Do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an unsolved injury mystery?

Injuries on defense (pictured, Gerald McCoy) and an offense that keeps turning the ball over is not exactly the recipe for success. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
Injuries on defense (pictured, Gerald McCoy) and an offense that keeps turning the ball over is not exactly the recipe for success. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Oct. 23, 2016


The Bucs have been hit hard this season by a series of soft tissue injuries to some of their biggest stars such as Doug Martin (hamstring strain), Gerald McCoy (calf strain) and Clinton McDonald (hamstring), to name a few.

Coach Dirk Koetter said the team is attempting to learn if there is a common cause for those injuries, whether it involves dehydration, practice routines or training regimen.

In the Bucs' 37-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 25, about two dozen Bucs players needed to take intravenous fluids at some point during the game. A large tent was erected just south of the practice fields at One Buc Place where players can beat the heat during the morning walkthrough. The Bucs should begin construction on a new indoor practice field after the season.

But as they practiced in 88 degree heat Friday before taking a cross-country trip to San Francisco, the trend was on Koetter's mind.

"We've actually been doing a lot of studying on that with our training staff and our strength staff," Koetter said Thursday. "You're always trying to figure out what is the cause of soft tissue injuries. When I talk to other coaches around the league, there's always so many theories about teams that do and teams that don't. We're working on it. We've got a database of stuff on all these injuries, but I'm not exactly sure on why."

OUT OF MORTARS?: One of the stated reasons for the Bucs' decision to draft PK Roberto Aguayo in the second round was his ability to lob mortar kickoffs short of the goal line in an effort to prevent long returns or touchbacks, where the football is brought to the 25-yard line — 5 yards further out than before in a rule passed before this season.

But with the exception of one game in which they trailed late, the Bucs have almost exclusively decided to have Aguayo kick the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks.

"It depends sometimes on where you're playing—- indoors, outdoors — and who their returner is and how good we think their return team is," Koetter said. "There's so much discussion over that, the way this thing has shaken out is really not the intent of what (the NFL was) trying to do at all. It's really changed a whole bunch of strategy with kickoff and kickoff returns, and that wasn't the intent."

Koetter is right. The intent of the rule was to dissuade further kickoff returns and preserve the health of players.

WHERE HE BELONGS: Rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves has improved with each game, and the Bucs seem fine with allowing him to start and play outside the numbers rather than alternate or be the slot corner. However, an injury to CB Jude Adjei-Barimah could force Hargreaves to pull double duty and move inside on certain plays.

"I thought Vernon did a nice job — Week 2 playing strictly out on the outside — he did a good job," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "And it's a learning curve for him. Again, yes he played corner in the SEC, but it's not like playing it in the NFL, and I think he's done a nice job. And I think we've had a good opportunity as a coaching staff on the defensive side, to go through and create cutups for our guys to watch on things that they have to get better at, and that's what we did on our off week. We spent the majority of the time looking at what we can do better, as coaches to help our guys be better prepared and go out and play."