Bucs hopeful Donovan Smith’s 48-game starting streak continues despite injury

Bucs offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) rests between drills during mandatory minicamp in June at One Buc Place. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Bucs offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) rests between drills during mandatory minicamp in June at One Buc Place. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published August 21
Updated August 21

TAMPA — Donovan Smith sat at a table at the Nashville Airport's Marriott hotel after Friday morning's walk-though practice and talked of how he had become the ironman, of sorts, for the Buccaneers.

It was one day before the team played the Titans, and Smith looked relaxed. He was asked how he was able to never miss a regular-season game during his career, a streak of 48 straight games that is a source of great pride.

"Just mental toughness," Smith, 25, said. "Obviously, there's a lot of things that can be played through. I just pride myself on that. Unless I absolutely can't go, I'm going to go out there and give it my all.

"I try to take care of my body as much as possible throughout the week. … I make sure I'm living right and when I'm off my feet, I'm off my feet, relaxing in the house."

But Smith's streak might be in jeopardy after the left tackle suffered what first appeared to be a potentially serious knee injury during an 11-on-11 period Tuesday at training camp.

Smith's legs were rolled up on the back side of a running play. He tossed his helmet off and remained on the ground for a minute or two. He needed to be helped off the field by trainers.

But after more tests, the team believed by Tuesday evening that Smith has a chance to return in time for the regular-season opener at New Orleans on Sept. 9.

The Bucs can ill afford to lose Smith, a 2015 second-round pick out of Penn State who blocks the blind side for quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"We'll have to see," coach Dirk Koetter said. "I've said this many times when guys get hurt in practice, they come in and have the docs look at them and run their tests, and we'll know something later."

Not only has Smith not missed a start in his three seasons, he had not missed a snap in his career until he was unable to play the second half at New Orleans last season. His durability has been his biggest asset.

"That's probably one of Donovan's best characteristics," Koetter said. "He's very reliable and has been very durable over the course of his career. "

Smith said his physical durability has a lot to do with his mind-set. No NFL player is completely healthy throughout the season, and Smith has played with his share of injuries.

"There's been times I have felt terrible, but you just push through. Mental toughness," Smith said. "It's definitely a family trait. Just growing up in New York, you go through a lot. You see a lot. Family-wise, the same thing. They have a lot of experiences that you see. It's a Smith thing."

The Bucs have had plenty of injuries during training camp, but none has knocked a player out for the opener. Smith wasn't the only starter to go down Tuesday. Safety Justin Evans injured his foot, but the Bucs are optimistic he can return in two weeks.

Should Smith have a setback, the options to replace him aren't great. Michael Liedtke finished practice with the starters.
Starting right guard Caleb Benenoch could move to left tackle. Rookie Alex Cappa, who played left tackle at Division II Humboldt State, has been working at right guard during camp.

"Hopefully it's something minor and it's just a little sprain, and he'll be back in a little bit of time," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said of Smith's injury.

Avoiding serious injuries in camp is the goal of every team, but they also are inevitable.

"This is football. You never know when it could be your last play," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "Who knows if that was a career-ending injury. But that's our brother. We just come out every day and work and work and work. Hopefully, I'm praying that everything is okay with him and he'll be back out here next week and be able to play with us in the opener."

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