The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the first week of the preseason with several areas of concern on the depth chart due to injuries. They addressed those concerns with a handful of roster moves before going back to work in Week Two.
On Sunday, the Buccaneers signed a pair of rookies, defensive back Micah Abernathy and defensive lineman Shane Bowman. To make room on the 90-man preseason roster, the team released veteran offensive lineman Evan Smith and placed rookie wide receiver Bryant Mitchell on injured reserve.
Tampa Bay's secondary has recently been hit with a string of injuries, and the safety position had become particularly thin after Kentrell Brice and Mike Edwards both left Friday's preseason game in Pittsburgh early. The team had already lost safeties Orion Stewart and D'Cota Dixon to season-ending injuries prior to the game, and incumbent starter Justin Evans remains on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The Bucs added rookie John Battle last week but he did not see any action against Pittsburgh.
"Yeah, [we have] five guys down," said Head Coach Bruce Arians on Saturday. "Yeah, we're going to have to probably make some kind of roster move to get somebody else in here. We've got [John] Battle, but he wasn't ready to play, and we'll get him up to speed [and] we'll get somebody else up to speed as fast as possible."
View some of the best photos from the Buccaneers' Preseason Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bucs are also currently without the services of defensive lineman Vita Vea, who Arians called "week to week" due to the knee injury he sustained in practice last week. In addition, Beau Allen was held out of Friday's game.
Both Abernathy and Bowman were undrafted free agents this spring, originally signing with Minnesota and Jacksonville, respectively, before later being released. Abernathy (6-0, 195) played his college ball at Tennessee, seeing action in 44 games with 30 starts. His career statistics at UT include 197 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and five fumble recoveries. Bowman (6-4, 290) played at the University of Washington, where he was a teammate with Vea for two years. He played in 39 games and recorded 21 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Smith's release ends a Buccaneer tenure of more than five years for the 10th-year veteran, as he originally came to Tampa as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2014. He had spent his first four seasons in Green Bay after joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State. During his five seasons in Tampa, Smith played in 57 contests and made 28 starts, opening games at all three interior-line spots. He was the Bucs' starting center during the 2014 campaign, the position he had also held down for the Packers the previous season. In all, Smith has played in 118 NFL games with 53 starts.
Mitchell was technically an NFL rookie but he previously played three seasons of professional football with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He played his college ball at Northwestern State. Mitchell first signed with the Arizona Cardinals in January but was waived in May and then picked up by the Buccaneers a week later. Mitchell made his Bucs debut against Pittsburgh on Friday night and started out fast, with five receptions for 32 yards, four of them before halftime. Unfortunately, he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the second half, ending his season very prematurely.
"He was fighting like heck for that fifth [receiver] spot and making really good progress," said Arians. "It's a shame."