TAMPA — Return specialist Clifton Smith's second concussion in seven games has prompted the Bucs to take care with handling his injury.
Smith could be put on injured reserve and lost for the season. He took an opponent's knee to the head while covering the opening kickoff against the Panthers on Sunday. He didn't return.
Given the increased scrutiny on head injuries leaguewide, Smith will not be rushed back into action.
"I'm sure there will be (more caution)," coach Raheem Morris said Monday. "That's a no-brainer. … I'm sure there will be (a cautious approach) with what's going on in our society with concussions, period."
Smith absorbed a violent hit from Panthers DB Dante Wesley on Oct. 18 and missed the following game because of lingering effects from a concussion. The timing of this recent concussion is disconcerting.
Though there is disagreement about concussions in scientific circles, studies have shown players who suffer a second one in a relatively short span can be more susceptible to concussions. Experts contend a player who suffers multiple concussions in a short span might need a longer recovery period.
In Smith's absence, the Bucs will lean on rookie WR Sammie Stroughter for returns.
Wideouts sharing snaps: With his knee injury behind him, WR Antonio Bryant is apparently back at the top of his game.
But there's still instability at the other receiver spot with Michael Clayton missing Sunday's game with a knee sprain, opening the door for backup Maurice Stovall. He had four receptions for 68 yards, and Morris said Stovall likely will continue to have an expanded role even when Clayton returns.
Morris stopped short of saying Stovall would start, but he indicated he would like Clayton to play fewer snaps because he is more productive that way.
"I don't know if we have a receiver controversy," Morris said. "Clayton's dropped as many balls as Stovall. His are just made to be bigger. … Stovall has played well. You have to give Stovall a lot of credit. Stovall will continue to play. It doesn't matter who's the starter or not.
"I think Michael Clayton is a better player when he plays less snaps. He plays so hard. … So, I told him he doesn't need to play more than 30 snaps to 40 snaps anyway."
Stovall has 18 catches for 280 yards; Clayton has 14 catches for 204 yards.
Did it leave a mark?: When QB Josh Freeman left the pocket and scampered 20 yards for a first down Sunday, he lowered his shoulders and took on two defenders in the open field. One, LB Jon Beason, leveled Freeman in midair as the quarterback was being hit from below. Freeman said he didn't feel a thing. One teammate didn't buy it.
"I got back to the huddle, and I wasn't feeling any pain or anything, but Donald Penn said, 'That hurt, didn't it?' " Freeman recalled. "He said, 'I know that hurt. Don't act like it didn't.' "
Freeman was criticized for sliding short of a first down in his first start. Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has been implored by his coach to become more willing to slide and protect himself.
"I took a lot of heat for sliding," Freeman said. "But you have to take it in context. If it's a third down and you're trying to extend the drive, that's a case where you want to lower your shoulder and get that first down. But if it's on a first down and you break containment and you're just running with (the ball), that's an instance where you can slide and live to play another down."