TE Will Heller matched a career high with three receptions on Sunday, but also sustained a season-ending hip injury
On Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought it likely that injured tight end Will Heller would recover in time to play against New Orleans this weekend. Then a precautionary X-ray said otherwise.
Heller's right hip injury, sustained Sunday's game at San Diego, has been diagnosed as a sprain and is significant enough to end his season. The team has placed the second-year player on injured reserve and promoted rookie tight end Nate Lawrie from the practice squad.
Heller's season-ending injury comes on the heels of one his more productive games, as he started against the Chargers and caught three passes for 19 yards. Overall, Heller recorded 12 receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown in 10 games this season.
The former Georgia Tech standout joined the Buccaneers as a free agent after the draft last season and was the only undrafted rookie to make the 2003 opening-day roster. Thought of as primarily a blocker, the 6-6, 250-pound Heller caught two passes for 15 yards and one touchdown in his first year, appearing in nine games.
He made the team again this year despite Tampa Bay's drafting of Lawrie, the re-signing of Rickey Dudley and the free agent return of long-time Buccaneer tight end Dave Moore, who also serves as the team's long-snapper. Heller was on the inactive list for the first three games of the season, but he has played in every game since Dudley went to injured reserve on September 29.
Heller has played extensively in the two-tight end set this season and has caught at least one pass in eight of the past 10 games. He set a career high on Monday Night Football at St. Louis (Oct. 18) with three catches for 21 yards and a touchdown.
The Bucs' replacement comes from within, as Lawrie has spent the last 10 weeks on the team's practice squad and was originally Tampa Bay's sixth-round draft pick this past April. A Yale grad, Lawrie set the school's single-season receptions record for tight ends with 72 grabs in his 2003 senior season, finishing his collegiate career with 116 catches overall. The 6-7, 256-pound Lawrie was the 181st player selected overall in 2004.
Lawrie's promotion means that five of the eight players drafted by the team this year are now on the active roster, including all of the selections in rounds one through six. Lawrie joins four other '04 draftees who have been on the roster all season: wide receiver Michael Clayton, linebacker Marquis Cooper, safety Will Allen and guard Jeb Terry.