The Tampa Bay Buccaneers elevated running back Kenjon Barner and tight end Darren Fells for their regular-season finale against Carolina on Sunday, and both saw some late-game action after the Buccaneers' lead swelled to 24 points in the fourth quarter. On Tuesday, the Buccaneers made sure they would have the option to elevate Barner and Fells again for their Wild Card playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles by including them on this week's list of protected practice squad players.
The Bucs used all four of their protection options for the week, also putting that designation on the special teams duo of kicker Jose Borregales and punter Sterling Hofrichter.
Barner has actually played in each of the Bucs' last three games, and he served as the punt and kickoff return man in Weeks 16 and 17 while rookie Jaelon Darden was on the COVID list. Darden returned to action last week and resumed his role in the return game but Barner was still needed as the team's third running back with both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones out of commission. Barner got four carries for zero yards late in the fourth quarter against the Panthers.
In addition to last week's game, Fells also played on special teams in the Bucs' Week 10 game at Washington after being elevated from the practice squad. Hofrichter has also played in two games, handling the punting duties against the Panthers and Jets in Weeks 16 and 17 while Bradley Pinion was dealing with a right hip injury and a stint on the COVID list. Pinion returned to action last Sunday after Hofrichter had punted six times in those two contests, averaging 37.8 yards per kick.
The Buccaneers have protected Borregales for every game since Week Two. The undrafted rookie out of Miami, who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top collegiate kicker in 2020, gives the Buccaneers in-house insurance in case Ryan Succop suddenly become unavailable late in the week.
The option to protect a limited number of practice squad players from being signed away by other teams was one of a number of new rules adopted regarding the practice squad in 2020 to give teams more roster flexibility during the pandemic. The NFL elected to keep those rules in place for 2021.
Each week, a team can submit a list of up to four players on its practice squad that other teams are prohibited from signing to their active rosters. In most weeks, that protection starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday and extends through game day. No players are protected for a period of almost two days following a game, so every practice squad player in the league still has an opportunity each week to sign with another team's active roster.