TAMPA — The Bucs fared well Sunday in their first game without suspended CB Aqib Talib, but this week's game against the Saints presents a stiffer test.
The pass-heavy, wide-open New Orleans offense will put a strain on a Bucs secondary that has less depth in Talib's absence.
But when the team needs a third cornerback, coaches won't hesitate to call on little-known Brandon McDonald. Having joined the team just before the start of the regular season, it was thought he might be a long shot to make the roster.
But the veteran has ended up playing extensively as a backup, netting 17 tackles and an interception. Not bad for a guy who couldn't previously find a job.
"I was at home for so long that when I got the call, I was just happy the phone rang," said McDonald, who played for the Lions the past two seasons. "I had been out since January. So, given the chance to go show a team that I can still play at a high level, I just had to come in and start fast, learn the defense as quickly as possible and earn a spot on the team."
Without McDonald's capable play, the Bucs would be settling for undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson or inconsistent Myron Lewis as their nickel cornerback without Talib.
The team actually had little, if any, expectations when it brought McDonald aboard.
"I didn't think he'd do this," coach Greg Schiano said. "We signed him because we needed some depth. But he came in here immediately and showed professionalism and quickly grasped what we were doing. So, good for him. Good for us."
Now in his sixth season, McDonald, 27, said his experience helped him make up for lost time.
"I've played a lot of ball," said the 2007 fifth-round pick of the Browns out of Memphis "But I think it was the fact that when I came here, they threw me right in. I didn't have a choice but to learn it and try to be effective on the field."
READY TO GO: WR Vincent Jackson surprisingly popped up on the injury report Thursday with a calf injury, but nothing indicates he will have any issues Sunday. He's listed as probable and is expected to play. "It was just precautionary," Schiano said.
ROSTER MOVE: The team released DE Markus White from the active roster, less than a week after promoting him from the practice squad. But that doesn't mean the team is prepared to activate DE Da'Quan Bowers, who is on the physically unable to perform list but returned to practice this week. Schiano wouldn't specify the team's plans for the open roster spot, but he also said Bowers' activity in practice remained minimal all week out of an abundance of caution. Bowers suffered an Achilles tendon tear in May and has been rehabbing.
LOOKING AHEAD: The team has scheduling challenges next week as they prepare for a Thursday night game at Minnesota. Schiano didn't scale back this week's work, preferring to put everything into the effort to win Sunday. "We just have to (carry out) the plan next week, which will be considerably scaled back," Schiano said.