The Buccaneers’ 16-13 win over the Falcons didn’t come without a price as Tampa Bay may have lost free safety Cody Grimm for the year with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament).
“We don’t know the extent of that yet,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of a St. Petersburg Times report that Grimm had torn his ACL. “He’s definitely getting an MRI. I know his MCL (medial collateral ligament) is messed up and he’s got some other stuff that we are checking on right now. It may not be for the year. We’re not sure of that yet. We’ll get back to you on that.”
Morris said that fourth-year veteran Corey Lynch and first-year player Larry Asante will battle to take over as the team’s starting free safety on Monday night when the Bucs host the Indianapolis Colts.
“We have Corey Lynch, who we feel great about winning the game and finishing the game for us yesterday,” Morris said. “We also have Larry Asante, who has been standing over there with a baseball cap for a little while because of special teams. We’ve liked [rookie safety Devin] Holland on special teams. We’ll let those two guys – Larry and Corey – battle this week and play. You guys know me. I can play any one of them or both of them any kind of way. We’ll get both of those guys out there competing in practice.”
Grimm injured his right knee with 5:55 left in the third quarter when the helmet of linebacker Geno Hayes hit the safety’s leg as both Buccaneers were attempting to tackle running back Michael Turner.
“Geno is going through the battery of tests mandated by the NFL for the concussion,” Morris said, indicating that Quincy Black or Adam Hayward could replace Hayes at weakside linebacker if he is unable to play against Indianapolis. “He bumped his head yesterday and we’ll see where he is.”
The hit was reminiscent of the friendly fire incident that caused former wide receiver Joe Jurevicius to miss most of the 2003 season with ligament damage after fullback Mike Alstott ran into Jurevicius’ knee. That collision also hurt Alstott’s neck, causing the Pro Bowler to be placed on injured reserve.
Against Atlanta, Grimm notched two tackles and had one pass defensed. Coming into Sunday’s game, Grimm totaled 13 tackles on the year.
This marks the second significant leg injury for Grimm, who was placed on injured reserve last year after the Baltimore game in which broke his left ankle in Tampa Bay’s 17-10 loss to the Ravens. That caused him to miss the final five weeks of the season.
Grimm had a solid rookie campaign for the Buccaneers in 2010, recording 61 tackles, two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and two passes defensed. Grimm got the starting nod at free safety in Week 3 after Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
As he was during the final five contests of the 2010 season, Lynch will likely replace in the lineup. Lynch picked off Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan for his lone interception last year while recording 24 tackles and two pass breakups. In relief of Grimm in Sunday’s victory over Atlanta, Lynch recorded two tackles and broke up one pass.
“Just a sad way to go and my prayers are out with him,” Lynch said of Grimm. “I will be praying for him for a quick recovery.
“Cody came in from college and really had very little safety experience and for him to do what he has done it’s just incredible. My thoughts go out to him and just a sad day for the Bucs.”
Lynch is known more for his pass coverage skills, but showed he improved his ability to deliver hits in coverage and play in the box against the run during the 2011 preseason. Stuffing the run was one of Grimm’s strengths, but he did not make any splash plays through the first two and half games of the 2011 season, and was slowed in training camp by soreness in his right leg.
“I had 450 tackles in college or whatever it was, so I can tackle,” Lynch said. “I’m just ready to go. … [The decision on who starts] is not up to me. I just go out and play hard every week and see who plays.”
Asante, who is on the 53-man roster, but was inactive for the first three games of the 2011 regular season despite promising play in the preseason will be active this week along with Holland, a rookie special teams.
“I really don’t know how the coaches are going to go about the situation,” Asante said. “Whoever they decide to put in that starting role—that’s on the coaches and I trust my coaches. We will see what the coaches decide to do.”
Asante recorded one tackle and one interception in the 2010 season finale victory at New Orleans after being plucked from Cleveland's practice squad late in the year.
“That playing time last year, it boosts your confidence up to get in there and actually be in there with live bullets playing against Drew Brees,” Asante said. “That was definitely quality reps and I gained a lot of experience from that. So that is going to help a lot, absolutely."
The Bucs also have Ahmad Black, the team’s fifth-round draft pick in 2011, on the practice squad.
There is also a chance the Bucs could get Jackson, a fourth-year veteran and former starter at free safety, back this year. Jackson was eligible to apply for reinstatement from his suspension last Thursday, but there have been no updates about the status of his potential return thus far from the NFL, the Buccaneers or Jackson’s camp.
“That’s really a league matter,” Morris said, while not providing any update on Jackson’s situation during Monday’s press conference. “I’m sure Mark Dominik is doing his due diligence and whatever he needs to do for that. For me, I’ve got to control the product on the field and the guys in the locker room. That’s what I’m really concerned with.”
The 26-year old safety has been a big-time playmaker for Tampa Bay, recording eight interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns in 2009, five forced fumbles and 24 passes defensed since he entered the league in 2007 as the Bucs’ fourth-round pick. Jackson’s five interceptions despite missing the first four games of the 2009 season tied Aqib Talib for the most picks on the team that year.
Jackson is in the last year of his contract, as 2010, in which he played in just two games, did not count as an accrued season towards free agency.