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Bucs will be down two safeties against Falcons

Antoine Winfield Jr. will be the only member of the regular safety rotation available Sunday.
Colts receiver Michael Pittman (11) is tackled by Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead during the first half of last week's game in Indianapolis. Whitehead has been sidelined by a calf injury.
Colts receiver Michael Pittman (11) is tackled by Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead during the first half of last week's game in Indianapolis. Whitehead has been sidelined by a calf injury. [ MICHAEL CONROY | AP ]
Published Dec. 3, 2021|Updated Dec. 3, 2021

TAMPA — Seems the Bucs’ depth issues have matriculated from the cornerbacks to the cover guys behind them.

On the plus side, Tampa Bay could have its top three corners — Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean — all available Sunday for the first time since the season opener. Davis, out since tearing his quad against the Patriots on Oct. 3, was activated from injured reserve Friday.

On the snake-bitten side, the safety room is now depleted.

Coach Bruce Arians said Friday that starter Jordan Whitehead (calf) and rookie kick returner Jaelon Darden (concussion protocol) both are out for the NFC South clash with the Falcons. Whitehead’s absence, combined with safety/nickel cornerback Mike Edwards’ three-game suspension for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, leaves Antoine Winfield Jr. as the lone healthy safety in the regular rotation.

Arians categorized Whitehead’s injury as “very” significant, adding he’s slated for an MRI once the swelling subsides.

“We have another plan or two (for the safety rotation), and we’ll get through it, no problem,” Arians said.

The plan almost certainly includes more snaps for veteran Ross Cockrell, who has trained at nickel corner and safety all season. Veteran Andrew Adams also is an option, though he has logged only 20 defensive snaps this year while focusing primarily on special teams.

Two safeties — Chris Cooper and Troy Warner — are on the practice squad and eligible to be elevated.

Back to the encouraging side, Arians said he’s optimistic of all three primary corners playing Sunday, though Dean has been nursing a bruised shoulder sustained in last weekend’s 38-31 win over the Colts.

“I feel good about Sean and Carlton,” Arians said. “Jamel, we’ll see. He practiced all week and hasn’t had a setback, so I feel good about getting our corners back. Now we’re short a safety, but we’ll get through it.”

Darden has averaged 8.7 yards on 10 punt returns and 21.2 yards on 10 kick returns. Arians said earlier in the week that tailback Giovani Bernard likely will replace Darden on kickoffs, while receiver Scotty Miller will handle punt returns.

Elsewhere, the Bucs signed veteran receiver Breshad Perriman from the practice squad to the active roster. Perriman, who exhausted both of his practice-squad elevations (he had two catches in the Monday night win against the Giants) takes the roster spot of Antonio Brown, suspended three games without pay for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.

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