On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers promoted rookie tackle Will Barker from their practice squad to the active roster, a move that signals confidence not only in Barker but in fellow first-year lineman Ted Larsen and versatile third-year player Jeremy Zuttah.
To make room for Barker on the 53-man roster, the Buccaneers waived guard Keydrick Vincent, a 14th-year veteran who had started the first five games of the 2010 season at left guard. Vincent missed last Sunday's win over St. Louis due to a back spasms but is now healthy. Larsen started in his place against the Rams and drew decent reviews from Tampa Bay's coaching staff.
Larsen, who is expected to start again this Sunday at Arizona, is one of three rookie linemen the team signed after the league-wide roster cuts in early September, along with Barker and guard Brandon Carter. All have been impressive on the practice field and now it's Barker's turn to put on a uniform on Sunday.
"He's another young guy that's done a good job here," said General Manager Mark Dominik. "Much like [running back] LeGarrette [Blount], a guy that we brought in a little bit later, the young guys that we have – Larsen, Barker, Brandon Carter on the practice squad – have got the system down and feel comfortable in it. It's really another testament to the coaches, like Pete [Mangurian], who got these guys ready to play."
Barker's promotion, like Larsen's insertion into the starting lineup, is also the result of a series of injuries the Buccaneers have suffered along the front line, most recently to right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Larsen was one of two reserves to start against the Rams, with Zuttah filling in for injured center Jeff Faine for the second straight week.
Faine will miss this weekend's game as well but there is some optimism that he may be able to return to face the Falcons in Week Nine. When Faine does return, Zuttah is expected to slide into the starting spot at left guard, where he opened all 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2009. If that's the case, Larsen would then become a very valuable interior reserve who can fill in at both center and both guard positions.
"We are encouraged by where Faine's progress is going, so that will give us some depth again," said Dominik. "[And] we feel like Zuttah is playing really good right now, playing better and better every week in what we're asking him to do, not only at center but also at guard. It's part of the long-term planning of this football team. We like these young guys on the practice squad and we don't want to lose them. When we signed Keydrick back in the summer, we didn't have the three guys we're talking about – Barker, Larsen and Carter. Those guys have done a good job and the idea is to keep them around."
Trueblood's knee injury, suffered late in the Buccaneers victory over St. Louis this past weekend, led to the timing of Barker's promotion. Trueblood will not travel with the team this weekend, meaning reserve James Lee will get the start at right tackle. Barker is primarily a right tackle, as well, but he has practiced at left tackle this week also and would be the "swing" tackle reserve on Sunday against the Cardinals. Another rookie, Derek Hardman, was signed to the active roster last week and will be the team's reserve at the interior-line positions.
The 6-7, 325-pound Barker has been on the Bucs' practice squad since he was signed on September 6, prior to the 2010 season opener. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys and spent the entire preseason in Dallas before being released in the final roster cutdowns on September 5.
At Virginia, Barker was known as "Mr. Reliable," largely because he never missed a start in four seasons, opening 49 consecutive games for the Cavaliers. In 2008, he anchored an offensive line that ranked first in the ACC by allowing only 16 sacks.