Tampa Bay placed Stephens, who was its 2002 fourth-round draft choice out of Tennessee, on the injured reserve Friday. The move came just one day after Stephens had dislocated his big toe during practice.
"(He) dislocated his big toe and it looks like his season might be over," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden after Friday morning's practice. "It's very unfortunate. He got stepped on – it's a freak thing. We were concerned yesterday afternoon but it appears there's a good chance he'll be put on IR."
The team's concern became a reality later Friday when the Bucs officially placed Stephens on the IR. The move means Tampa Bay's first two '02 draft picks are now on the IR. The Bucs placed rookie wide receiver Marquise Walker, who was the team's third-round selection and Gruden's first as Tampa Bay's head coach, on the IR in September with a severe thumb injury that required surgery.
While the Bucs have been rotating three running backs – Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Aaron Stecker -- Gruden said during the bye week that he was going to attempt add Stephens, who was inactive for all but one of Tampa Bay's regular season games, to the mix.
"We have honestly been trying to do that," said Gruden. "The hard part is that he has not yet been an active member of our special teams. Until he becomes a real focal point of the offense or a contributor on special teams, it's hard to get everybody active. We have been pleased with his development and he is a guy that we'll miss.
Although his plan for Stephens has been thwarted, Gruden said the team might add another running back to its roster via free agency.
"Now that we know the severity of the injury, we'll look around and see if there's a back available who might be able to help us," said Gruden. "How we adjust the roster at other positions could also be impacted by this. We'll take a calculated look over the weekend and see what best helps our team."
Tampa Bay filled Stephens' spot on its 53-man roster by signing defensive tackle Devone Claybrooks. The 6-foot-3, 292-pound tackle had been on the Bucs' five-man practice squad since Nov. 6. He first entered the National Football League as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in May of 2001. Claybrooks will sport jersey No. 93.
Claybrooks was promoted to Tampa Bay's 53-man roster due to DT Anthony McFarland's status (Out) for Sunday's game and DT Warren Sapp's absence in practice this week. Although Sapp is listed as probable for Sunday's game, he missed the team's three practices this week, including Friday's workout, due to a lower back strain. But the Bucs expect Sapp to be ready to play against the Panthers on Sunday.
"We held him out one more day, but with Warren you can kind of tell by the look in his eye," said Gruden. "I think he feels a lot better, which is exciting for us. I think if there was reason to be concerned he would have let me know that. But he appears to be in great spirits and we feel like he's going to be ready to go."
In other injury news, Tampa Bay defensive end Corey Smith, who suffered a left knee sprain during Wednesday's practice, was downgraded from questionable to out for Sunday's game.
"Corey Smith has a bruised knee," said Gruden. "It wasn't as serious as we feared, thank goodness, but he will be out of this week's game. We don't know his long-term status but it is a bruise and how quickly he recovers from that will be determined."
PewterReport.com has listed the latest injury reports for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers below. The Bucs and Panthers will clash Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET.
BUCS-PANTHERS INJURY REPORT:
Probable (Player has a 75 percent chance of playing)
Questionable (Player has a 50 percent chance of playing)
Doubtful (Player has a 25 percent chance of playing)
Out (Player will not play)
TAMPA BAY INJURY REPORT:
DT Anthony McFarland (right forearm fracture) - Out
C Jeff Christy (right knee strain) - Probable
WR Joe Jurevicius (right knee/ankle sprain) - Probable
DT Warren Sapp (lower back strain) - Probable
RB Travis Stephens (left toe sprain) – Out (IR)
DE Corey Smith (left knee sprain) - Out
CAROLINA INJURY REPORT:
LB Dan Morgan (hernia) – Out
WR Isaac Byrd (groin) – Probable
G Jamar Nesbit (ankle) – Questionable
C Jeff Mitchell (neck) – Probable
LB Lester Towns (foot) – Out
DE Michael Rucker (ankle) – Questionable
QB Rodney Peete (finger) – Probable
DT Sean Gilbert (hip) - Out
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