Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ return to practice Wednesday was a welcomed sight for Buccaneers fans, but the prospect of the injury-prone, second-year pro seeing action in Atlanta remains uncertain.
“Most of you out there saw Austin Seferian-Jenkins be able to get into pads and do a little bit, so it’s a step in the right direction with him,” Smith said. “Once we get him back – disregarding the receivers – it’s going to help our offense. We’re not there yet.”
Seferian-Jenkins went down with a shoulder injury during the Bucs’ Week 2 win at New Orleans and has been projected to miss 4-6 weeks. Sunday in Atlanta is the sixth week and a game-ready Seferian-Jenkins is needed now more than ever.
What the 6-foot-5, 262-pound target did Week 1 against Tennessee (five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns) is how the team expects him to impact the offense on a weekly basis.
Without Seferian-Jenkins in the lineup, coordinator Dirk Koetter and the rest of the offensive staff don’t seem to have much faith incorporating any of the Bucs’ three other tight ends into the passing attack. Cameron Brate, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker didn’t have a single pass go their way the opening two weeks and have combined for just 11 receptions, 95 yards and zero touchdowns on 16 targets.
Tampa Bay’s situation got even worse last week in Washington when wide receivers Louis Murphy and Vincent Jackson went down with knee injuries. Murphy’s season is over and it’s feared that Jackson may miss multiple weeks.
Smith wouldn’t elaborate on Jackson’s status or on rumors than he’ll be out of action for an extended period.
“We’re not there,” Smith said. “He didn’t practice today. He has a knee injury. As far as multiple [weeks], we’re not ready to go into much more detail than that because we don’t know a lot more. [It] hasn’t been that long since the game. [He] wasn’t able to finish the game. [He] wasn’t able to practice today, so that’s where we are at right now.”
The Bucs dressed just four wideouts Sunday and found themselves down to second-year Mike Evans and rookie Donteea Dye for most of the final half. Four days before kickoff in the Georgia Dome, Tampa Bay activated rookie Adam Humphries and are hoping Russell Shepard can get off the injury report. Undrafted rookie and former USF Bull Andre Davis was signed to the practice squad Tuesday, joining fellow first-year pass catchers Rannell Hall and Evan Spencer on that 10-man roster.
Outside of Evans, that’s not a particularly formidable group to be running out against a 6-1 Atlanta team playing better defense under new head coach Dan Quinn. Adding Seferian-Jenkins to the mix gives the passing attack another legitimate threat teams have to account for.
Not that the injuries to Jackson and Murphy excuse Tampa Bay for blowing a 24-point lead in Washington, but the offensive game plan was limited by the lack of receivers, Koetter said.
“You’re down to two wide receivers, so about half our call sheet was out the window in the second half,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. I’ve never had that happen before where we couldn’t run everything that we wanted to run. We were juggling some stuff around with the tight ends – getting an extra tight end in there. Our three tight ends did an awesome job of doing some things that we hadn’t practiced from basically the first play of the second half on. It did affect how we called stuff, because one thing is, now when you get in your three [wide receiver sets] you can’t guarantee whether you are going to get them in [their nickel defense]. They now control it a lot more than we have control. That’s unfortunate, but that really didn’t have an impact on the game. We still had plenty of chances to win it, regardless of that.
Considering the current receivers’ inexperience – two rookies, a second-year pro and another in his third – the Bucs may entertain the notion of dressing five instead of four in Atlanta. That, however, would leave them thin somewhere else.
“That’s one of the things in the NFL when you only have 20 guys up on offense counting the backup quarterback,” We had it happen once in Atlanta where you only have seven O-linemen dressed and [three] O-linemen got hurt. We had to play the whole fourth quarter against the Vikings with a tight end playing tackle. That’s one of the really weird things about the NFL and unfortunate, but it happened.”