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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Start Roster Trim with D-Line Moves

Veteran DE George Johnson was released on Friday and young linemen DaVonte Lambert and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu hit injured reserve as Tampa Bay began reducing the roster to 53.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the process of reducing their roster to the regular-season limit with four moves on Friday, a day before the deadline. The first round of maneuvers almost exclusively impacts the defensive line.

The Buccaneers placed two young linemen, DaVonte Lambert and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, on injured reserve and released defensive end George Johnson. The fourth move was the release of long-snapper Andrew DePaola. That puts the roster at 86 heading into the weekend; it must be trimmed to 53 by 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday. (The Buccaneers also have a 91st player in safety Eric Nzeocha, but he is an international exception who will spend the season on the practice squad.)

A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Redskins.

Johnson and DePaola are vested veterans, which means they are not subject to the waiver wire and can immediately sign with another team. That veteran status is likely why the Buccaneers chose to make those moves a day early; the rest of the roster cuts will lean heavily towards younger players who will go through the waiver process.

Johnson started his career as an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers in 2010 and played in nine games for Tampa Bay in 2011 and 2012, but his first full 16-game season came with Detroit in 2014. He became a restricted free agent after that season and eventually returned to Tampa in an offseason trade. Johnson saw action in 11 games with five starts for the Buccaneers in 2015, recording 23 tackles and two forced fumbles, but he spent the 2016 season on injured reserve.

DePaola was the Buccaneers' long-snapper from 2014-16, but a knee injury suffered in last year's season finale and an expiring contract led to him being a free agent in the 2017 offseason. Tampa Bay subsequently signed veteran long-snapper Garrison Sanborn, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, to fill that role. However, the team did re-sign DePaola on August 22 after he demonstrated that he was fully recovered, giving him a chance to compete in the final two games of the preseason.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Redskins.

Lambert was an undrafted free agent in 2016 who made an impressively large contribution to the Buccaneers' defense as a rookie, while Tu'ikolovatu was the team's seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft. Both had a shot to factor into the team's D-Line rotation this year before their injuries. Technically, that possibility still remains, as each team in the NFL now gets two return-from-IR options to use on players during the season.

Lambert played 50% of the team's defensive snaps last year, helping the Bucs weather a run of injuries to the line and contributing 14 tackles and a forced fumble. When defensive end William Gholston sat out the Buccaneers' third preseason game this summer due to a minor injury, it was Lambert who got the start in his place at left defensive end.

Tu'ikolovatu was regarded as one of the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the college ranks last year at USC, where he played one season after transferring from Utah. The Buccaneers made several moves during the offseason in an effort to get bigger and more stout against the run in the middle of their defense, including the free agency acquisition of defensive tackle Chris Baker and the drafting of linebacker Kendell Beckwith in the third round. Tu'ikolovatu may eventually be a part of that effort, but for now he'll focus on recovering from his injury.

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