TAMPA — Barring a drastic change of fortune in the next 48 hours, the Bucs could have a dire safety shortage for their Monday night game with must-win overtones.
Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and fourth-year veteran Mike Edwards (hamstring), both of whom have been sidelined all week, missed practice again Saturday and formally are listed as doubtful for Monday’s critical NFC South showdown against the Saints.
“They’re not ruled out,” coach Todd Bowles said after practice. “We’re going to wait until (Monday), see if they can do something before the game, and we’ll make that decision at that time.”
If neither can play, the possible return of veteran Logan Ryan from injured reserve becomes even more essential. Seventh-year veteran Keanu Neal and undrafted rookie Nolan Turner — whose four NFL games have been limited exclusively to special-teams duty — are the only other safeties on the active roster.
Ryan, who hasn’t played since fracturing his foot in an Oct. 2 loss to the Chiefs, was designated to return to practice earlier this week, and has appeared to move around well during the limited practice windows open to reporters.
On Saturday, Bowles indicated Ryan could be activated for Monday night’s game.
“If he has no setbacks, hopefully,” the coach said. “He’s been working hard, doing a little more each day. We’ve just got to see how much he can do.”
A limited safety corps could prove costly against a Saints team (4-8) that has remained deceptively solid in the passing game.
Behind 35-year-old quarterback Andy Dalton, New Orleans averages barely 20 points a contest, but ranks 11th in the NFL in passing yardage (234.1 per game) and 10th in yards per attempt (7.5). Rookie Chris Olave ranks 11th with 822 receiving yards (on 56 catches).
On the positive side, all other previously injured Bucs appear in play for Monday except right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle, knee), Bowles said.
Veteran tight end Cameron Brate returned to practice after missing the previous two days with an unspecified illness. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who was sidelined Friday with a foot injury and missed six games earlier this season with a plantar fascia tear, also returned. Both are listed as questionable for Monday.
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“(Brate) was sick, so he looked a little better today,” Bowles said. “Got to get some more fluids in him, see how he feels on (Monday).”
Receiver Russell Gage (hamstring), nose tackle Vita Vea (foot) and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) — all of whom were limited in practice Friday — participated Saturday.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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