Saturday, June 23, 2018
Sports

Two more on Bucs defense battling injuries

TAMPA — The Bucs will likely face sensational Rams rookie RB Todd Gurley on Thursday night without two more of their top players in the middle of the defense.

MLB Bruce Carter and DT Akeem Spence, who each left Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Saints with ankle injuries, wore protective boots Tuesday and did not practice.

With Carter sidelined, the Bucs had Danny Lansanah working at middle linebacker. He would be their third starter in as many games at the position after the league suspended rookie Kwon Alexander for four games for performance-enhancing drugs.

With Spence sidelined and Clinton McDonald on injured reserve, the Bucs will lean more heavily on Tony McDaniel and Henry Melton at defensive tackle.

"We're not ruling anybody out right now," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have a few hours, still, before we play and, this early, just keep in mind of how long (ago) we played. Everybody's a little sore, still, right now, so we've adjusted the schedule that way."

WR Vincent Jackson, potentially missing multiple games with a sprained knee, did not practice, nor did LG Logan Mankins, who played through an ankle injury in Sunday's game and is still likely to play Thursday.

Two defensive ends who have missed multiple games with injuries — starter Jacquies Smith (hamstring) and backup George Johnson (calf) — were back at practice, a promising step toward their healthy return.

New nickelback?: The Bucs might make another shift in their secondary after giving up 300-plus yards in Sunday's loss to New Orleans. Nickel Alterraun Verner practiced with the cornerbacks Tuesday and backup CB Mike Jenkins was working at nickel with S Keith Tandy.

Verner committed a costly defensive holding penalty on the Saints' final drive — instead of the Bucs getting the ball back after a third-down incompletion, New Orleans was able to run out the clock.

Jenkins, a former USF standout, has barely played in the past six games, getting a total of 18 defensive snaps after he was dropped from his starting role at cornerback.

Koetter defends (non-)use of Martin: Something didn't add up after Sunday's loss as RB Doug Martin had only 11 carries for 81 yards against the league's worst rushing defense.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, noting the Bucs had only 52 offensive snaps, said it's really a simple equation if you do the math.

"I always like to say, anyone who talks about touches, do the math working backwards," Koetter said. "How many plays did you have? Divide up how many times you want every guy to touch it and then try to make that equation work out. I would love for Doug to touch it 25 times in every game. But the one thing I'm always talking about, when you're the play-caller, you always have to deal with time and score, time and score, time and score. That dictates a lot."

Patched up: Defensive line coach Joe Cullen and DT Gerald McCoy had a heated sideline confrontation during Sunday's game after a touchdown run by the Saints' Tim Hightower near the end of the third quarter.

McCoy and Cullen were separated at one point by McDonald and the altercation was captured by Fox TV cameras during the live broadcast.

McCoy said Tuesday he and Cullen have since smoothed things over and put the incident to bed.

"I'm a professional, and so is he, but he's our leader as far as the defensive line goes," McCoy said. "We're not always going to agree. We're going to bump heads. It was a disagreement. It got heated but we apologized to each other right after. I talked to him after the game. I called him again after the game. We talked again (Monday).

"Those things happen. It's going to be made a bigger deal than it was."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

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