TAMPA — Bucs fans have reason to be nervous about the prospect of their team missing its top three play-makers on defense Sunday against the Saints.
Already trying to cope with the suspension of LB Kwon Alexander, the Bucs are dealing with an even larger potential problem as weakside LB Lavonte David did not practice Thursday due to an ankle sprain and DT Gerald McCoy was limited with a left hand injury.
Coach Lovie Smith said it's too early to draw any conclusions about the status of David and McCoy.
"I would be concerned if my favorite players aren't practicing and if they have been here long enough, they know I'm going to wait until Sunday to kind of see who plays," Smith said. "If a guy is practicing on a limited basis, I'm still pretty pumped up about it. Unless someone has been ruled out — which no one has been — if I'm a fan I'm pretty excited about this Sunday and can't wait to get there."
With Alexander and David out Thursday, the team had Danny Lansanah — set to step in at middle linebacker — working in David's place at weakside linebacker, with Bruce Carter (who missed Sunday with a concussion) practicing at middle linebacker. Orie Lemon, re-signed Wednesday for depth, worked as the strongside linebacker during drills.
The only other player sidelined was DE Jacquies Smith, who likely will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sounded less optimistic about McCoy's chances to play Sunday.
"If he's able to get out there, that would be a big plus for us, obviously," Frazier said. "And we'll see how he does, if he's able to practice with us (today). But he's going to have a big cast on his hand either way. Just having Gerald out there is a big deal for us. It's still tough to single block him if he's able to play."
McCoy injured his hand at the end of the first half of a 25-12 loss at Indianapolis on Nov. 29. The next day he had what the team described as a "minor procedure" and did not play in Sunday's 23-19 win over Atlanta.
McCoy and Smith have combined for 13 of the defense's 29 sacks this season. McCoy said he would have no problem wearing a cast on his hand in the game.
"Just day to day. We'll see what happens," he said. "I mean, if they'll allow me to play, I want to be out there. But I wanted to play last week and that didn't happen.
"I played like that last year. Football is football. It's crunch time and you've got to go. There's no excuses. If I'm out there, let's go."
NEAR SELLOUT: With fans likely energized by the home win last week, the Bucs are nearing a sellout for Sunday against the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. A limited amount of tickets remain. "We feel like our fans have been super throughout," Lovie Smith said. "I think if there's a bad product on the field, who wants to come and watch a bad product on the football field? … We know in order for us to really make a push we need our fans with us. Raymond James Stadium, we need to have a homefield advantage. At the end of the game this past week, when we really needed it the most, we heard them. We're excited that there's excitement about our football team, and we are going to have a big crowd this week. I believe we will."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.