The Buccaneers finished the 2007 regular season with 14 players on injured reserve, but one of the most significant injuries the team sustained happened in the 2007 regular season finale vs. Carolina when starting strongside linebacker Cato June injured his foot.
In fact, June disclosed to the media on Monday that he sustained a fractured foot during that game. Ironically, the injury occurred in a game in which head coach Jon Gruden was attempting to rest his starters. June started the game and was scheduled to play just 18 snaps. The foot injury occurred sometime during that period, and June wasn't aware that he broke it until the next day when there was significant swelling.
According to June, who signed a three-year contract with the Bucs during the offseason, his foot will undergo further examination in an effort to determine whether surgery is needed.
"It's broken," said June. "It's something where I'm going to go and they'll see what the problem is and go in and fix it. It should be a short rehab. It's unfortunately one of those things. It couldn't have been worse timing, but it's one of those things you can't control."
Despite the fact that June sustained a broken foot on Dec. 30, the Bucs did not elect to place him on injured reserve. Instead, June had the injury treated by team trainers because both he and the team felt there still was a chance he could take the field again at some point during the post-season.
"The training staff did a great job during the week of getting the swelling out," said June. "I'm always going to be optimistic and I really thought I had a chance of going out there. At the same time you don't want to be selfish and go out there and play knowing that you can't. They were giving me the opportunity and chance to play if I felt good enough to run. I can play through some pain, but if you can't fish you can't fish."
Sixth-year linebacker Ryan Nece replaced June in the starting lineup on Sunday. But the Bucs missed June in their 24-14 playoff loss to New York. Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 74 percent of his passes and tossed two touchdowns while leading the Giants on four scoring drives, including a 92-yarder that resulted in a touchdown.
"When you're not able to go it's frustrating, especially come playoff time because you played the whole year to put yourself in that position," said June.
Although he came off the field in some nickel situations throughout the regular season, which was his first in Tampa Bay, June still managed to record 120 tackles, which ranked third on the team behind fellow linebackers Barrett Ruud and Derrick Brooks.
Brooks, a 10-time Pro Bowler, often times got the nod over June in those situations, but he didn't necessarily have a major problem with it given Brooks' credentials.
"It's a situation where you take the good with the bad," said June. "No one on this team wants to come off the field on a down in any situation. I'm taking it as a learning experience.
"It's all about the team. Me playing with Derrick and playing behind him in passing situations is experience for me. I'm learning so much. I was an older guy with the Colts, but now I'm a young guy again in this locker room. That makes me kind of sit back and say, ‘Okay, I still have a lot to learn in this game.' Who better to learn from than the greatest Will linebacker to ever play the game?"
Although he was disappointed in Tampa Bay's playoff loss to New York and the fact that he couldn't play in the post-season game due to his injured foot, June took some time to reflect on the season as a whole on Monday and was proud of the fact that he helped Tampa Bay's defense improve from 17th overall to 2nd overall in the NFL. That something he and his teammates hope to build on in 2008.
"I was talking to my friend [linebacker] Larry Foote, who plays for Pittsburgh, before Saturday's game and he was joking around with me, ‘Hey, how does it feel to be the number two defense?' because Pittsburgh has the number one defense in the NFL. That had me thinking, "Man, this might be the best defense I've ever been on.' I mean, anytime you have a [Super Bowl] championship team [like the one in Indianapolis last year] that has to be considered the best, but outside of that all you have how they rank you. We were number two and that's an accomplishment in my eyes. There's a history here of guys playing great defense, and we did that this year."
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