The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are running thin at the fullback position due to the injuries sustained by B.J. Askew and Byron Storer.
"We're in trouble right now at fullback," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said on Monday morning.
Storer sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during Tampa Bay's 27-3 win over Carolina on Sunday. Storer will miss the remainder of the season with the knee injury.
Complicating matters is the fact that Storer was filling in for Askew, who has been Tampa Bay's starting fullback since 2007. Askew sustained a torn hamstring in the Bucs' Week 3 overtime win over the Chicago Bears. Based on the 4-6 week injury, Askew could return to action as early as this Sunday for Tampa Bay's upcoming game vs. the Seattle Seahawks.
"I'm definitely closer. I'm not sure how much longer," said Askew. "I'm doing some exercises and things this week and we'll see how it feels.
"I'm trying to rush it back. I still have to get out there and actually do some running to weigh the risk factor vs. the reward factor. It's just one of those things where it's going to take time and we have to see how it goes.
"I think it's realistic [that I could play this week]. I think I could have played the week after I did it, but that's just the mindset I have. We're just going to have to see how it goes."
Not only will he be missed at fullback, Storer will also be missed on special teams, where he has been a standout for the past two seasons.
"I thought he did a great job," Askew said of Storer playing fullback. "I don't think he could have done a better job. The effort that he gives and what he means to this team is huge. To see him go down is pretty tough."
When Storer went down on Sunday, the Bucs turned to running back Earnest Graham to play fullback. The Bucs rushed for 142 yards (3.8 avg.) and one touchdown with Graham lead blocking for RB Warrick Dunn.
Graham earned praise for his team-first attitude and could be asked to play fullback again, although the team would prefer to play him at tailback.
The Bucs could also explore other options, like signing a free agent fullback or playing one of the team's tight ends at the fullback position.
"Earnest is a heck of a tailback," Gruden said. "We possibly could be looking for a fullback. Obviously, moving a tight end into that position has always been part of our contingency plan."
With the NFL trade deadline approaching (4:00 p.m. Tuesday), the Bucs could also trade for a fullback or another player that could help bolster a position on Tampa Bay's roster.
"[General manager] Bruce [Allen], I'm sure, is looking into that," Gruden said of possible trades. "I just associate my efforts for getting read for the next game. I don't want to speculate at all. We do have some injuries that are getting painful. Our depth is being challenged. Jeremy Zuttah played left guard yesterday for Arron Sears. He played right guard the first four games for Davin Joseph. Stovall has an injury. We've got a lot of injuries. Trades – although there is a trade deadline – there are not a lot of trades that are made."
The injuries at fullback ironically come at a time when the Bucs are preparing to hold a special halftime ceremony for retired FB Mike Alstott at Sunday night's nationally televised game. Gruden joked that the Bucs could put Alstott, who played for the Bucs from 1996-07, in a uniform one more time.
"Well, we are going to have to do something, we are a two-back team," said Gruden. "Mike Alstott will be celebrated Sunday night, and we might talk him into playing. It will be a great reunion with our former captain. Given our circumstances maybe we can talk to him about giving us one more shot."
While they're running thin at fullback, the Bucs could be heavier at the running back position with Carnell "Cadillac" Williams coming off of the physically unable to perform list this week.
Williams has been recovering and rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon he suffered in Week 4 of the 2007 regular season. The 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year was placed on the PUP list before training camp started.
Even though he is allowed to practice with the Bucs this week, Tampa Bay has a period of 21 days to determine whether to activate Williams to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve. Williams could play as early as this weekend, but the Bucs likely will take advantage of the three-week period to evaluate his progress and status.
"We're going to keep you updated on Cadillac," said Gruden. "Warrick Dunn is a pretty good football player, and Earnest Graham made my Pro Bowl yesterday as a back. He played fullback, halfback, was playing in space. We'll update you on Cadillac and keep you posted there."
In other injury news, Bucs guard Arron Sears (knee) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (hamstring) still are being evaluated and are questionable for Sunday's game.