The Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe their improved play against the run is largely a result of the improved health of DT Roy Miller, who played in pain last season because of a back problem.
On Thursday, Miller's back acted up again, forcing him out of practice just three days before Tampa Bay takes on Kansas City and RB Jamaal Charles, the NFL's leading rusher.
It was still too early to know Thursday whether the latest flare-up will limit Miller's effectiveness or playing time. If Miller cannot play, the Bucs could turn to backup Gary Gibson or adjust their scheme and use DEs Michael Bennett and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim at tackle.
The potential loss of Miller, meanwhile, is the latest blow to a beleaguered defensive line plagued by injuries for the better part of two seasons.
Last season, the unit lost DT Gerald McCoy to a second biceps tear and Miller to a foot injury for a couple of games. This year, the Bucs lost DEs Da'Quan Bowers (Achilles tendon) and DE Adrian Clayborn (knee), though there is hope Bowers can return from the physically unable to perform list.
Bowers will be eligible to play next week, and the team will then have three weeks to activate him or place him on injured reserve. While the Bucs plan to be cautious, they are optimistic.
"From what I have seen I am really encouraged,'' head coach Greg Schiano said. "I do anticipate him coming back here in the foreseeable future. Whether that's in three weeks, five weeks, eight weeks, I am not sure right now.
"But you know, you hear a guy has to get his Achilles operated on and it's, 'Whew.' But watching the stuff he has done out on the field in rehab, that's good stuff."
The mighty Quinn
The Chiefs on Thursday named Brady Quinn their starting quarterback for Sunday's game. The Buccaneers were not surprised.
Schaino said his team planned all week for Quinn, who presents a different set of challenges than Matt Cassel, who is out after suffering a concussion last week against Baltimore.
"He is a more mobile guy,'' Schiano said of Quinn, a former first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. "He is physically a more stout guy. Does that mean more moving pocket stuff? Maybe.''
The Chiefs lean heavily on the run and Quinn adds to that because he's quick to tuck the ball and run when plays break down. There's another element to his game, though, that the Bucs have to be aware of.
"He has outstanding arm strength,'' defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "He can rifle the ball. That's no issue for them as far as being able to throw the ball down the field.
"The problem he's going to have is he's not had the reps in practice. But as far as arm strength and the ability to move around in the pocket, he'll probably move around better than Matt would.''
Bye-bye bye week
Count QB Josh Freeman among those who were happy to see the bye week come when it did. Freeman likes the idea of getting it out of the way early and believes the Bucs came back a better team.
"You talk about our team coming back energized,'' he said. "Guys are flying around making plays (in practice). There is kind of a different sense, a different feeling, a good one.''
Changing of the guard
The Bucs are closer to making a decision on a starting right guard, but Schiano declined to say who the leading candidate is. Former starting RT Jeremy Trueblood took first first-team reps in Wednesday's practice, but the initial first-team reps went to Jamon Meredith on Thursday.