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Back in the Backfield: Lionel Gates Returns

Second-year running back Lionel Gates returns for a second time this season as Tampa Bay continues to work on its injury-riddled backfield…Recently-signed CB Keiwan Ratliff is released to make room


RB Lionel Gates, back for a second stint on the Bucs' roster this season, is familiar with Jon Gruden's offense

Lately, and of necessity, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running game has turned into the Earnest Graham show. Still, the Buccaneers are working week by week to get the supporting cast right.

On Wednesday, the team reworked its offensive backfield again, promoting second-year man Lionel Gates from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Gates has made two other brief appearances on Tampa Bay's active roster over the past 12 months; he was signed for the final game of 2006 and was added earlier this year for the Week Six contest against Tennessee.

To make room for Gates on the 53-man roster, the Buccaneers released fourth-year cornerback Keiwan Ratliff. Also, the practice squad spot vacated by Gates was filled by the re-signing of rookie guard Brian Johnson.

As was the case with his previous cameo on the roster this season, Gates' return follows an injury to running back Michael Pittman. Pittman first suffered a significant ankle sprain against Indianapolis, an injury that caused him to miss the next four games. Gates was signed on October 13 and he appeared in the Tennessee game on special teams before being released the following Tuesday.

In both cases, the Buccaneers brought Gates back to the practice squad first before making the promotion a few days later. The former Louisville standout also spent most of the 2006 season on that eight-man crew before getting the call-up at the end of the year. Obviously, with that season of experience and four games of preseason work this summer, Gates is very familiar with the Buccaneers' offense.

The 6-0, 223-pound Gates had a strong summer with the Buccaneers in Orlando after spending his first two camps with the Buffalo Bills. During the preseason, he carried 15 times for 48 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards and one touchdown. Drafted by Buffalo in the seventh round in 2005, Gates spent his entire rookie season on the Bills' active roster, though he did not see any action. He is still waiting for his first regular-season carries.

If he got them this week, it would mean a rare break for Graham. In the Buccaneers' 19-13 win over Washington last Sunday, Graham accounted for all 21 carries by Tampa Bay running backs, gaining 75 yards. Pittman spelled Graham for 10 carries in the Week 11 win over Atlanta but aggravated his ankle injury in the process and didn't play against Washington. In a Week Nine victory over Arizona before the bye week, Graham ran a career-high 34 times for 124, ceding just five carries to Michael Bennett.

At Louisville, Gates was a powerful runner who also displayed good hands out of the backfield. He carried 310 times for 1,475 yards (4.8 avg.) during his collegiate career and also caught 40 passes for 469 yards (11.7 avg.).

Ratliff joined the Buccaneers on November 12 after spending his first three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The former second-round pick out of the University of Florida was inactive for each of the two games played while he was on the roster.

Johnson, a 6-4, 307-pound guard out of Louisiana State, was first signed to the Buccaneers' practice squad a week ago, on November 21. Two days later, he was released when the team brought back cornerback Marcus Hamilton.

Johnson first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals this past spring. He was a second-team All-SEC choice with the Tigers last fall and was a very versatile performer during his collegiate career. Of his 28 starts, 15 came at right tackle, 12 at right guard and one at left guard.

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