The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young and emerging defensive front just got a little younger.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers announced that they have promoted third-year defensive tackle Frank Okam from the practice squad. To make room for Okam on the 53-man roster, the team released ninth-year defensive tackle Ryan Sims.
Okam's promotion opened up a spot on the practice squad, which the team promptly filled by signing first-year cornerback D.J. Johnson.
Okam, who first entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2008, joins his former University of Texas teammate Roy Miller in the Bucs' D-Line corps. Miller was drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Okam, 25, also gives the Buccaneers another young building block for their front line. Of the nine defensive linemen currently on the roster, only end Stylez G. White, 31, is older than 25. The other eight – Okam, Miller, Michael Bennett, Tim Crowder, Alex Magee, Gerald McCoy, Kyle Moore and Al Woods – have an average age of less than 24 years old. That does not include 21-year-old defensive tackle Brian Price, who is on injured reserve but showed immense potential when he played.
That group also has proved productive of late, notching eight sacks in the last two games. Among the players who contributed to the Bucs' season-high six sacks this past Sunday in San Francisco were Bennett, Magee, McCoy and Woods.
Just as they did to great effect last year with Bennett and Crowder, the Buccaneers have found valuable additions for their defensive line after the final September roster cuts and the beginning of the regular season. Tampa Bay acquired Magee in a deadline-deal trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in October. They plucked Woods off the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad after losing Price to I.R. And Okam just joined the Bucs' practice squad last week after spending two-and-a-half seasons in Houston.
The 6-5, 346-pound Okam was a powerful run-stopper at Texas and a key player on the Longhorns' 2005 national championship team. He made Houston's roster as a rookie and then again in 2009 and 2010, though he was a game-day inactive on most Sundays. Okam saw action in 13 games over those two-and-a-half years, contributing five tackles on defense. After his release on October 25, Okam signed with the Seattle Seahawks but did not see action in a game before his release in mid-November.
Sims originally joined the Buccaneers in another trade with the Chiefs, this one taking place in May of 2007. He had spent five seasons in Kansas City after being selected sixth overall in the 2002 draft. After the trade to Tampa Bay, Sims saw action in 41 games with 14 starts from 2007-10. His most significant action came in 2009, when he played in and started 11 games and contributed 48 tackles and one sack. This season, Sims played in six games with one start and recorded six tackles.
Johnson played in seven games for the New York Giants this season before being waived on Monday, contributing four tackles. He joined the Giants in November of 2009, his rookie season, after being signed off the Denver Broncos' practice squad. Johnson played in three games during the second half of the '09 season, notching six stops on defense.
The 6-1, 191-pound cornerback originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Broncos following the 2009 draft. He was waived in the final roster cutdown before the regular season but immediately signed to Denver's practice squad. At Jackson State, Johnson played in 24 games over two seasons and totaled 66 tackles and 10 interceptions, two of which he returned for interceptions. A second-team All-America choice by the Associated Press, Johnson began his college career at the University of Missouri before transferring.