By Max Luckan
Having won three straight games and four of their last five, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be in pretty good shape heading into their Week 11 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Over the span of a few weeks, the Bucs have greatly improved on offense, but have been stagnant on defense. This week, they’ll play a Panthers team that has gotten worse as the season has progressed, and second-year quarterback Cam Newton has struggled mightily at times. However, it is a division game, and in the NFC South, these have a tendency to go either way.
Bucs wide receiver Arrelious Benn practiced on Wednesday after missing the game against the San Diego Chargers with a shoulder injury. He’s expected to play against the Panthers and assume his normal role as kick returner.
Cornerback Eric Wright, who re-aggravated an Achilles injury that he has been dealing with, also practiced on Wednesday, and has said that he will continue to play through the injury.
Center Jeremy Zuttah, who has moved to left guard to replace the injured Carl Nicks, also sat out practice on Wednesday and was limited to riding the stationary bicycle.
“He got bumped a little bit, his shoulder,” head coach Greg Schiano said. “We’ve got to make sure to keep him healthy and get him to Sunday.” Schiano also added that he expected Zuttah to practice on Thursday.
Starting right guard Jamon Meredith has started the past five games for the Bucs as Davin Joseph’s replacement, but was seen leaving the locker room on crutches on Wednesday. Apparently, Meredith rolled his ankle in practice, but the extent of his injury is currently unknown. Clearly, the Bucs are already extremely thin on the offensive line and another injury would be devastating.
Defensive end Michael Bennett has been dealing with a shoulder injury as well and did not practice in Wednesday’s session.
With Quincy Black placed on injured reserve because of a head/neck injury, the Bucs will have to find a replacement to take his spot. That replacement will likely be sixth-year man Adam Hayward, who can play all three linebacker positions. But Schiano said the Bucs do have some flexibility at the position. “We have some flexibility, but Adam would be the most prepared, so that’s probably how we’ll go,” Schiano said. “We have some different personnel groupings, different things. So there will be some other guys that play as well.
“(Hayward is) a professional. He works very hard. He stays up to speed on all three linebacker positions, and that’s why I say we’ll have flexibility where guys will move around. So it won’t be just exclusive Adam for Quincy. There will be some other things that play out.”
Schiano will also probably ponder the idea of playing LB Dekoda Watson as well.
The weather is expected to be a factor on Sunday, as rain is in the forecast in North Carolina. And according to WR Mike Williams, Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck is already thinking ahead. Williams said Fleck dipped the balls in water to simulate conditions, and wouldn’t let them use gloves.
“It helps actually,” Williams said. “The balls are actually going to be that wet when you play in the rain.”
The Bucs are also preparing for a more aggressive Panthers team this time around. They expect the Panthers to take advantage of the Bucs’ weakened secondary, something they didn’t do in the first game of the season.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.