TAMPA — Adam Hayward is delighted about his opportunity but disgusted his chance to play strongside linebacker for the Bucs came at the expense of a friend.
Having started only six games over six seasons, Hayward entered the defensive huddle against San Diego on Nov. 11 as Quincy Black was leaving the field strapped to a backboard, carted away after a helmet-to-helmet collision with running back Ryan Mathews.
As Hayward prepared to hurry off to a position meeting last week, Black's locker sat empty about 10 yards away. Black was placed on injured reserve two days after the Chargers game, still suffering from nerve damage that temporarily limited the use of his left arm.
"This is a business where you have people get hurt all the time," Hayward said. "You're running full speed into another grown man. It's bound to happen. It's unfortunate to see stuff happen like it did to Quincy, especially since I've been around him six years.
"He's like family. So to see that happen to him, it's hard. I still am dealing with it because you never know. That could be you."
Every team deals with injuries in the meat grinder of football, a sport of attrition.
But no roster might be more duct taped than the Bucs, who had a league-high $30.1 million of salary on injured reserve before offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood ($4 million) and safety Cody Grimm ($490,000) were added last week with shoulder and hamstring injuries, respectively.
The team coach Greg Schiano takes to Denver today is vastly different than the one he took to training camp. Ten players are on injured reserve, including: Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph (patellar tendon) and Carl Nicks (foot); starting defensive end Adrian Clayborn (knee), who led the team in sacks last season as a rookie with 71/2; receivers Arrelious Benn (knee) and Sammie Stroughter (foot); tight end Danny Noble (hamstring) and guard Desmond Wynn (undisclosed).
The list of those missing doesn't include cornerbacks Aqib Talib (traded to New England) or Eric Wright (suspended four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, which Wright blamed on Adderall).
As Schiano is fond of saying, "Nobody cares."
Retooling a team in transition, he has the Bucs at 6-5 and winners of five of their past seven.
But does Schiano think about what might have been?
"No," he said. "It's just that every waking moment is (spent trying) to win, and we're only going to win with the guys we have. Those other guys can't help us right now. So I just try to spend all my time trying to figure out a way as a staff how we can coach better. It's been interesting to see. Sometimes, until the opportunity comes, you don't know what a guy can do. Then all of a sudden, he gets a chance and he's a darn good player.
"I see them how I want them to be, not how they are right now. I see them as being that starter, and a lot of times, they live up to it."
How a team copes with injuries can be the difference between winning and losing. In 2010, Green Bay won the Super Bowl despite losing 31 players (for a total of 206 games) to injury during the season. An NFC-high 15 players went on injured reserve.
For Schiano, who coached the past 12 seasons at Rutgers, there's no 100-man roster to draw from like in college: just 53 active players and an eight-man practice squad. But there is the waiver wire, free agents and other team's practice squads.
"They're really different in the two games, college football and professional football," Schiano said. "It's a shame we've lost some of the guys we have. But it keeps you thinking that it's going to be good when we get them back. And these guys that now are getting reps are going to provide really good depth.
"But we're about winning now. So whoever is playing now, you're the starter and we've got to get you playing as well as you can."
Safety Ronde Barber, who has started 211 consecutive games, has avoided the injury land mines of the NFL for 16 seasons. But the league keeps spinning on its axis.
"It's good and bad," Barber said. "It's bad because the guys you spent most of the year with, since March, are not available. That cuts into the continuity and the makeup. It's good in that other guys get opportunities. I know from personal experience that's the only way I got on the field — a player got hurt. I took advantage of that.
"I remember guys telling me that, and I said, 'Bull, I'm never going to play.' But you're on the roster for a reason, and you're going to get a chance. There's always that silver lining, but it hurts when some of your best players aren't around. It's the same way in every sport. The game must go on. So whoever is next, step up."
Rick Stroud can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.