The past six months haven't been too kind to Jordan Whitehead. Even if he won a Super Bowl.
The Buccaneers' fourth-year safety tore his labrum during the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He came back to play 68% of defensive snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV and finished with two tackles, but both numbers were well below his regular season averages of 86% of defensive snaps and 4.6 tackles per game.
Whitehead had surgery after the Super Bowl, which caused him to miss OTAs and mandatory mini-camp. He was set to make his return to the practice field when the Bucs opened training camp, but instead landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list a couple of days before camp started.
Whitehead finally returned to practice after sitting out the first five days of camp, but his return didn't last long. Whitehead suffered another injury on August 10 and hasn't seen the field since.
In other words: Whitehead's status doesn't look good for the season opener against the Cowboys.
Or doesn't it?
"It's day-to-day – we’ll see where he goes," Bruce Arians told reporters on Sunday in regard to Whitehead's current hamstring injury. "I'm not counting him out yet."
Whitehead has developed into one of the league's more reliable safeties and is well-known for delivering impactful hits on the field. His box presence is one of the keys to the Bucs elite run defense. 2020 saw Whitehead finish with 74 tackles, two interceptions, 2.0 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and four pass deflections. The interceptions, sacks, and TFLs were all career-highs while the tackles and PBUs were the second-highest regular season totals of his career.
Not having Whitehead on the field is certainly a blow to the Bucs defense, but they still have two quality backups in Mike Edwards and newly-anointed safety Ross Cockrell. Antoine Winfield Jr. can play down low, so Whitehead's box presence won't be missed.
"Super comfortable," said Arians in response to how he feels about the safety depth. "Ross [Cockrell] has had a hell of a camp and obviously made the transition easily for us. Mike [Edwards] is a ballhawk. So, I'm very, very comfortable with where we're at there."
There's no doubt that the defense is a better unit with Whitehead on the field. What is in doubt, however, is Whitehead's availability for the game. But as of now, Arians hasn't closed the door, so it's something to keep monitoring as the week progresses.
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