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Injuries could cripple Buccaneers offense against Bears

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

One player we didn’t touch on in yesterday’s injury report is Joe Hawley, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting center. He was limited for most of the week with a knee injury after being forced to leave Thursday’s game, and struggling with that injury throughout the season.

If Hawley can’t go, the Bucs will start Evan Smith at his position. Usually that wouldn’t be much of an issue: Smith has played well and is pretty much the same players as Hawley. This week, there’s an additional problem: left guard Kevin Pamphile has been ruled out with a concussion, and the Bucs would like Smith to take over in his place, too.

Instead, the Bucs will start Caleb Benenoch at left guard if Hawley can’t go, with Smith staying at center. Benenoch was the team’s fifth-round pick this year, but he has yet to take the field, so it’s rather difficult to trust in his ability to start, if he’s forced to go in.

That may not be a huge issue if Doug Martin is around to boost the running game, as he’s the only back the Bucs have who can make an offensive line look better than it is. But Martin’s participation while likely, is still in doubt. There’s a chance the Bucs take the field on Sunday missing three starters on offense, which could cripple them.

That is: unless good Jameis Winston shows up. Then the Bucs offense can overcome a lot of issues, especially with Mike Evans playing the way he has been this season. But Winston has been frustratingly inconsistent this season, so relying on that would be a gamble as well.

The Bucs officially announce who will and won’t play 90 minutes before the game tomorrow. We should have a clearer picture then.