Reinforcements are on the way for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who began the opening week of the postseason with seven players on injured reserve but could see that list trimmed significantly by Sunday's Wild Card opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. On Wednesday, the Buccaneers designated three players on injured reserve as 'returned to practice:' inside linebacker Lavonte David and running backs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard.
Bernard has been on I.R. since December 14, while David and Fournette were added to the list on December 23. All three have missed at least the minimum of three games necessary before being eligible to return from injured reserve. The Buccaneers now have a three-week window during which those three can practice with the team without counting against the 53-man roster limit; they can return to the active roster at any point during those three weeks but the Buccaneers obviously are hoping for an accelerated timetable.
Bernard has served primarily as a third down back in his first season in Tampa, and he had played in all 12 games before sustaining a hip injury in Week 14 against Buffalo. He logged eight carries for 58 yards and 23 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season.
David is attempting to return from a foot injury sustained in Week 15 against the Saints. He also missed two midseason games with a knee ailment but otherwise started the Bucs' other 12 contests, pairing with Devin White to form one of the most dynamic inside linebacker duos in the NFL. Before his injury he had 97 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, four quarterback hits, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. A 2012 second-round draft pick, David is the longest-tenured player on the Buccaneers' roster.
Fournette had locked down the lead role in the Buccaneers' backfield before being sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in Week 15. He played in the first 14 games, starting all but the season opener, and led the team with 812 yards and eight touchdowns on 180 carries. He also proved to be a prolific pass-catcher out of the backfield, recording 69 receptions for 454 yards and two more scores. At the time of his injury, he led all NFL running backs in receptions. Given that he was the Buccaneers' most productive offensive weapon in last year's playoff run, setting single-season team playoff records with 448 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, the potential return of 'Playoff Lenny' is very encouraging for a depleted Bucs' offense.