TAMPA – The Buccaneers already struggling pass defense could be in for an even greater struggle when the Bucs take on the Panthers in the team’s NFC South opener at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Cornerbacks Brent Grimes (shoulder) and Robert McClain (concussion) both missed practice for a second-straight day on Thursday, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of playing on Sunday.
It’s still possible, of course, that both players could heal up in time to play, but it’s beginning to look as if the Bucs will be without what has easily been their two best corners this season.
That would likely force the Bucs to go with an alignment that has Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith working on the outside while Javien Elliott moves back into the slot.
Elliott performed well in the slot late last season, recording 10 tackles and a pass breakup in four starts down the stretch, but he lost his hold on that job to McClain during the preseason.
Hargreaves, of course, has had all kinds of trouble playing up to expectations on the outside, but he looked good in the slot a week ago, knocking down two passes while not allowing a completion.
The potential loss of Grimes, of course, would be the biggest blow. He leads the Bucs with five pass breakups and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with one.
Grimes has been so good that, just as they did a year ago, opposing quarterbacks have mostly targeted the side of the field he’s not been on, which is one reason Hargreaves has struggle so much.
Prior to moving to the slot position that was filled by McClain the first five games, Hargreaves had not forced an incompletion in two straight games and had come under criticism for playing too soft in coverage.
It’s not known for sure if Grimes shoulder injury is related to the one that kept him out of a game earlier this year but that proved to be one tough game for the Bucs secondary.
With Hargreaves and Smith manning the outside corner spots, the Bucs dropped a 34-17 decision to the Vikings in which backup quarterback Case Keenum completed 25 of 33 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bucs came out of their 30-27 loss to the Bills last week ranked 30th overall in pass defense, where they’re allowing 294.8 yards per game and an opposing passer rating of 102.9.
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