TAMPA — After a season of constant change, the Bucs' kicking game will have more personnel upheaval: P Dirk Johnson's season will end because of a hamstring injury.
Johnson was injured on a fake punt Sunday at Atlanta and had to leave the game. He was placed on injured reserve Monday, and the Bucs are looking for a replacement.
Johnson had been a fill-in, taking the place of longtime P Josh Bidwell, lost after preseason hip surgery. But the instability on the unit extends to placekickers, too. Connor Barth is the third kicker to play for the Bucs in the regular season, succeeding Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus. Both were released based on performance.
The team will evaluate potential replacements for Johnson today and is expected to sign a punter by Wednesday.
Also, backup CB Torrie Cox went on injured reserve after sustaining a hip injury against the Falcons. He was replaced on the active roster by practice squad CB Brandon Anderson.
Cox has had a tough time staying healthy, having suffered three season-ending knee injuries that required reconstructive surgery.
It remains to be seen whether the injury troubles in the unit will be compounded. Coach Raheem Morris offered no specifics as to the status of starting CB Aqib Talib, who left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Talib did not comment Monday.
WR Michael Clayton's status was not known either. He suffered a knee sprain on the Bucs' first offensive series.
Sears on hold: As expected, G Arron Sears won't play this season. He was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list.
Sears returned to the team two weeks ago after taking more than six months to deal with a still-unspecified personal issue. In the meantime, he gained significant weight, and the team had considered him a long shot to play. Sears is not allowed to practice but can work with the team's training staff to get back to his playing weight, and he can attend meetings and team functions.
"We'll get him going to get him ready for next year and the offseason," Morris said. "He hasn't had much classroom or any work like that or anything as far as football-specific drills other than the ones that would be related to strength and conditioning. … It's been all getting back into shape."
While Sears can't help the Bucs now, the team remains optimistic the 2007 second-round pick and two-year starter can return and contribute.
"It's on the (way) up from what I can see," Morris said of Sears' long-term prospects.
More defense: Though the Bucs gave up a winning drive in the final minute Sunday, there was much to like on defense.
The 75 rushing yards allowed was the team's fewest this season, improving on the 76 allowed at Philadelphia.
LB Geno Hayes tied a career high with 16 tackles, and DE Stylez White tied his with seven stops. White added 21/2 sacks, tying a career high.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.