Return of injured Bucs provides reinforcements

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy watches from the sidelines in street clothes after leaving the game with an injured left wrist. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy watches from the sidelines in street clothes after leaving the game with an injured left wrist. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sept. 27, 2014

TAMPA — The cavalry, as they say, is coming for the winless Bucs.

As disappointing as the team's 0-3 start is, Tampa Bay should be much closer to full strength Sunday at Pittsburgh, at least as compared to the depleted unit that was embarrassed in a 56-14 loss last week at Atlanta.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, running back Doug Martin and rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who all missed the Falcons game, are expected to play Sunday, as could defensive end Michael Johnson, who was limited to six snaps in Atlanta due to a sprained ankle.

"Big boost. That's our team that we came with, that we expected to put on the field every week," coach Lovie Smith said Thursday. "The more of our players we get back, it's a better football team we're going to be, simple as that."

Last year's Bucs were incredibly fortunate with injuries on the defensive side, with the 13 opening-week starters combining to miss just six games the entire season. This year's Bucs have already seen two expected starters — defensive end Adrian Clayborn and cornerback Mike Jenkins — placed on injured reserve with season-ending injuries. Those two — along with McCoy, Johnson and linebacker Mason Foster, who remains out with a shoulder injury — combined for 264 snaps in the year's opening loss to Carolina, but just six in Atlanta.

"Any time you don't have a guy of Gerald's caliber, it definitely makes a difference," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "To have him back, not just his play on the field, but the emotion that he plays with and the confidence that he brings to the defense and the entire team, it would be great for our defense and our team if he's able to make it back."

The offense, which has scored just one first-half touchdown in 17 possessions, will benefit from having Martin healthy — fill-in Bobby Rainey ran the ball well against the Rams, but has lost three fumbles in three games.

And Seferian-Jenkins, who showed promise in the season opener before injuring his ankle, could thrive against the Steelers, who gave up two touchdowns to tight end Owen Daniels in a 26-6 loss to Baltimore two weeks ago, then lost two starting linebackers in last week's win against Carolina.

The Bucs will go without quarterback Josh McCown, who started the first three games and struggled with four interceptions, and second-year pro Mike Glennon will step in as he did as a rookie last season. McCown said he can appreciate the boost in confidence that will come from so much of the team's supporting cast returning healthy this weekend.

"Any time you're building anything and putting pieces in place, you build it with the expectations those guys will be there playing," McCown said. "When you experience injuries, that makes it difficult. To have those guys back, absolutely, it brings a boost to us, because of the magnitude of where we are in our season, but because of the type of player Gerald is, the type of player that Doug is, and what we see out of Austin so far we really like."

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Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.