TAMPA — Lingering injuries at running back and on the defensive line have the Bucs facing significant depth concerns entering Monday's game at Carolina, perhaps necessitating roster moves just to add healthy backups.
DT Clinton McDonald, listed as being limited in practice Thursday with a hamstring injury, was held out Friday, meaning the Bucs likely will be without both of their starting defensive tackles, with Gerald McCoy still sidelined with a calf injury.
At defensive end, starter Robert Ayers, who practiced in a limited capacity Thursday for the first time in nearly three weeks, was held out Friday because of his ankle injury, and rookie Noah Spence remained sidelined with a shoulder injury.
That means the Bucs could have only one of their top five defensive linemen, end Will Gholston, and would have only six healthy defensive linemen, including two undrafted rookies, DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward, and a player signed this week, DT John Hughes. That would likely force the Bucs to promote a defensive lineman from the practice squad — either DE Ryan Russell or DT Rodney Coe — just to have seven dressed on game day.
At running back, the situation is no better, with starter Doug Martin expected to miss a third straight game with a hamstring injury and his replacement, Charles Sims, held out of practice again Friday with a knee injury. That leaves Jacquizz Rodgers — signed in Week 2 as a free agent — and rookie Peyton Barber, who didn't take an offensive snap in the first four games. The Bucs would likely have to promote rookie Russell Hansbrough, who was signed to the practice squad Wednesday, as a third healthy running back.
WR Cecil Shorts remained out with a hamstring injury and will miss a third straight game Monday.
Adding to the trouble, the Bucs listed starting CB Brent Grimes as having limited participation Friday due to a hamstring injury, and backup C Evan Smith was limited with a back injury. The Bucs can have only seven players inactive Monday, and they could have more than seven players out with injuries, impacting their depth.
The Bucs did get back at practice S Keith Tandy, who had been held out of Thursday's drills with a calf injury; he provides key depth as the third safety.
OTHER SIDE: Carolina also is dealing with significant injuries, including starting QB Cam Newton. And the team waived starting CB Bene Benwikere on Friday, five days after giving up 503 yards passing to Matt Ryan and 300 yards receiving to Julio Jones in a loss to the Falcons.
The abrupt dismissal of Benwikere leaves a struggling Panthers secondary with little experience. Rookie James Bradberry, another starter, is expected to miss Monday's game with turf toe, so Carolina would be left to start rookie Daryl Worley and presumably nickel CB Robert McClain. They will have CB Teddy Williams, who was inactive last week, and rookie CB Zack Sanchez, who was promoted from the practice squad Friday.
Carolina is likely to be without three key leaders on offense: Newton, the reigning NFL MVP, is in concussion protocol, as is LT Michael Oher, and starting RB Jonathan Stewart is expected to be sidelined again with a hamstring injury.
Newton missed a third straight day of practice on Friday. "Newton had a good day in the protocol," coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll see what that means (today)."
The Panthers had 13 players on their official injury report, though seven were upgraded in their participation level: LB Thomas Davis, DE Charles Johnson, WRs Ted Ginn and Devin Funchess, C Ryan Kalil, T Mike Remmers and DT Star Lotulelei.
If Newton can't go, the Panthers will turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who has only two starts in the past five seasons, both of them wins against the Bucs in 2014. He hasn't started any other games since the 2010 season, when he lost his last six starts.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.