TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to regroup before their division matchup against the Carolina Panthers this weekend after several starters suffered injuries in Week 15.
The week started with the news that the Buccaneers were losing their leading receiver, Chris Godwin, for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. Then Thursday, running back Leonard Fournette and linebacker Lavonte David were both placed on the injured reserve.
The week ended with head coach Bruce Arians confirming Friday that wide receiver Mike Evans, who has a hamstring injury, and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., who has a foot injury, were both ruled-out for Sunday’s game against the Panthers.
And those are just the starters. Special teams contributor and defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor was also placed on the injured reserve Monday, while returner and wide receiver Jaelon Darden and back-up defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches were both placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They joined wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who has yet to be taken-off the reserve/COVID-19 list from last week.
Needless to say, it’s all hands on deck this week as the Bucs look down their depth chart ahead their showdown with Carolina.
“It’s just next man up,” Arians said. “Some young players’ roles (have) changed. Some are now starting, and others are immediate backups. This time of year, you shouldn’t be a young player anymore. You should embrace your role and your opportunity.”
“That’s a part of football,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said about losing so many key players to injuries. “That’s part of the guys that we have here – the guys that are in backup roles getting ready to play. Like I say, I have confidence in all of these guys that they’ll go out there and do what they do best. It’s just my job to put them in position. I didn’t do a good enough job of that last week.”
Leftwich continued on about the most challenging part of coaching through this type of situation.
“The first thing you have to do is get over who you’re missing,” Leftwich said. “You’re thinking man, we’re in a game without Mike [Evans,] without Chris [Godwin.] ‘BP’ (Breshad Perriman) is down. But it happened all in like 48 hours. It happened so quickly. That’s the job. The job is to not just to be able to put guys in position when it’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. My job is to put whoever is out there in position to have success and that’s just how I really see it. Obviously, you would love to have the players that we lost in the huddle because of what they bring to the table but it’s football. It’s football and that’s just the way it goes. Nobody is feeling sorry for us. We just have to go out there, be ready and prepare the right way this week to have success this Sunday.”
“It’s not like just because someone gets hurt the next guy is going to come in and do great,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “You can’t decide to be great the week that you’re called up. You better have put the time in. We have a lot of hardworking guys that have put themselves in positions where guys are confident and comfortable with them being in the game. Now we have to formulate a plan that uses everyone to their strengths. We can try to do things well enough and consistently enough to go and play well against a really good defense.”
In the running backs room, the Bucs felt they were in a situation where they needed more depth immediately with Fournette joining Giovani Bernard on the injured reserve. That’s when they signed veteran back Le’Veon Bell on Wednesday.
Bell has been getting up to speed the past few days, opting to keep his NFL career going a little bit longer after considering retiring to try a new chapter in boxing. He said this week, in his first press conference with the team, that this was a situation he couldn’t pass up – and that the Bucs were only team that could have called that he’d continue playing for.
“It was just a great opportunity for me,” Bell said. “Obviously, to come here and play with a seven-time Super Bowl champ, play with my other former teammate (Antonio Brown.) I looked at it as a great opportunity and I was just excited when I got the call. It was hard to turn it down.”
Even with Bell on the roster, expect to see much more from Ronald Jones, as he gets his chance now to reemerge as their main back. As far as how much Bell will contribute on Sunday, Leftwich said he’s not sure yet.
“That’s still up in the air right now,” Leftwich said. “But he does have his hand in the pile. I know he’s willing to help. He’s a smart guy. I know people who have coached him. I know people he’s been in the room with. They speak highly of him and just being around him the last 24 to 48 hours, he’s a sharp guy. You won’t be able to do what he’s done in this league without being sharp. He’s capable. He’s done it in this league at such a high level that I’m quite sure to him, it’s like riding a bike.”
“I watched him when I played in Baltimore for a lot of years and went against him a lot,” said Bucs center Ryan Jensen. “I feel like he really fits our offensive scheme when it comes to the run game. A lot of the stuff he did really well in Pittsburgh is the same concepts of run that we do here, so I’m excited to see what he can do for us.”
Bell said this week that he feels like he’s in the best shape of his life and can play as many plays as they need him to if his number is called Sunday.