TAMPA — Wide receiver Antonio Bryant was unstoppable at times last year. But shutting him down in the preseason took only a directive from his coach.
Bryant will miss three weeks with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Coach Raheem Morris said Bryant will not play in the preseason as a precaution but will be ready for the season opener Sept. 13 against Dallas.
"We're going to go ahead and work on that knee," Morris said. "We're going to go ahead and scope it, clean that thing out, get him ready for the season. … He was ready to go the other day, ran out there and it swelled up a little on him again. It's just not worth it. Let's get him ready for Dallas. Let's sit him down for three weeks.
"He probably could come back the last preseason game, but I'm probably going to be mentally weak and not play him and just wait for Dallas, and we'll figure that out as we go."
Bryant said he was injured during a night workout Aug. 1 at Raymond James Stadium while trying to recover a fumble. He missed four days of practice but returned Friday and Saturday. Apparently, the knee suffered more swelling. It's the same knee Bryant injured Dec. 8 at Carolina when he torched the Panthers with nine catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
"I told Raheem this is a rest stop," Bryant said. "This is a long road trip and I'm pulling over early to get my stuff together. We don't have a rest stop for another couple of miles. I'm getting mine out of the way now."
Morris indicated the injury is not considered serious, but he wanted Bryant to take care of it now rather than face problems in the regular season.
"It's just kind of been lingering," Morris said. "It goes away, it swells up and goes away and swells up. So now, it's just not worth it. Just go ahead and fix it up and get him ready for Dallas."
The injury to Bryant leaves the Bucs without either starting receiver. Michael Clayton has a hamstring strain and has not practiced since early last week. He is not expected to play in Saturday's preseason opener at Tennessee.
In his first season with the Bucs, Bryant had a breakout year, leading the team in receiving with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. That performance persuaded the Bucs to use their franchise tag on Bryant, who signed a one-year contract worth $9.888 million.
Morris said Bryant's injury is similar to one cornerback Ronde Barber suffered two years ago.
"Ronde Barber had it a couple of years ago and was back after the bye week," Morris said. "I told A.B. that, 'I'm not questioning your toughness. But when I coached DBs, Ronde came back the following week.' "
Bryant's absence in the preseason will have more of an impact on others, Morris said.
"I'm not sure if he loses it; I'm sure my quarterbacks do," he said. "There's nothing like going out there and throwing to Antonio Bryant. He's a big, strong guy that's going to make plays for you. Sometimes you throw a bad ball and he'll make you look good.
"He'll miss his part, obviously, his timing and rhythm. But he was here in the offseason a lot and did have a lot of work at that … so I'm feeling good about his timing and precision. He got a little of the physical game that day he stepped out there in the two-minute (drill), he got a little helmet-to-helmet action, he got little hits on him. But I think it's better; I think it's smart to clean him up and let him get ready."
Bryant did seek a second medical opinion about his knee, Morris said, but he did not need much persuading before agreeing to the arthroscopic surgery, likely set for today.
"There wasn't any persuasion required," Morris said. "Antonio, we all know he's an angry worker, so he just wanted to make sure it was right. You always get your second opinion like they should. If I was a $9 million player, I'd get a second opinion, too."