The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2012 rookie class has been lauded this year as one of the league’s best. Safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David have all made huge contributions to the team.
Now that linebacker Quincy Black has been sent to injured reserve and lost for the season, could another rookie be called on to step up?
Black was injured late in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the San Diego Chargers when he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Chargers running back Ryan Matthews during a tackle.
After some tests at the hospital, head coach Greg Schiano updated the media.
"The spine is fine," Schiano said Monday during his press conference. "It's the nerves and things coming off that. Overall, it's a serious injury."
Adam Hayward stepped in Sunday to replace Black at strong-side linebacker, but Schiano said the decision on who would replace Black moving forward was in its infancy stage.
“The good thing is we have linebackers on our team, in our depth, that haven’t been active,” said Schaino. “We’ll just go through a natural progression after we talk about it as a coaching staff. Every week is different. Depending on what offensive personnel they present we may feature this or feature that.”
That sounds like an open position battle.
Hayward will likely be given the first look, but DeKoda Watson will also garner some attention.
Both Hayward and Watson have been active this season, leaving two other options at linebacker that must be considered because Schiano specifically mentioned depth that hadn’t been active.
This year’s fifth-round pick Najee Goode has been inactive for every game except Tampa Bay’s Week 3 game against the Dallas Cowboys. Jacob Cutera has been active twice—Week 6 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings—and was on the practice squad for the first four weeks of the season and inactive for Weeks 7,9 and 10.
Of the four linebackers, look for Tampa Bay’s Week 11 starter to be either Hayward or Watson. Both have upside, although Watson’s might be higher, and both have seen significant time on the field.
But Watson may be the front-runner because he’s played more on defense. According to Football Outsiders, both have played more than 200 snaps this season, but most have been on special teams. Watson has played 101 defensive snaps while Hayward only 19.
Practice this week—and quite possibly matchups moving forward—will tell in large part who gets the nod.