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With Alexander suspended, lesser-known Bucs defenders must step up

TAMPA

Maybe they're not as pumped up as Kwon Alexander, but the Bucs are excited about the way some of the no-names, retreads and wannabes have played on defense lately.

News broke Monday that Alexander is taking his medicine (legally) and withdrawing his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. That means his rookie season is over unless the Bucs reach the postseason.

Alexander is the team's second-leading tackler, calls all the signals and has made more splash plays than anyone for the Bucs this season.

On the other hand, aren't you excited to see what Danny Lansanah and Bruce Carter can do?

For much of Sunday's 23-19 win over the Falcons, the Bucs defense had three players on the field who started for them Week 1— Alexander, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Bradley McDougald.

"I think last Wednesday, I looked over and our entire starting defensive line that we started the season with was standing on the sideline," coach Lovie Smith said.

On Sunday, the Bucs held the Falcons' explosive offense in check, forcing four field goals and allowing one touchdown after a turnover while playing the likes of Howard Jones, Kourtnei Brown and Josh Shirley. They're not exactly household names — even in their own households.

Brown had played 14 snaps in his career, which consisted of two games. The 27-year-old former Clemson star has been cut three times this season — twice by the Texans and once by the Bucs. He played 35 snaps Sunday and recorded his first career NFL tackle.

Shirley, an undrafted rookie from Nevada-Las Vegas, played only five snaps Sunday but notched his second career tackle. Jones, who was signed off the Steelers practice squad as an undrafted rookie from Shepherd University in West Virginia, has 41/2 sacks in eight games — more than any pass rusher taken in the first round this season.

"You're constantly developing your roster, your full roster, not the one you started with or your starters early on," Smith said. "And the guys you keep, they have to have potential to play for you some day, and that's the case with them.

"(Sunday), they stepped up. Will Gholston has been around a while, but he played well again. Henry Melton, two guys who have given us good, solid play throughout the season. Getting Akeem Spence back. Howard Jones, Kourtnei Brown, Josh Shirley — some of those guys, answered the bell."

Gholston, who had two sacks in his previous 25 games, rang Matt Ryan's bell by sacking him twice Sunday. The Bucs got solid play from veteran castaways such as Melton and Tony McDaniel.

It's the Salvation Army kettle defense — everybody is contributing.

"For the guys that are filling in now, your role will change," Smith said. "Now we need you to do this until the Gerald (McCoys) and the (Jacquies) Smiths come back. They're not out with season-ending injuries or anything like that. But in the meantime, you're putting on a Tampa Bay Buccaneer uniform and there's a certain type of play we need to get … guys realize this."

The Bucs also realize it can't last. If Tampa Bay (6-6) is going to make a run at the NFC wild card, it has to get its best players on the field.

McCoy had a "minor'' surgical procedure on his hand, but the concern is major if he doesn't return for Sunday's game against the Saints. Jacquies Smith (hamstring) is second on the team in sacks with six and the Bucs' best chance to make the Saints' Drew Brees flee the pocket.

In the meantime, the pressure falls on David's shoulder pads. He responded Sunday with 11 tackles, two for a loss, a pass defensed and the game-sealing interception.

"That play (Sunday), I mean we were really excited about our offense scoring. But they had a timeout, plenty of time, we had to get them stopped," Smith said. "Now, special players step up in those situations."

The Bucs will miss Alexander. He's a great young player who made a mistake and is paying for it. Somebody will play middle linebacker, but the performance of the defense will not be enhanced by Alexander's absence.

Up next

Bucs vs. Saints, 1 p.m. Sunday, Raymond James Stadium

TV: Ch. 13

With Alexander suspended, lesser-known Bucs defenders must step up 12/07/15 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2015 10:16pm]
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