Friday, November 17, 2017
  • Bucs Beat
  • Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Injuries may press Bucs backups into key roles on both lines

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If injuries do test the Bucs' depth at key positions on both lines Sunday against the Jets, unfamiliar names will have a chance to step into major roles as Tampa Bay works to end a five-game losing streak.

Both starting offensive tackles were held out of practice until Friday with injuries, and at least one of the starting defensive ends will be out, opening up an opportunity for a backup like end Will Clarke, who was claimed off waivers from the Bengals before the season.

"We have to step up, to do what we're here to do, as the coaches expect us to do," said Clarke, who had four sacks last season with Cincinnati and has three tackles in seven games with the Bucs. "I feel very comfortable now, have a good grasp of the playbook."

Clarke isn't even the newest Bucs defensive end — that goes to veteran Darryl Tapp, who joined the team two weeks ago but hasn't played yet. Starter Will Gholston is out and potentially fellow starter Robert Ayers, leaving just Clarke, Tapp and Ryan Russell, who joined the team last year.

There's similar challenges at offensive tackle, where starters Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson didn't practice until Friday this week with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively. Kevin Pamphile can slide over left guard to left tackle, but if Dotson can't go, the Bucs would turn to second-year pro Caleb Benenoch, who has one career start, helping the Bucs push through injuries to beat Chicago last year.

"I've progressed a lot and I'm ready to go," said Benenoch, who has played in all but one game this season as a backup tackle, primarily on special teams. "I've been practicing and training for this for a long time, so if my number's called, I'm going to go do my job."

Benenoch has only 17 offensive snaps this season, some as a "jumbo" tight end, but said his mindset doesn't change whether he's starting or not.

"You have to approach every week the same with your preparation," he said. "You have to go in like you're a starter every week. The only thing that changes is you get more first-team reps."

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