The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need help to shore up a defense that has injury issues at every level, and they're getting some of it from their practice squad. On Thursday, the Buccaneers elevated cornerback Don Gardner and inside linebacker J.J. Russell to the active roster, making them eligible to play in their game later that night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Gardner joins a cornerback group that was otherwise down to three healthy players: Jamel Dean, Zyon McCollum and Dee Delaney. Russell fills out a linebacker group that was also down to three men – Lavonte David, Devin White and Olakunle Fatukasi – after second-year man K.J. Britt landed on injured reserve earlier this week.
The NFL introduced the elevation option in 2020, which allows teams to activate up to two players from their practice squad for each game. Each player on the practice squad can be elevated up to three times during the regular season and an unlimited amount of times in the postseason. After the game, elevated players automatically revert to the practice squad without having to pass through waivers.
This is the first elevation of the season for both Gardner and Russell, each of whom joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie in May.
Gardner (6-1, 180) played in all three preseason games for the Buccaneers and recorded the team's only interception in that span. He also logged three tackles and a pass defensed and made two stops on special teams. Gardner played his college ball at South Dakota State, where he earned first-team all-conference honors in his junior season, when he helped lead the Jackrabbits to the FCS national title game. He appeared in 48 games over five seasons at SDSU, recording 133 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 20 passes defensed, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He also scored two defensive touchdowns.
Russell (6-1, 225) also played in all three preseason games for the Bucs, finishing second on the team with 12 tackles. He also registered two quarterback hits and made one stop on special teams. At Memphis, Russell appeared in 61 games with 50 starts over five seasons, racking up 306 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception and one blocked kick. He was named a first-team all-conference performer in his final season at Memphis after ranking fourth in the nation in solo tackles per game and ninth in total tackles per game.