TAMPA — For at least the third time in the last month, an injured Tampa Bay Buccaneers player has suffered a setback in his attempt to recover and return to the lineup.
The latest to be derailed is wide receiver Louis Murphy, who has been attempting to return from a season-ending knee injury he suffered last November.
The good news is the setback was not a result of any new damage being done to Murphy’s knee, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. Still, there is no timetable for Murphy’s return.
Murphy, who has spent the entire season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, joins running back Doug Martin and defensive end Robert Ayers on the list of players who have suffered setbacks.
Martin recently tweaked the hamstring strain he first suffered during the Bucs Week 2 loss at Arizona and Ayers recently tweaked an ankle injury on the very day he returned to practice earlier this month.
The Bucs still aren’t sure when Martin will return but there’s a chance Ayers could be back on the field in time for their game this Sunday against the Raiders at Raymond James Stadium.
Though he was limited, Ayers returned to practice on Wednesday at One Buc Place, where he worked out in shorts while the rest of the team worked out in full pads.
Wednesday also marked the return of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who has also been nursing a hamstring strain and practiced last week but did not dress for the Bucs game last Sunday at San Francisco.
The potential return of both Ayers and McDonald could give the Bucs their largest and best contingent of pass rushers since Wee 2, when Ayers first went down a week after the Bucs lost left end Jacquies Smith to a season-ending knee injury.
A lot has been made, and rightfully so, of the five-catch, 77-yard, one-touchdown contribution Buccaneers wide receiver Russell Shepard made to the Bucs 37-14 win over the 49ers last week.
Little has been made, however, of the contributions Shepard has made to the Bucs last two victories while filling the less glamorous special team’s role that’s kept him employed at the NFL level.
Along with cornerback Josh Robinson, Shepard is one of the Bucs two gunners on punt returns, where the Bucs aggressive play has proved to be a key factor in each of their last two victories.
During the second quarter of their 17-14 victory over the Panthers, Shepard ran down so hard on one punt that he forced Teddy Williams to run into Ted Ginn Jr., creating a muff that Shepard quickly feel on.
The same thing happened last week, only this time it was Robinson who forced Jeremy Kurley to run into Aaron Burbridge, creating a muff that was eventually recovered by Bucs safety Keith Tandy.
“Those two guys, they’re getting double teamed and they’re still wreaking havoc down there,’’ Koetter said of Shepard and Robinson. “Those two guys are definitely setting the tone on our punt team.
“And the other thing is, (punter Bryan) Anger is doing such a good job of (getting) hang time. That was kind of one of the knocks on him, that he has a tendency to outkick his coverage, but he’s done an awesome job of making sure his hang time matches up with his distance.’’
Winston leans left
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked twice for a total loss of 17 yards during the Bucs victory at San Francisco last week. He might have been sacked three times were it not for his ability to throw the ball left handed as well as right handed.
On a first-and-10 play from his own 28, Winston was immediately flushed out of the pocket to his left. As he approached the sidelines Winston quickly ran out of not just available targets but the time and space necessary to reverse course and throw the ball away right handed.
So, with linebackers Gerald Hodges and Eli Harold bearing down on him, Winston quickly transferred the ball to his left hand and threw an awkward pass out of bounds to avoid not just the sack but an intentional grounding call as well.
“I’ve actually been working on that, so be on the lookout for (more left-handed throws),’’ Winston said. “For real. It may sound funny, but I really have been working with my left hand a lot. One day I’ll be able to use both. That’s my goal.’’