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Injuries force Bucs to become flexible

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Tampa Bay is having to get creative with their secondary

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Justin Evans has been all over the field lately
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First, it was the right side of the offensive line that was hit by multiple injuries. Now, it’s the secondary that has the same issue.

But injuries be damned, the Bucs are finding ways to fight through the misfortune.

Whether it’s playing rookies more often or moving other players around, Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith are doing everything they can to make the best of a bad situation.

Brent Grimes was the first Buc down and then a practice-field injury led to the waiver of David Rivers. After Vernon Hargreaves III hurt his groin during the Bucs’ first preseason game, fellow defensive back Javien Elliot followed soon after.

At one point, the Bucs had just six corners available and five of them were rookies.

Grimes returned to practice on Monday, but the Bucs are still very thin at the position. This has led Tampa Bay to experiment with different strategies - such as Justin Evans in the starting slot role and rookie Jordan Whitehead starting at safety.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s the fact these injuries are happening now as opposed to the middle of the season. At least the Bucs get a chance to see what they have early on and can make their assessments based off more than the average amount of reps these players would usually see during the preseason.

“Well you got to have flexibility, so I look at those DBs similar to how you look at the wideouts. I mean, Chris Godwin can play four wideout spots. Mike [Evans] can play four wideout spots,” Koetter said after practice Tuesday. “We’re getting stressed at our depth at corner right now and nickel, so Justin Evans is becoming one of those guys that has to be able to move around. M.J. Stewart is in that same spot. When you get hit with injuries at one position, we don’t cancel practice. We’ve got to figure something out, so in the long run it builds your depth.”

According to Koetter, none of the injuries are too serious at the moment.

“The good news is none of them are long term. We’ve yet to have anybody that’s a threat to miss when we go to New Orleans for the opener. We’d love to have everybody out here, but that’s just part of it.”

While the situation has to yet to reach dire levels, this is not what the organization wants to see. Like the offensive line, the secondary was supposed to be a revamped group, but has now been setback a bit. Injuries are part of the NFL though and the Bucs know no one is going to feel sorry for them.

As long as it’s all systems go for week one of the regular season, then there is no reason to worry, but the Bucs are becoming awfully flirtatious with injury bug recently and that is not a game you want to play heading into a make-or-break season.