The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Five list of protected practice squad players includes one player making an appearance in that group for the first time this season: rookie wide receiver Josh Pearson.
In addition to Pearson, the Buccaneers have protected veteran cornerback Ross Cockrell, kicker Greg Joseph and linebacker Chapelle Russell. Joseph has been protected all five weeks, this is the second straight week for Cockrell and Russell has been on the list three times overall, though not consecutively.
The inclusion of Pearson this week is likely a nod to the team's deep injury concerns at the receiver position. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller and Justin Watson have all been held out of the team's first two practices of the week and may not be available on Thursday night when the Bucs play the Bears in Chicago. It's even possible all four will miss the game, which would leave the team with just Jaydon Mickens and Cyril Grayson at the receiver position. Mickens has primarily served as a kick returner this year while Grayson was just signed off the practice squad. Neither has a reception this season.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster.
By using their four protection options – a new rule put in place over the summer to help teams with roster flexibility while playing amid a pandemic – the Buccaneers can make sure none of those players can be signed by other teams to their active rosters before the game. That protection period lasts from 4:00 p.m. ET Tuesday through Thursday's game. All practice squad players still have opportunities to get promoted by other teams between when their team's game is played and the next Tuesday deadline.
In addition to being protected for the first time, Pearson could be one of two possible practice squad elevations for Thursday's game. The protected players do not have to be elevated but Pearson obviously could be a top priority if multiple Bucs receivers can't play. Pearson signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Jacksonville State in the spring. He played in 26 games at JSU and recorded 126 catches for 943 yards and 30 touchdowns. His career touchdown mark established a new school record.