75. That's the number of players the Buccaneers will take into Wednesday night's preseason finale against the Washington Redskins at FedExField. Some of those 75 won't play, or won't play much, as the final warm-up contest is typically devoted almost exclusively to younger players vying for roster spots. Still, that's the starting point for all of the critical decisions to be made over the next four or five days.
Next is 61, which sort of like football's version of Major League Baseball's 40-man roster. Each team is allowed to form a practice squad of up to eight players after roster cuts have been made, and while practice squad players aren't eligible to suit up for games, they are just one quick move away from the active roster. And that active roster number is 53, what each NFL club must reduce to by Friday. That target is what defines Wednesday's game, as players fight to avoid the upcoming cuts. Finally, there is 46, which is how many players out of those 53 a team can keep active on game day during the regular season. That figure informs the makeup of the active roster, too, because coaches have to anticipate their contingency plans at every position in case of injury.
And, in fact, all of those figures were sent spinning again in Schiano's mind when Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph suffered a season-ending knee injury last Friday against New England. Suddenly, devising that 61, 53 and 46 became a little more complicated.
"I think I have every permutation of those three numbers in my mind right now," said Schiano. "And then when you lose a player, like we did with Davin, you throw that whole thing into a different cycle. Because now you may have to steal from this position to strengthen that position. It's an ongoing deal and [General Manager] Mark Dominik has been great. He and I are working on it together and just trying to make sure that we have some contingencies there in place, and if we have to fall back to them, then we do."
The Buccaneers expected to be making final decisions on such things as primary nickel back, defensive tackle depth, the number of tight ends to keep, etc., in the preseason finale. Now they also must determine the immediate replacement for Joseph and any other potential ideas that could help the reworked O-Line down the road. That likely means a decent amount of playing time on Wednesday night for the likes of Ted Larsen, Derek Hardman and Jamon Meredith.
"We'll get a look at a couple guys," said Schiano. "We'll make a decision as we go into game week [for the opener] and we'll go from there. The reality is that personnel is a fluid situation. It's a physical game and things happen, so we've just got to be ready to adapt and move. We'll do that and we'll get ready for the opening game, and be ready with contingencies if other guys should get nicked.
"You've got to replace, and that's going to be hard to do. We're not going to have the same player, the same level player, that's for sure; he's one of the best in the game. But we need to do is make sure that we get as close as we can in performance. That's our job, that's why we try to build depth. When a guy gets injured, it's another guy's opportunity and he's got to step up and take advantage of that opportunity. Hopefully that can happen."
Wednesday's game will obviously have a different feel than the one the Bucs played just five days ago against New England, as that contest featured both team's starters for a long period of time. Neither team is expected to expose their starters for too long tonight, and in fact the NFL trend in recent years has been to hold many key players out completely. However, Schiano won't let his team use that as an excuse for a subpar effort.
"Well, there are guys that we won't play, that's true," he said. "But whenever the Buccaneers take the field we're representing our organization and our city. We're going to go out and play the way we play. I don't care if it's me playing – it doesn't matter. We've got to play a certain way, that's who we are. That's what we're going to do tonight, no matter who it is. There will be 75 guys on that sideline and it will be 75 strong trying to do the best we can and play Buccaneer football."
The Bucs will play their final preseason game Wednesday night against the Redskins, with kickoff at 7:00 p.m. ET at FedExField. The game will be broadcast on television in the Bay area on WTSP-TV Channel 10 and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com again at halftime and after the game for further reports on the evening's action, including coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.