The 26-year-old's season disappointingly comes to an end in less than a full game, with Smith having suffered the injury while working on the punt coverage unit on Sunday versus the Falcons. The talented defensive end entered the 2016 campaign with high expectations after tallying 13.5 sacks over the first 27 games of his pro career in a part-time role. Smith was expected to see his playing time expand this season as part of a burgeoning defensive line rotation that also includes 2016 second-round pick Noah Spence, offseason acquisition Robert Ayers and perennial Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy. His absence for the balance of the season could spell extended opportunity for the talented Spence and undrafted rookie Channing Ward.
Smith went down in punt coverage, but the specifics of his injury are unclear at this point in time. The setback comes at a poor time for Smith as he's coming off an impressive preseason in which he logged four sacks, the most by a Buccaneer since 2000.
Smith injured his right knee while on punt coverage during Sunday's game against the Falcons, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Smith was carted to the locker room during Sunday's tilt as he may be dealing with a potentially serious knee injury. An update regarding his status moving forward should become available upon further evaluation.
Smith totaled four tackles (all solo), two tackles for loss and two sacks in Friday's 30-13 preseason victory over the Browns.
The third-year pro put together a standout performance, often hounding the Browns' Robert Griffin III and even drawing a holding penalty on his first of two quarterback takedowns. Even if incumbent starter William Gholston retains the top left defensive end job, Smith figures to receive a heavy dose of playing time throughout the season in a variety of personnel packages. Smith has proven highly capable of making the most of his opportunities over this first pair of Bucs seasons, garnering 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and three passes defensed in 27 games. Given the aggressive nature of new defensive coordinator Mike Smith's scheme, the Missouri product could be in line for his best numbers yet in 2016.
The third-year defensive end was excited about his return to on-field work and the opportunity to start building on a productive 2015 campaign that saw him tally 37 tackles (including two for loss), seven sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a pass defensed in 12 games. "It feels good," Smith said of his first day back on the field. "Obviously I missed OTAs and stuff, and I've been missing being out their with the guys and doing my part. It's a great time to be back. The energy level, the vibe, I'm happy to be back." The 26-year-old slots into a defensive end rotation that packs plenty of pass-rushing potential, given that it will also include free-agent acquisition Robert Ayers and 2016 second-round pick Noah Spence.
|2012||New York Jets||0||0||0.0||0||0||0||0||0.0||0||0||0|
|2014||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||15||17||13.0||4||6.5||0||0||0.0||0||0||2|
|2015||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||12||22||15.0||7||7||0||0||0.0||0||0||1|
|2016||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||0||0.0||0||0||0||0||0.0||0||0||0|
|Year||Team||G||Fum||Lost||Fum Forced||Own Rec||Opp Rec||Yds||Tot Rec||TD|
|2012||New York Jets||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|2014||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||15||0||0||1||0||1||0||1||0|
|2015||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||12||1||1||3||0||3||22||3||1|
|2016||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|