The Bucs have the difficult task of playing Sunday without either of their starting cornerbacks, but backups Ryan Smith and Javien Elliott are ready to step up into significant roles Sunday against Carolina.
The two defensive backs have barely played on defense in the past four games, with Elliott playing three defensive snaps and Smith two, but Smith is likely now a starter at outside cornerback, with Elliott expected to step in as the team's nickel defensive back.
"I'm ready, whenever my name is called. It's going to be much better than last time," said Smith, who filled in for Grimes against Minnesota in a game that saw Case Keenum throw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-17 Vikings win. "Every day is a learning process, every day gets better."
Elliott doesn't have a tackle this season and has played primarily on special teams, but was in a similar situation last year, pressed into duty for the final four games at nickel when Jude Adjei-Barimah was suspended.
"I prepare every week, whether I play or not. Preparation is key," Elliott said. "I know it's in God's hands and part of God's plan whether I play or not. As long as I keep Him first, he'll give me everything I need."
Elliott's last significant playing time came against Carolina in last year's season finale -- he played 45 snaps with a tackle and a pass defensed in the Bucs' 17-16 win.
"That was key for me to get my feet wet last year," Elliott said. "It definitely boosted my confidence."
With cornerbacks Brent Grimes (shoulder) and Robert McClain (concussion) out Sunday as well as defensive back Josh Robinson, the Bucs would have only eight healthy defensive backs on the current roster, with newcomer Deji Olatoye, who was signed on Wednesday, as the fourth corner. Tampa Bay has dressed nine defensive backs this season, and doing so Sunday would mean promoting cornerback David Rivers from the practice squad.