TAMPA — Add MLB Mason Foster to the list of reasons why the Bucs are going to find out what they're made of Sunday when they host the NFC South-leading Saints.
Foster, the rookie third-round pick from Washington who leads the team in tackles, did not practice again Thursday because of an ankle injury.
If Foster is unable to go, the middle linebacker duties will be split between Adam Hayward and Quincy Black, who would move over from his strongside position on passing downs. Black, who did not play last week at San Francisco due to an ankle sprain, fully participated in practice Thursday.
The Bucs already are expected to be without two of their biggest stars for at least two games.
RB LeGarrette Blount has a medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee and is doubtful for Sunday and likely questionable for the Oct. 23 game against the Bears in London.
RB Allen Bradford was released Thursday, leaving only two healthy tailbacks — Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin — and increased speculation that the team might sign or trade for another back.
DT Gerald McCoy went from crutches to a walking boot, but his high ankle sprain likely will keep him out until after the bye week when the Bucs travel to New Orleans on Nov. 6.
"Mason looked a little bit better. … We'll see where he is (today)," coach Raheem Morris said. " … I just get the next guy ready."
McCoy said he feels fortunate his injury wasn't more serious when he was toppled in a pile by S Sean Jones. "I thought I was out of there, because the pain shot straight to my knee," McCoy said. "But that was just me twisting my knee, (because) it's all in my ankle. … It's definitely a blessing for me to be walking right now."
The team plans to use Frank Okam, Roy Miller, Brian Price and DE Da'Quan Bowers in McCoy's spot Sunday.
Other injuries include TE Luke Stocker (knee) and WR Sammie Stroughter (foot), who did not practice Thursday, and both are expected to be out against the Saints. LB Zac Diles (hamstring), who did not play last week, was limited in practice along with T James Lee (knee). CB Aqib Talib (knee) practiced again Thursday.
Blame shared: QB Josh Freeman and WR Mike Williams have taken some responsibility for the lack of explosive pass plays this season. Freeman has thrown six interceptions — as many as he did in 2010 — and Williams proclaimed he has played "terrible" this year, with only one touchdown and one reception of more than 20 yards.
But offensive coordinator Greg Olson played a little defense for both players.
"Mike has big, broad shoulders, but for Mike to put that all on himself … we win and lose as a team," Olson said.
"There are a number of reasons why his production is down. It doesn't just fall on Mike playing poorly. … We can all play better. I can coach better. I can call better plays."
BLACKED OUT: Two weeks after enjoying a nationally televised home game against the Colts on Monday Night Football, Tampa Bay fans will have to tune in on the radio Sunday. The Saints game was not sold out by the 4 p.m. deadline Thursday and will be blacked out locally. About 55,000 tickets had been sold as of Thursday. Raymond James Stadium holds 65,890.