Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Clifton Smith was knocked out Sunday's game after a hit from the Panthers' Dante Wesley. Smith was not available to the media after the game, but he is believed to be suffering from an injury to the throat as well as a concussion. On Monday, head coach Raheem Morris did not have an update to Smith's status when asked if he had any conversations with Smith or the medical staff about his condition.
"I haven't," Morris said. "I'll talk to my trainer, and we talked about Clifton. He was up and moving around a little bit. We have to just check on him. See what is going on for tomorrow. See what is going on for Wednesday. I'll get back with you all with a solid answer on that."
Smith (5-9, 190) was fielding a punt with 20 seconds left in the second quarter when Wesley hit him in the throat and head. The hit prompted a fight to break out between the Bucs and Panthers. Wesley was ejected from the game, and flagged for an interference with opportunity to catch.
On Monday, the NFL suspended Wesley one game without pay for violation of he league's player safety rules.
“Your actions are of particular concern in light of the emphasis that our office has placed on developing and enforcing rules designed to protect players from injury, including head and neck injuries," wrote NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson. "The safety of our players is paramount to all of us in the NFL.”
Smith went to the Pro Bowl last year after averaging 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 14.1 yards per punt return in nine games. He returned a punt and kick for a touchdown in 2008. Thus far in 2009 Smith has averaged 27.9 yards per kick return, and 8.8 yards per punt return. In the second half of the game wide receiver Sammie Stroughter returned punts and kicks for Tampa Bay. During the third quarter Stroughter returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown.
RUN DEFENSE EMBATTLED, DRE MOORE COULD BE ACTIVE
On Sunday the Buccaneers gave up 267 yards rushing to the Panthers. Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams carried the ball 30 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Jonathan Stewart ran the ball 17 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. With the score tied at 21 halfway through the fourth quarter, Carolina ate up 8:04 on a 16-play drive that featured 15 runs and the winning touchdown.
"At the beginning of the game they did a really good job of stopping the run," said Morris of his defense. "There was one play they came out trips bunch. They ran a couple plays out of it that were pretty good. Some nice scheme deals in there. We settled down after that drive, and stopped that there. But then like you talk about the 16 for 16 plays all called runs except for the bare pass, but they really wore us down at that point. That is where we got to get better. We got to find a way for our young guys to step up and our young players to become better talent so we can sub guys out, we can rotate the guys, and have more guys going in there.
Morris said that changes could be made at the defensive tackle position. Starting for Tampa Bay are Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims. Backing them up is rookie Roy Miller, and second-year pro Dre Moore has been inactive for every game as the fourth defensive tackle. Moore was a 2008 fourth-round pick by the Bucs that spent the 2008 season on the practice squad.
"Maybe it is time to see more Dre Moore," said Morris. "Maybe it is time to see a different rotation with the top four. The inside four so we can hold up on. We can't worry about Chris Hovan being smaller. That is who he is. That is who we are."
Linebacker Barrett Ruud was second on the team in tackles with nine against the Panthers. He also recorded an interception on a tipped pass in the third quarter. Ruud said there was nothing special that the Panthers were doing outside of out-playing the Buccaneers.
"We flat out got out-executed, or out-footballed, you could say," said Ruud. "It wasn't a matter of effort, toughness or want-to, it came down to execution, and we didn't execute. You have to find a way stop that from happening, but we didn't."
MORRIS SAYS FREEMAN WILL WAIT LONGER
Last week Morris said the Buccaneers considered putting rookie quarterback Josh Freeman into the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Late in the game the Bucs were down 33-14, and Freeman almost made his professional debut. Despite being 0-3 as a starter, second-year pro Josh Johnson will make his fourth NFL start against the Patriots on Sunday.
"No we got a short week," Morris said. "We'll be on a plane in three days, and taking a five hour trip and Josh Johnson is our quarterback."
In four games Johnson has completed 54-of-99 passes (54.5 percent) with three touchdowns and five interceptions. He has run the ball 21 times for 141 yards (6.7 average). Tampa Bay traded up in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft to select Freeman, and it is only a matter of time before he is made the starting quarterback. Freeman has been the backup to Johnson the past three games.
With a bye coming after Sunday's game against New England, Morris could make the change to Freeman at that time. That would give Tampa Bay two weeks to prepare Freeman to make his professional debut at home against the Green Bay Packers in the Bucs throwback game. The Buccaneers will be wearing their old orange uniforms, and inducting defensive end Lee Roy Selmon as the first player in the franchise's Ring of Honor.