Former Chief Billy Baber is the second tight end added to the Bucs' active roster in the last two days
Despite putting Will Heller on injured reserve on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hit the practice field on Wednesday with more tight ends than they had the week before.
On Tuesday, the Bucs promoted rookie Nate Lawrie from the practice squad to fill the spot vacated by Heller, who saw his season end due to a hip sprain suffered Sunday in San Diego. On Wednesday, the team made two more tight-end related moves.
Billy Baber, a third-year tight end who was most recently with the San Diego Chargers, was signed to the active roster, and Robert Johnson, a first-year tight end who went to camp with the Chicago Bears this summer, was signed to the practice squad.
To make room for Baber on the 53-man roster, the Bucs released defensive end Corey Smith. Johnson assumes the practice squad spot vacated by Lawrie and the Bucs created another opening on that eight-man unit Wednesday by releasing safety Kalvin Pearson. Pearson, who was in camp with the Buccaneers this summer, spent one week on the practice squad after being signed last week.
Baber, who entered the league as a fifth-round draft choice of the Chiefs in 2001, has spent most of his NFL career in Kansas City. After toiling on the practice squad as a rookie, he made the active roster the next two years and appeared in 29 games with two starts. Baber contributed three catches for 20 yards and a touchdown over those two seasons and also contributed heavily on special teams.
The 6-4, 260-pound Baber began this season on the Chiefs' injured reserve list but was waived on November 2, which freed him to resume playing with any team other than Kansas City. He signed with San Diego a week later and spent three weeks on the Chargers' roster before being waived on November 30.
At Virginia, Baber appeared in 44 games over four years and caught 54 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns. He hails from Crozet, Virginia.
Johnson first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in April of 2003 but was released four days later due to a pre-existing wrist injury. The Bears picked him up off waivers and put him on the reserve/non-football-injury list, where he stayed until November. The 6-6, 270-pound rookie was then activated to Chicago's active roster for three games before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He appeared in one game, playing on special teams.
Johnson went to training camp with the Bears again in 2004 but was released prior to the season. At Auburn, he played three seasons and hauled in 59 passes for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns. He hails from Montgomery, Alabama.
The Buccaneers' tight end position has been hit hard by injuries this season. Rickey Dudley, number two on the depth chart to start the year and the team's best downfield threat at the position, was lost after three weeks due to a thumb injury. Heller now joins him on injured reserve. Starter Ken Dilger has played through painfully bruised ribs in recent weeks and Dave Moore, also the team's long-snapper, has been unable to practice much due to an ankle injury.