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Thursday, Nov 23, 2017
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Banged-up Bucs prepare for Saints

TAMPA - By early Monday afternoon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris was back in his office at One Buc Place, still bleary-eyed from the long flight home from San Francisco the night before, but alert enough to move the magnetic name plates around on a big white board that depicts the depth chart. It's not like he had a choice. The news Morris received earlier in the day from head trainer Todd Toriscelli regarding defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and running back LeGarrette Blount, both of whom were injured in the 48-3 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, wasn't altogether bad, but wasn't necessarily good, either. Without providing specifics, Morris all but listed McCoy as doubtful with a left ankle injury and Blount as questionable with a knee injury for Sunday's game against the NFC South division leading New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium.
"(McCoy) will be week to week, and we'll just have to see where he is this week and see how he can move around on that thing,'' Morris said. "I'm not real motivated to say he's definitely going to play this week, but I'm not ready to count him out yet either.'' Morris echoed the same sentiment when asked about Blount, saying: "He's another guy that left the game early and got some nicks. And I don't want to rule him out, but . . . it'll be next-man up and (whoever that is will) be ready to go and he'll play and practice for us.'' The next man up for Blount seems pretty cut and dried. Morris suggested the Bucs would probably lean more on Earnest Graham as their lead ball carrier and on Kregg Lumpkin as their third-down specialist, as well as incorporate rookie Allen Bradford into the offense. The situation at defensive tackle is a little more varied. Morris said the Bucs likely would lean on a platoon featuring Frank Okam as the choice on rushing downs and rookie left end Da'Quan Bowers, the Bucs' second-round draft pick in April, on passing downs. Okam filled in when McCoy missed the final three games of the 2010 season with a biceps injury. "Frank Okam went in there last year and played well against (the Saints), and hopefully we can get the same type of production out of him again and a little better out of Bowers so those two can be better than what we had in McCoy,'' Morris said. There is also a chance the Bucs will work starting left end Michael Bennett into that rotation. But the decision to promote right end George Johnson from the practice squad on Monday to free up Tim Crowder to work as the backup left end suggests they'll lean mostly on Okam and Bowers. "I think Bowers may be the bigger body, the more explosive type of guy in there,'' Morris said. "It's a chance to give us more explosive plays on the field with Bennett, with Bowers, and with all those other guys (Brian Price and Adrian Clayborn) being out there together in a better role for you.'' Whoever fills in for McCoy has a tough job ahead of him. Though he had just one sack this season, McCoy was leading the Bucs in quarterback pressures with 11 and tackles for loss with four when he was injured. His loss left the Bucs without their defensive "engine'' and "catalyst,'' Morris said. The loss of Blount, meanwhile, would leave the Bucs without the player who is arguably their offensive engine and catalyst. Though the offense revolves largely around quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs consider themselves a run-first team that uses Blount to set up big passing plays downfield. The injuries could hardly have come at a worse time for the Bucs. Their game against the Saints on Sunday kicks off perhaps the most difficult stretch of the season, one that includes a trip to London to play the Bears on Oct. 23 and a return engagement with the Saints in New Orleans on Nov. 6. And it's not like McCoy and Blount are the only starters who are hurting. Linebacker Quincy Black has been nursing an ankle injury that forced him to miss the 49ers game and cornerback Aqib Talib struggled through the San Francisco game, Morris said, because of a knee injury. "We've got to get our defense (healed)-up this week, for sure,'' Morris said. "We've got to get somebody in there for McCoy and (create) the ability to move Bowers (inside). "And (backup tight end) Luke Stocker, obviously, is a week-to-week guy (with a knee injury) so we'll have to see where he is. I'm hearing he's getting better fast, but I don't know what that means exactly. I think that was just a nice way for Todd to give me good news on a bad day.''
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