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  1. Bucs

Demar Dotson returns to Bucs practice on crutches

TAMPA — Bucs OT Demar Dotson was a visitor at practice Thursday morning for the first time since he injured his left knee in Saturday's preseason opener, thankful the injury wasn't more severe and hoping to return healthy in about six weeks.

"It's not an ACL tear, and that's good news. I was afraid of that," said Dotson, walking on crutches and watching practice from the sideline. "A lot of people were praying, and you appreciate everybody's prayers. Hopefully I'll get a chance to come back out here within six weeks or so. That's the plan. We're going to rehab it like crazy so I can get a chance to come back out here and finish this season."

Dotson, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the second quarter of the 26-16 loss to the Vikings, said he is just beginning the rehabilitation process, unable to put much pressure on the knee, so he has been limited to ice treatments and leg lifts. He'll begin walking in a pool next week.

Six weeks from now is Oct. 1, so potentially Dotson will miss only the first three or four games of the season. He isn't likely to go on the injured reserve-designated for return list, because that would keep him from playing in the first eight games. So the Bucs will have to carry him on the initial 53-man roster, carrying an extra lineman as a result.

The Bucs this week signed former Colts starter Gosder Cherilus, who is likely to open the season as the starting right tackle. Dotson would then compete with Cherilus once healthy, giving the team depth at the position with rookie Donovan Smith likely to start at left tackle.

SAPP WATCHES: Former Bucs star Warren Sapp was a guest at practice, and though he has ongoing court cases involving criminal charges in Arizona and Nevada, coach Lovie Smith said it was great to have him around the players.

"It's always good to have one of our all-time greats, one of our Hall of Famers back," Smith said. "It's good for the guys to see him. He normally heads toward the defensive linemen. Again, when you are a Hall of Famer who loves this team, it's always good when he shows up around here. Hopefully he kind of likes what we are doing around here."

D-LINE INJURIES: Four days before the Bucs' second preseason game, the team had four defensive linemen held out of practice with lingering injuries. They Bucs potentially could be short-handed Monday night at home against the Bengals.

DT Akeem Spence is likely out until October with a back injury. Starting DE Jacquies Smith (shoulder) also was out, as well as DE T.J. Fatinikun (leg strain) and DT Da'Quan Bowers (undisclosed).

"They're just nicks, which is a positive. They're not going to be out long," Lovie Smith said. "The guys we have out, Jac Smith, T.J. Fatinikun, we need to see those guys. They need to be out there practicing. That's training camp. You have to build in your thoughts that we're going to have some guys that will miss some time and keep them in it mentally. They'll be back before long."

With those players out, the Bucs have used veterans Larry English and Lawrence Sidbury as starters opposite George Johnson, with only rookies Jamal Young and Ryan Delaire behind them. Tackles Henry Melton and Will Gholston can moonlight as ends Monday if necessary, though their primary roles will continue to be on the interior.

Other Bucs sidelined with injuries: S Chris Conte has been out since the opening practice with a hamstring injury. LB Orie Lemon has been out all week with an undisclosed injury. T Kevin Pamphile continues to be out with a sore triceps.

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