RB Lionel Gates has extensive experience in the Bucs' system, including an entire year on the practice squad in 2006
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' restructured backfield is still getting shuffled, right up to the day before Sunday's game against Tennessee.
On Saturday, the Bucs released rookie running back Kenneth Darby and signed second-year running back Lionel Gates, giving the latter ballcarrier a quick promotion from the practice squad. Gates had just returned to the team on Wednesday, when the team signed him to the practice squad in the wake of running back Michael Pittman's ankle injury.
Though he wasn't with the team in September, Gates is very familiar with the team's offense. He spent most of last year on Tampa Bay's practice squad before getting his first promotion to the 53-man roster on December 29. Gates didn't play in the Bucs' season finale, but he did return for training camp in 2007.
Before he was released in the final cutdown, Gates ran 15 times for 48 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown in four preseason games. He ran for 26 yards and made a nifty catch of a tough pass in traffic for a touchdown in the preseason finale against Houston.
Gates first entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2005. He made the Bills' active roster as a rookie but did not appear in a game. Gates went to camp with the Bills again in 2006 but was released at the end of the preseason and quickly signed to the Bucs' practice squad.
The hard-running, 6-0, 223-pound back had a productive three-year run at Louisville. He finished his collegiate career with 310 carries for 1,475 yards and 20 touchdowns and added 40 receptions for 469 yards and two scores.
Darby was a seventh-round draft pick, too, chosen this past April out of Alabama by the Buccaneers. He had a productive preseason, too, rushing for a team-high 135 yards, and he opened the season on the Bucs' practice squad. When starting running back Cadillac Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury at Carolina on September 30, Darby was promoted to the 53-man roster. He was active for last Sunday's game at Indianapolis but did not see any action.
Pittman re-inherited the starting role after Williams' injury, but was hurt in the very next game against the Colts. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks with his ankle sprain. That development prompted the Bucs to sign running back Zack Crockett on Wednesday, the same day Gates returned to the practice squad.
The roster moves of Wednesday and Saturday leave the Buccaneers with a four-man backfield of Crockett, Gates, Earnest Graham and B.J. Askew. Graham will start at tailback and Askew at fullback, but the Buccaneers are likely to use any of the four at any point on Sunday.