The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary spent their second straight day practicing without top cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Only three days away from Sunday’s rematch with NFC South rival Atlanta, head coach Lovie Smith said the team’s concerned about Verner’s hamstring issue, and, that while it’s too soon to rule the veteran corner out, preparations are being made.
“It’s not ideal, but if that’s the case … we’ll have corners out there and we’ll have a plan to try and slow [Falcons wideout Julio Jones] down a little bit,” Smith said Thursday afternoon following practice.
Jones, regarded as one of the league’s premier pass catchers, enters Sunday ninth in the NFL in receiving yards, with 734 on 53 receptions. During the Falcons’ 56-14 Week 3 massacre of Tampa Bay on Thursday Night Football, Jones hauled in nine Matt Ryan passes for a season-high 161 yards and two of his three total touchdowns on the year.
When asked about Jones’ ability and status in the NFL, Smith ranked him right up there with the Calvin Johnsons and A.J. Greens of the league.
“I definitely think so,” Smith said. “Big, great size, competitor, tough guy, he’ll block, he can make all of the catches, it’s just a tough duty all the way around. Yeah, I definitely think he’s one of the better receivers in the league. Normally he proves that when he goes out there. We’re going to try and slow him down a little bit.”
The Bucs are keeping their fingers crossed that it’s Verner handling those duties and not having to potentially shift Johnthan Banks to Jones with a mix of backups on the other side. Not that Tampa Bay enjoyed much defensive success the first time around against Atlanta, but No. 2 receiver Roddy White didn’t play in that game that saw Ryan complete 21 of 24 pass attempts for 286 yards and three TDs before giving way to second-stringers.
Verner spoke to the Tampa Bay media during Thursday’s open locker room session and said he’s unsure of his availability and is dealing with his hamstring injury on a day-to-day basis right now.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s a steady evaluation day-in and day-out. We’re going to be cautious, obviously, because that’s something you can play with and get something worse. But I’m definitely gearing towards [playing]. It’s been a lot of rehab – morning, after practice and everything. We’re just trying to get it right.”
Verner’s started all eight games this season while being tasked with covering each opponent’s top receiver. The fifth-year pro who came over this past offseason in free agency has one interception, a forced fumble and six pass defenses on his personal stat sheet while ranking third on the team with 45 total tackles.
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