TAMPA — The Bucs entered this season with high hopes for their defensive line, having invested two first-round picks and two second-round picks over the past two seasons.
But on Sunday, they might not have any of their Week 1 starters.
The one exception could be DE Adrian Clayborn (back), who returned to practice Thursday. DT Gerald McCoy (biceps) is out for the season. DE Michael Bennett (groin) could miss his second game, and DT Brian Price (ankle) is in a walking boot.
"It's next man up," DE Tim Crowder said. "That's the mentality around here. I've been in (the league) for a while, and it's been like that.
"It's to the point where at the end of the year, guys are going down. It's football."
Veteran DT Albert Haynesworth, claimed off waivers three weeks ago, has played well since joining the team, drawing double teams. Rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers made his first start Sunday. Crowder, DT Roy Miller and DT John McCargo also will see time.
"It's just part of being a professional," Crowder said. "I'm going to go about it just like I'm a starter.
"And I'm going to prepare like I'm a starter whenever it's my chance to go out and play."
NO TV: Sunday's home game will be blacked out on local television because it did not sell out 72 hours before kickoff. The only other remaining home game, Dec. 17 against the Cowboys, has sold out and will air on the NFL Network and Ch. 38.
TOP NOTCH: WR Steve Smith does not have the prototypical size of a receiver, 5 feet 9, 185 pounds, but he's having another standout season. He has 59 catches for 1,060 yards and five touchdowns, and has six 100-yard games against the Bucs.
"Steve Smith is a top, top, top guy," Bucs secondary coach Jimmy Lake said. "He's a monster."
OLD SCHOOL: The Panthers' one-two running back punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will provide enough of a challenge for the Bucs. But with dual-threat rookie QB Cam Newton, Carolina uses lots of option plays and zone reads. The Panthers gain 5.1 yards per rush, behind only the Eagles' 5.6.
"It's an innovative scheme," Lake said. "They're running a lot of NFL offense and a lot of college-influence offense, too; some of the stuff Newton ran at Auburn."
LB Mason Foster said the Bucs won't use a spy on Newton but emphasized the importance of keeping him in the pocket and staying in the rush lanes.
Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.