The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave their players another day of rest on Monday but remained busy in terms of shaping the roster.
First, the Buccaneers activated second-year guard John Molchon from injured reserve, where he began the regular season due to a leg injury. To make room for Molchon on the 53-man roster, the team released wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, the team's primary return man for most of the first six weeks. In addition, the Bucs signed eighth-year cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson to the practice squad and released outside linebacker Elijah Ponder to clear a spot on that 16-man unit.
Molchon's 2021 journey is so far very similar to his rookie campaign after he signed with the Buccaneers in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State. Molchon impressed the Bucs in his first training camp and briefly made the 53-man roster before being placed on injured reserve with a knee ailment. He was later activated from I.R. on October 30 and later moved to the practice squad, where he spent the remainder of the season.
Molchon again made the active roster to start the regular season this year but was then immediately moved to injured reserve. He returned to practice on September 29, opening a 21-day window during which he did not count against the roster limit. That window was due to close this Tuesday, when the Buccaneers begin a week of practice leading up to Sunday's home game against Chicago.
Molchon's activation gives the Buccaneers' 10 offensive linemen on the active roster at the moment. He joins Aaron Stinnie, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett as interior-line reserves. Leverett has been inactive for each of the first six games while Hainsey and Stinnie have played in one game apiece.
Mickens started the regular season on Tampa Bay's practice squad but was elevated to play and handle return duties in the opener and then promoted back to the active roster the following week. He played in five of the first six games, missing one due to an abdomen injury, and returned eight punts for 54 yards (6.4 avg.) plus five kickoffs for 129 yards (25.8 avg). In the one game he sat out, at the Los Angeles Rams in Week Three, rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden took over both return jobs. Darden, a fourth-round pick out of North Texas, has been inactive for the other five games.
Wreh-Wilson most recently went to training camp with the Las Vegas Raiders this summer before being released in the cut-down to 53-man rosters. He is familiar with the NFC South, having played the last five seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, with 41 appearances and three starts in that span. Last year, Wreh-Wilson played 15 games for the Falcons and contributed nine tackles, three interceptions and four passes defensed. Originally a third-round pick by Tennessee in 2013, he also played three seasons for the Titans, making 11 starts in 2014. Overall, he has played in 75 games with 17 starts, recording 132 tackles, four interceptions and 28 passes defensed.
Ponder originally signed with the Buccaneers in May as an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati. He played in all three preseason games but was waived when the rosters were trimmed to 53 for the regular season. Ponder returned to Tampa to fill a practice squad spot in September and was on that unit for the past four weeks.
The Buccaneers have now had two players return from "short term" injured reserve this season, with Molchon joining outside linebacker Cam Gill. There are still five players on that I.R. list, all of whom are eligible to possibly return to action this season: cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting, wide receiver Scotty Miller, long-snapper Zach Triner and guard Sadarius Hutcherson.