The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved quickly to form the first iteration of their 2018 practice squad on Monday, stocking it almost completely with players the team had waived a few days before.
The Buccaneers' first 11-man practice squad will feature three men who have previously played for the team in the regular season: cornerback Javien Elliott, defensive end Patrick O'Connor and wide receiver Bobo Wilson. Another four spots were devoted to rookies who joined the Buccaneers as undrafted free agents this offseason: tackle Cole Boozer, defensive end Demone Harris, tight end Tanner Hudson and safety Godwin Igwebuike.
Rounding out the unit are defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter, linebacker Azeem Victor, running back Dare Ogunbowale and linebacker Eric Nzeocha. Nzeocha is in his second year participating in the NFL's International Player Pathway program, an exemption that gives the Buccaneers an 11th spot on the practice squad. Ogunbowale had a brief stint on Tampa Bay's practice squad last season and returned to the team about a week into this year's training camp.
Ledbetter and Victor are the only players on the first version of the practice squad who come to the Buccaneers from other teams. Ledbetter was with the Detroit Lions before being waived on Saturday. Detroit first drafted the former Arkansas standout in the sixth round in 2016, and he played in all 16 games as a rookie with 14 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Victor was a sixth-round draft pick this offseason by the Oakland Raiders out of Washington, where he was a teammate with the Buccaneers' first-round pick, Vita Vea. Victor played in 44 games for the Huskies, compiling 197 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed.
The first players signed to the Buccaneers' practice squad each season often represent some of the roster candidates who were the most difficult to cut in the trim to 53 for the regular season, and it is not uncommon for them to eventually get promotions to the active roster. Of the 10 players who were on Tampa Bay's practice squad in Week One last year, six eventually got promoted and appeared in games. That includes Wilson as well as three players who are now opening 2018 on the active roster: safety Isaiah Johnson, offensive lineman Mike Liedtke and wide receiver Freddie Martino.
Wilson is the perfect example of a team using the practice squad to help get through a numbers crunch at a deep position. Head Coach Dirk Koetter remarked on several occasions during the preseason that the competition at wide receiver was fierce and that it would be difficult to pare down that talented group. The Buccaneers kept six wide receivers but still had to waive some players that had shown they could help in the regular season. Wilson was productive in the preseason, contributing nine catches for 52 yards, two carries for 33 yards and six kickoff returns for 147 yards.
Ogunbowale was also part of a heated battle in the preseason for the last running back spot, which eventually went to undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson. Despite joining the team after camp started, Ogunbowale made an impact in the preseason, particularly in the passing game with six receptions for 69 yards. He also ran 21 times for 55 yards and returned five kickoffs for 103 yards.
Elliott first made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Over the past two seasons he has appeared in 21 games with two starts and contributed 15 tackles and a pass defensed. He has filled the role of slot cornerback at times over those two years, but the Buccaneers are deeper at that spot now with Vernon Hargreaves healthy and the addition of second-rounder M.J. Stewart.
O'Connor was a seventh-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions out of Eastern Michigan in 2017. He was signed to the Bucs' practice squad in early October and then promoted to the active roster in late November. O'Connor appeared in three games in December.
Boozer, Harris, Hudson and Igwebuike were all signed among the first wave of undrafted rookies right after the 2018 draft concluded. Boozer played his college ball at Temple, where he was a tight end for two seasons before moving to the offensive line as a junior and taking over as the starting right tackle as a senior. Harris hails from the University at Buffalo, where he played in 47 games and recorded 107 tackles, 9.5 sacks and three passes defensed. Hudson played quarterback and punter in high school and originally signed on to do the same at Memphis but eventually transferred to Southern Arkansas and transitioned to tight end. In 43 games he racked up 143 catches for 2,231 yards and 26 touchdowns.