TAMPA — Bucs LB Lavonte David practiced for the first time in two weeks Friday, an encouraging step as he works to return from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for Sunday's loss at Chicago.
"I'm feeling good. I feel real confident about Sunday (against the Bengals)," David said. "When Sunday gets here, we'll see how it goes, see what the verdict is.
"(It's been) very hard, sitting out for the first time ever. Me being a competitor, I want to go out there and compete with my teammates. … All signs are pointing up."
David hadn't missed a game in his three-year NFL career before Sunday and is still tied for the NFL lead with 116 combined tackles. His return would be a huge boost for the Bucs.
"Best outside linebacker … out there running around, getting closer to being full speed, that's a good thing," coach Lovie Smith said. "Hamstrings you have to be careful with. You can feel a lot better and stop having pain but you're not quite there yet. 'Vonte's close, and that is definitely a big boost for our defense."
STILL SIDELINED: Several other key players did not practice, putting their status for Sunday in jeopardy.
DT Clinton McDonald, the only defensive player to start all 11 games this season, has not practiced all week because of a hamstring injury. If he doesn't play Sunday, Akeem Spence would fill in alongside Gerald McCoy, with limited depth behind them.
"I feel great, had a great week of practice," said Spence, who has 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season as the team's third defensive tackle. "If Clinton can't go, I can get in there and play nose, can play three (technique).
"I've been practicing all year, and I was a starter last year, so it's nothing new for me, just another ball game."
Tight ends Brandon Myers (calf) and Luke Stocker (concussion) also have not practiced all week, making it likely that newly promoted rookie Cameron Brate and newly signed D.J. Williams could be active Sunday.
C Evan Dietrich-Smith, who hasn't practiced this week due to illness, was also absent from practice. G Garrett Gilkey got work as the first-team center. Veteran S Dashon Goldson was absent for the first time this week due to illness. Keith Tandy worked with the first team.
"We've got a couple of our players who have been down under the weather a little bit," Smith said. "Hopefully they'll be good to go.
"(We have) a few more guys than we'd like on the injury list this time, but hopefully by game time we'll be able to choose from all of them."
RB Charles Sims (ankle), DL Da'Quan Bowers (knee) and Goldson were listed as probable for Sunday. Seven players — David, Dietrich-Smith, McDonald, Myers, Stocker, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) and S Major Wright (shoulder) — were listed as questionable.