TAMPA — CB Aqib Talib might be the Bucs' most valuable player on defense.
He leads them with five interceptions and routinely blankets the opponent's top receiver. In their last meeting, Talib held Panthers WR Steve Smith to one reception.
But Talib has been battling a hamstring injury for the past five weeks. And although he is listed as questionable for Sunday's game at Carolina, he doesn't have nearly as much mobility as before, according to coach Raheem Morris.
"He's actually had more practice the other weeks he was limited," Morris said of Talib, who on Friday missed his second straight practice. "But it's the same sort of deal.
"You never know what's going to happen until he wakes up on Sunday."
If Talib can't play, Elbert Mack likely would start. And with veteran Torrie Cox lost for the season to a left hip injury sustained Sunday against the Falcons, the Bucs will utilize Derrick Roberson as their third cornerback.
Morris said Talib's value on defense is obvious.
"I'm not sure on how many defenses Talib wouldn't be the (best) player," Morris said. "He's a pretty talented guy for what he's done all year, being able to match receivers and match people. He has (five) picks. He's had a pretty productive year, so he's going to be heartbroken if he's not able to go."
More injuries: WR Michael Clayton (knee) and DE Michael Bennett (toe) are out. RB Clifton Smith (knee) was added to the injury report as questionable. DT Roy Miller (ankle), LT Donald Penn (knee), WR Maurice Stovall (thigh), DE Stylez White (hand) and TE Kellen Winslow (knee) are probable.
ROAD WARRIOR: QB Josh Freeman doesn't have a win on the road, but he hasn't shrunk when playing in hostile territory, either.
"I like playing on the road," he said this week ahead of his third appearance on the road.
In starts at Miami and Atlanta, Freeman has completed 36 of 57 attempts (63 percent) for 446 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
"He's one of those kids that nothing really affects him; not bothered by pressure, not intimidated by anything," Morris said. "He's out there playing his heart out, and he's getting better and better every week."
REMEMBER WHEN: Sunday's game means nothing in terms of the playoff race, but the Bucs have had their share of meaningful games against Carolina.
One of Morris' earliest memories of coaching in the NFL came at Carolina in 2002. A 12-9 road victory took the Bucs to 6-2 en route to the Super Bowl. Morris recalls it as the sort of mettle-testing performance the current team needs to strive for.
"That was a battle of the field goals, a battle of will, a battle of attrition," Morris said. "Those are the testaments to our good defense. In order for us to capture that dominance, we have to get back to winning those types of games."
Standout running back sits out again
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — RB DeAngelo Williams missed his third consecutive practice and is questionable for Sunday because of a sprained left ankle. Williams leads Carolina in rushing yards (1,022) and rushing touchdowns (seven).
More injuries: WR Dwayne Jarrett (ankle) and CB Captain Munnerlyn (concussion) are doubtful. WR Muhsin Muhammad (knee) and fullback Brad Hoover (ankle) are probable.
Defensive swap: DT Tank Tyler went on injured reserve with a sprained knee sustained Sunday against the Jets and was replaced by Derek Landri, who was claimed off of waivers from the Jaguars. Landri, a fifth-round in 2007, saw his playing time decrease this season after he gained about 20 pounds in an effort to become an every-down player. He appeared in only seven games with 13 tackles and was inactive the past four weeks.