The Buccaneers' beleaguered defensive line took a big hit in early May when Da'Quan Bowers went down with an Achilles tendon injury that was expected to sideline him at least six months.
On Monday, when Bowers said he was getting closer to returning, the unit suffered another damaging blow.
A defensive line that has had virtually every regular miss games because of injury the past two years, now must play the rest of this season without starting right end Adrian Clayborn.
The Bucs' 2011 first-round draft pick and their 2011 leader in sacks with 7.5, Clayborn was placed on injured reserve Monday with a right knee injury he suffered Sunday during the Bucs' 16-10 loss to the Cowboys.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano referred to the injury as "one of those three-letter deals,'' and said it "may be more than one,'' which means Clayborn likely suffered damage to one or more ligaments.
Schiano said Clayborn will need surgery to correct the problem but added it may be a couple of weeks before the surgery takes place. In the meantime, the Bucs will scrounge around the league for a replacement.
It's a familiar place for an organization that lost tackle Gerald McCoy (biceps), left end Michael Bennett (foot) and tackle Brian Price (pelvis) to injuries last year and started this year with Bowers on the shelf.
"We've lost two guys at the position since August now, so we'll look at everything,'' Schiano said of the search for a replacement. "We'll look internally and we'll look if there's anything outside that's better.
"We'll also look at (ourselves) schematically. You know, maybe we'll have to play some more three-down fronts and do some different things to stretch the personnel a little bit. Nothing's out of the realm.''
One potential replacement is George Johnson, an undrafted second-year pro out of Rutgers, where he played for Schiano, who made the Bucs each of the past two years with some stellar preseason play.
Johnson has not been active on game day either of the past two weeks, but Schiano suggested that was mostly a result of the need to dress others for special teams duties.
"George has done well,'' Schiano said. "And Daniel (Te'o-Nesheim has) done well when we've played him. So we do have some internal choices to consider there. We just have to work through it.''
One of the internal choices would be to make more use of three-linemen, four-linebacker sets that allow the Bucs to further incorporate rush linebacker Dekoda Watson into the defense.
The Bucs have used that personnel grouping primarily on obvious passing downs this season, but Watson has expressed a desire to play more in the regular defensive scheme and this may be his chance.
"Anything is fair game right now,'' Schiano said. "I mean, I don't know where it will end up. We're spending a lot of time talking about it and we'll make what we think is the best decision."
No matter the decision, it likely will leave the Bucs' defensive front less potent. Though he had only two tackles and no sacks this year, Clayborn's strength and burst off the line created problems for opposing offenses.
"It's definitely a challenge to replace him,'' Bennett said. "Adrian Clayborn is one of the top young defensive ends in the league. He's ferocious in the pass rush and he does a great job (against) the run. It's going to be hard for anybody to step up and replace him.''
The timing of the loss is especially difficult, coming about a month before Bowers can be taken off the physically unable to perform list and just as the defense was beginning to establish itself as perhaps one to be reckoned with.
They came out of the loss to Dallas tied for sixth in the league with seven sacks and ranked second overall against the run, where they are allowing 2.3 yards per carry and 47.3 yards per game.
"It's part of the game,'' Bowers said resignedly. "You just have to take it in stride and (if you get hurt) you just have to be there to lift each other up both physically and mentally.
"That's what I've been trying to do. I'm just trying to take it step by step, and (keep) progressing so that, hopefully, in Game 6 I'll be back there to practice and getting ready to go.''
Suddenly, the Bucs are hoping for the same thing.