The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a taste of what life without veteran cornerback Eric Wright can be like during their 24-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Now they'll get a steady diet of it.
Wright, who came to the Bucs in March after signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract, was suspended for the next four games by the NFL on Monday for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
"This is a result of taking Adderall at the end of July for health issues I was experiencing,'' Wright said in written statement released by the team. "I am extremely disappointed that the suspension was upheld at my appeal.
"I apologize to the Glazer family, General Manager Mark Dominik, Coach Schiano and the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, my teammates, our great fans and my family, who have stood by me through this entire process. I will continue to prepare myself and look forward to rejoining the team.''
The possibility of Wright being suspended for using Adderall was first reported four weeks ago, but it wasn't until Monday that Wright and the Bucs learned the appeal had been denied.
It marked the second time this season a Bucs player was suspended for using Adderall, a prescription medication used primarily to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was traded to the Patriots two weeks ago, was suspended for four games on Oct. 13 and acknowledged he took an Adderall pill obtaining without a prescription.
If a player has a doctor's prescription for Adderall, the league will issue a waiver for its use in advance. Taken by someone who does not have ADHD, Adderall acts as a stimulant. It has been on the NFL's list of banned performance-enhancing substances since 2006.
Earlier this season, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden and New York Giants safeties Will Hill and Tyler Sash attributed their suspensions to Adderall.
"This is a widespread issue throughout the National Football League right now,'' Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. "It's certainly not Tampa exclusive, so you try to educate your guys and we do talk to them about it quite a bit.
"You have to do your best and then trust the guys you brought in here, but it's a lot like raising kids – it's never going to be 100 percent, that's for sure. So, you just do your best.''
The loss of Wright, who had 39 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown, comes at a time when his availability was already limited. Wright was inactive against the Falcons on Sunday because of a sore Achilles tendon, and Schiano did not know when Wright would have been available.
Wright will be eligible to return for the regular-season finale Dec. 30 at Atlanta.
"It's like someone is injured,'' Schiano said. "You move on and figure out a way to put your best 11 (players) out there. We'll just keep working through it.''
The Bucs worked through it on Sunday by replacing Wright with former Largo High star Leonard Johnson, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa State who has three interceptions. With one notable exception – an 80-yard touchdown reception by Julio Jones in the third quarter Sunday – Johnson continued to play at a high level against the Falcons, Schiano said.
"The guy who was covering on that 80-yard pass played really well other than on that 80-yard pass play,'' said Schiano, who gave similar praise to corners E.J. Biggers, who started his ninth game of the season on the right side in place of Talib, and Danny Gorrer, who played in nickel situations.
"You saw a new face out there in Danny Gorrer, who I think competed his rear end off,'' Schiano said. "And I think E.J. played physical aggressive football. They didn't shy away from anything. Now, they didn't always get it done either, but they didn't shy away, so it wasn't too big for any of those guys. They lined up and played.''
Tampa Bay's pass defense, however, remains last in the league after allowing 353 yards to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Next up, Tampa Bay faces one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Denver's Peyton Manning on Sunday. Drew Brees of the Saints is just three weeks away.
It's possible, then, the loss of Wright couldn't have come at a worse time, especially for a team fighting to remain in the NFC playoff hunt.
Schiano, who has already dealt with the losses to injury this season of Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, just rolled with the latest punch.
"That's life in the NFL,'' he said. "All we can do is practice and meet and prepare and go out to Denver and play the best game we've played all year. Where that stacks up against Peyton Manning, I don't l know. I can only control half of that. But we are going to do our best to make sure we're at our best.''