TAMPA — Bucs DE Will Gholston is expected to make a healthy return Sunday in Atlanta after missing two games with a neck injury, and he's thankful and relieved not to have to deal with anything more severe.
"It was knee-buckling," said Gholston, officially listed as questionable for the game. "I was standing up, and they just buckled. That's how bad it hurt."
It was a scary scene Nov. 5 in the Superdome, with Gholston lying on his back on the field, strapped to a stretcher and carted off and taken by ambulance to a hospital. He was released in time to fly home with the team, but the nature of the injury made it more difficult initially.
"The neck is a little worrisome, because you have to think about everything else, think about family and all that," Gholston said. "They definitely took all of the correct steps. … I'm not glad it happened, but I'm glad they took the right steps for me to get back."
Returning to practice was a major step. He said once he took his first real hit, he knew he was okay to return to the playing field.
"I took my first hit and I was okay, and I was good," he said. "Everybody has a plan till they get hit in the mouth. I got hit in the mouth and I was okay."
The Bucs get one starting defensive end back from injury, but the other starter, Robert Ayers, is out with a concussion.
"Basically this week, just due to injuries, we're trading out Robert Ayers for Will Gholston. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak," coach Dirk Koetter said. "You play a whole bunch of games in a row, 53 guys, you're going to be trading guys in and out due to injury. It is what it is."e_SClBOthers out
Three other Bucs players have been ruled out for Sunday's game: QB Jameis Winston (shoulder), CB Vernon Hargreaves (hamstring) and OL Evan Smith (concussion).
Smith's injury means Joe Hawley will be active for the first time this season as the backup center, playing a Falcons team he played for from 2010 through 2014.
Atlanta will be without leading rusher Devonta Freeman. The former FSU standout will miss a second straight game with a concussion. Backup Tevin Coleman is among the league's top No. 2 backs, with 442 yards, and his backup is Terron Ward, younger brother of Bucs S T.J. Ward.
"If you take Freeman out, of course like if you take any good player off of any team, it's going to hurt them, but those other two running backs are very capable," Koetter said.
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.