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Tampa Bay Bucs plan to rotate players to fill gap left by injury to Gerald McCoy

TAMPA — It's not clear who will start at defensive tackle for the Bucs in the wake of Gerald McCoy's season-ending biceps injury.

But this much you can count on: It won't matter.

That's because the Bucs are expected to use a variety of personnel and a number of combinations, taking a by-committee approach to replacing their first-round draft pick this year.

That might mean defensive end Michael Bennett will have to spend some time at defensive tackle, a position that, before this week, he hadn't worked at in his 11/2 years with the Bucs.

It could mean nose tackle Roy Miller will sometimes slide a spot over and play McCoy's "three technique" defensive tackle, a position that calls for more penetrating and disruption than the hold-your-ground assignment of nose tackles.

And the loss of McCoy also means you could see wide-bodied Frank Okam for the first time since his promotion from the practice squad last month. The 350-pound backup has been inactive for each of his three games since joining the active roster but will be called upon Sunday.

It's all hands on deck.

"When you lose somebody like Gerald, it's always going to be hard," said backup Al Woods, who could get a more extensive role at nose tackle when Miller moves over.

"But with the coaching staff we have and with everybody trying to be real detailed in their work, I think we're going to be all right."

That said, McCoy's loss is particularly hard to offset because he so rarely came out of the lineup.

Sunday three players likely will spend time at McCoy's position.

Others will play elsewhere as a result of the shuffling.

Bennett, who has played sparingly this season, is one of the intriguing possibilities.

Coaches moved him inside from defensive end on the fly Sunday against the Redskins after McCoy was injured in the first quarter. Bennett, at 274 pounds, isn't a good fit to play tackle on early downs because he is likely to face double teams against larger offensive linemen. But his burst off the ball could be useful on passing downs, where he potentially could beat 300-pound-plus interior guards.

"When I put him in there, he'll probably be the changeup guy, that third-down spark," coach Raheem Morris said. "I'm not going to make him go in there and try to change his game or redefine it and make him my hardcore double-team guy. I have guys on this football team that can do that.

"What I'm going to ask Michael Bennett to do is play to his strengths."

Bennett can do it all, if necessary.

"He's put the time in, and he knows every position across the front," defensive line coach Todd Wash said.

Miller saw action at McCoy's position against the Redskins as well, with Woods playing nose tackle in Miller's absence. Miller said it's a role not unlike his job at the University of Texas, where he was able to display some of his pass-rush and penetration skills.

"I think he is a magnificent nose tackle," Morris said. "But he can certainly play (McCoy's spot). He prefers to play nose, but he'll do anything asked (by) his team and anything asked (by) his coaches."

Miller is more likely to play at McCoy's position on first and second downs, when the opponent is more likely to use downhill runs.

The same applies to Okam, a self-described run stuffer.

"I can hold up at the point of attack real well," he said. "I think I showed that (in practice), and my goal is to make sure that the defense doesn't lack anything when I'm in there.

"Obviously, I'm not the pass rusher that Gerald McCoy is. I think he's actually one of the elite ones. But I just try to bring a toughness and a mentality that (says) you can't run on my side."

Okam, a third-year player, has spent time with the Texans and Seahawks this season, and he played with Miller and defensive end Tim Crowder in college.

Backup Bucs have been making their presence felt throughout the club's rash of injuries.

"Here we go," Morris said. "Another opportunity for a young player to step up and be their best self. We thrive on that. These guys look forward to it."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Bucs vs. Lions

1 Sunday,

Raymond James

Stadium, Tampa

Radio: 620-AM,

103.5-FM (game blacked out on TV)

Line: Bucs by 51/2

San Diego romps: Chargers coast in 34-7 rout of 49ers. 7C

Tampa Bay Bucs plan to rotate players to fill gap left by injury to Gerald McCoy 12/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 17, 2010 10:04am]
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