Buccaneers may be healthier for Sunday’s game against Raiders

While two main cogs will be missing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers contest Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, the club could be getting one key player back. Defensive end Robert Ayers, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury, practiced all week and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s home game for the Buccaneers during the final injury report of the week.

Questionable officially means the player is uncertain to play, but it is better than doubtful or out, which Ayers has been. Ayers practiced on a limited basis during the first two days of practice including Wednesday’s practice in pads. He did practice fully on Friday, which is more of a walk-through day for the Buccaneers.

Ayers, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (calf) and center Joe Hawley (ankle) are also listed as questionable for the Buccaneers but the two started last week, practiced this week at least on a limited basis and are likely to play Sunday.

Two players, however, will not be suiting up in the Buccaneers’ pewter and red. Running back Doug Martin, who suffered a hamstring injury in the second game of the year against the Arizona Cardinals and recently had a setback, will miss his fifth straight game. Also, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Denver Broncos, will miss his third straight game.

“We’re hoping that our guys continue to get back,” said Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “As each day goes on, we feel like we’ve got a better chance of getting guys back that are going to help us win. It will help us on a rotation. We’ve been forced to play our defensive line and our guys up front way too many snaps. But it’s just been a function of the number of guys that we have dressed and who is healthy enough to go out and play.”

If Ayers can return, that will help the Buccaneers’ defensive line that has been up and down in getting pressure on the quarterback this season. Tampa Bay is 18th in the league with 13 sacks this year. The Buccaneers are ranked 13th overall in total defense and 25th in points allowed, although the last two weeks the Buccaneers have allowed an average of 15.5 points per game. If Ayers can’t go, the Buccaneers will likely go again with undrafted rookie Davonte Lambert who has seven total tackles this year including one forced fumble.

With McDonald out, that likely means Akeem Spence will get his third straight start of the season. Spence has played well of late and has eight tackles, including one quarterback pressure and a half sack on the season.

Also, with Martin missing the contest, running back Jacquizz Rodgers will get his third start of the season. Rodgers has ripped on the scene with a career-high 101 yards rushing in his first start against Carolina, then destroyed that with 156 yards on 26 carries last Sunday against San Francisco.

Rodgers and the Buccaneers could have an opportunity for another dynamic performance on Sunday. They will face a Raiders defense that is ranked 32nd overall in total yards allowed and 28th in rushing defense. Tampa Bay will also have Peyton Barber and Antone Smith ready to support Rodgers.

“It’s all about just trying to find a way to help your team win,” said the sixth-year veteran of his consecutive career-high rushing games. “I feel like I’m the starting running back at this point, so it’s my job to bring something to the table, to put my pieces to the puzzle to come away with a victory.”

The Buccaneers are happy with what they have found in Rodgers, who was cut by Chicago and signed by the Buccaneers on Sept. 13. His role has increased as both Martin and Charles Sims (injured reserve) have gone down.

“Jacquizz has been around this league for a while and has had success,” said Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “Again, we lose sight of – coaches, I’m talking about – that the guys in that room, the men in that room are talented. Sometimes we pigeon-hole them and say, ‘Hey, this is what they’re capable of doing,’ and probably, they’re capable of more. If you believe in them and you develop a plan that maximizes their measurable skill set, which is what we’re paid to do. So, I thought we did a nice job of that Sunday.”

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