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Buccaneers could get six starters back from injury after bye

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't been hit hard with catastrophic injuries this season, but smaller issues have kept out some key players for multiple games. With them having a bye week, this is the perfect time for some of those players to get healthy and back on the practice field.

In all, the Bucs could have as many as six starters back after the bye week, a significant boost to a team that could use them. Let's go through them, one by one.

T Demar Dotson

This is the big one. Dotson sprained his MCL in the preseason and will have missed two months by the time he's back. Lovie Smith was cautiously optimistic about Dotson on Monday, but you can never read too much into anything Smith says about injuries. Before his injury, Dotson and the team were negotiating an extension -- a well-deserved one, given the almost backup-level pay he was receiving while having been the team's best lineman for years.

Dotson is eligible to start practicing this week, and can return to play in week eight. It'll be interesting to see how the Bucs bring Dotson back, though. Cherilus has played reasonably well in Dotson's place, but Dotson is still the better overall player, especially as a pass protector. That would give them Cherilus as a swing backup to Donovan Smith and Dotson, which is pretty good depth for any team.

The alternative is moving Dotson to left tackle in place of the struggling Donovan Smith. That's unlikely for two reasons: the Bucs aren't going to give up on a second-round pick that quickly, and Dotson hasn't looked good at left tackle when he's been asked to play there. That doesn't mean he can't learn to do it, but that'd be a large leap of faith to take in the middle of the season.

One upside: With Cherilus playing solid football the Bucs don't need to rush Dotson back, and can give him exactly as much time as he needs to get back to full strength.

CB Johnthan Banks

The Bucs have struggled in man coverage all season long, and that was never more obvious than against the Jaguars where Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns seemed to have field days with Mike Jenkins and especially Tim Jennings. That was easily Jennings' worst game of the season, while Jenkins has mostly been a liability throughout the year.

Banks is much more reliable than either player. That's not to say that he's perfect: he doesn't have the speed to hang with deep receivers and needs consistent safety help. His length makes up for some of that, though, and he doesn't get beat as easily on quick throws. Having him back replacing Jenkins (or possibly Jennings) or at minimum splitting time with them should give the Bucs secondary a big boost after nearly three games without him.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins

The tight end exploded onto the scene this year after an injury-marred rookie season. Playing two games, he put up seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. That injury should be close to healthy now, though he has yet to participate in practice.

Without Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs haven't been able to attack the middle of the field at all. They have no capable receiving tight ends beyond him, and their passing game has been mostly restricted to the two outside receivers and the running backs. Getting him back would give Winston a security blanket: a big target over the middle of the field he can consistently connect with. That should be a big boost for the team's passing game.

G Logan Mankins

Mankins has missed only one game and he wasn't really missed all that desperately. He's arguably been a liability this year, though his experience has helped the Bucs line up consistently. And while he's been beat a little too often, especially for the money he's been paid, he hasn't been disastrous. Kevin Pamphile played okay in his stead, but was far from perfect himself and is unlikely to be a long-term solution at left guard -- though perhaps we'll see that differently next season.

Evan Smith

Smith has now missed two games and most of a third with an ankle injury, and should be back after the bye week or perhaps a week later. He hasn't really been missed: Joe Hawley has been adequate in his stead, and Smith himself was just average before his injury.

TE Luke Stocker

Stocker is a blocking tight end only, but he's good at doing that. The Bucs replaced him with Reid Fragel in last week's game and that worked well, but using an offensive tackle on nearly 50% of the snaps is not ideal .

DT Akeem Spence

Akeem Spence is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a back injury he said in the preseason would keep him out for a couple of months. It's not clear how close he is to returning to practice, but he's eligible to practice this week and return to play after the bye week.

One issue: I'm not sure he even makes the roster at this point. The Bucs have a full group of defensive tackles with Gerald McCoy, Henry Melton, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniels. Spence hasn't been much more than an okay run-stuffer in his tenure so far and it's not unthinkable that he just gets released once he's healthy.