Injury-ravaged Bucs rely on undrafted rookies

Triple team: After a catch, Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson is tackled by Panthers cornerback Teddy Williams, left, and safeties Kurt Coleman, bottom, and Tre Boston.
Triple team: After a catch, Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson is tackled by Panthers cornerback Teddy Williams, left, and safeties Kurt Coleman, bottom, and Tre Boston.
Published Oct. 11, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Injuries forced the Bucs to have six undrafted rookies on their active roster Monday night against Carolina, with DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward starting on a depleted defensive line.

The Bucs had three starting defensive linemen inactive due to injuries, with DT Gerald McCoy (calf), DT Clinton McDonald (hamstring) and DE Robert Ayers (ankle) all sidelined Monday. Ward, making his first career start, was in on the tackle on the opening play of the game.

They weren't the only undrafted rookies called on early.

TE Alan Cross got his first career catch on the opening drive, which ended with a field goal and 3-0 lead. RB Peyton Barber, playing on offense for the first time with two running backs injured, got his first carry on the Bucs' second drive, gaining 3 yards.

The Bucs also had RB Russell Hansbrough and OT Leonard Wester dressed, with Hansbrough making his NFL debut on the opening kickoff.

Tampa Bay had enough injuries that Ryan Griffin, the team's third quarterback, was active for the first time in his 21 games with the Bucs.

Yes, another: Rookie K Roberto Aguayo's early-season struggles continued as he missed a 33-yard field goal which bounced off the right upright in the second quarter.

Aguayo missed three of his first five field-goal attempts to open his NFL career, with a missed extra point as well. He bounced back and hit a 35-yard field goal with 43 seconds left in the first half to give the Bucs a 6-0 halftime lead.

Carolina had field-goal issues of its own, as former Florida State kicker Graham Gano missed a 43-yard try wide left with 0:01 left in the first half.

Takeaways: After getting only two takeaways in the first four games, the Bucs came up with two in the first half against Carolina.

Special-teams captain Russell Shepard got the first, jumping on a loose ball after Carolina's Ted Ginn muffed a punt. Despite getting the ball at the Panthers' 30, the Bucs could convert the turnover into points, thanks to Aguayo's missed field goal.

The second takeaway came when rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves tipped a Derek Anderson pass for LB Daryl Smith to intercept. This time, the Bucs at least got a field goal from the short field, extending their lead to 6-0.

Run-first offense: Even with RB Doug Martin inactive and Charles Sims going on injured reserve before the game, the Bucs made it clear their priority is still running the ball to set up the pass.

Starter Jacquizz Rodgers got 10 touches on the opening drive, and he rushed for 35 yards, helping Tampa Bay use 8:32 on a 15-play drive.

Rodgers had gotten 10 carries in a game just once in the previous three years, and he had 17 carries for 73 yards in the first half. That was one short of his career high of 18, set during his time with the Falcons.

The running game helped keep Carolina's offense off the field early — the Panthers had only three plays for 9 yards in the first half, sandwiched between two Bucs drives.

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Transaction: Sims went on injured reserve with a knee injury, so Martin's top backup won't play for at least two months. Sims injured his knee during last week's loss to the Broncos, but had returned to the game. He would be eligible to return in Week 13 if he recovers in time.

This and that: LB Cameron Lynch, promoted from the practice squad this week, made his Bucs debut on the opening kickoff. DT John Hughes, signed this week, made his Bucs debut on the second drive. … The Bucs owned the first-half time of possession, keeping the ball for 21:45 while Carolina had just 8:15.

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.