G Matt O'Dwyer has practiced for the past three weeks as the Bucs evaluated his health
A move the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made way back on March 9 is about to pay off, nearly nine months later and perhaps not a moment too soon.
The Buccaneers signed veteran guard Matt O'Dwyer just a few days into the free agent signing period, part of an offensive-line overhaul that also included the signings of Derrick Deese, Matt Stinchcomb and Todd Steussie. Deese, Stinchcomb and Steussie were all opening-day starters for the Bucs (Steussie was later replaced by Kenyatta Walker) but O'Dwyer has yet to play a down thanks to a freak weight-lifting accident in late June that left him with a torn pectoral muscle.
On Tuesday, the Bucs activated O'Dwyer from the reserve/physically unable to perform list, where he has been since the injury. In other words, the team has just added a well-respected veteran with 105 career NFL starts to his credit to their offensive line corps, at a time in the season when most roster moves center around players being lost to injured reserve.
It's even possible that O'Dwyer could be called on to see immediate action, given the neck stinger that starting center Sean Mahan is currently battling. Mahan replaced John Wade at center after Wade's knee injury on November 7; if he can't play, the team would probably move starting left guard Matt Stinchcomb to center, where he started three games for the Oakland Raiders last year. That would open up the left guard spot, and O'Dwyer would be one of the options to fill it.
O'Dwyer was formally placed on the reserve/PUP list on August 31, which gave the team the option to activate him later in the season. After he was cleared for practice in early November, the Bucs then had 21 days to determine whether it would move O'Dwyer to injured reserve and lose him for the rest of the season or find a spot for him on the 53-man roster. That they chose the latter indicates that O'Dwyer has satisfied the Bucs' medical staff and proved that he is ready to resume game action.
The Bucs made room for O'Dwyer by releasing wide receiver Bill Schroeder.
Schroeder, a 10th-year veteran who signed with the Bucs just 10 days before training camp, appeared in seven games with two starts. He contributed seven catches for 156 yards and one touchdown, with most of that production coming in Week Three at Oakland. In that contest, Schroeder's first start, he led the team with four receptions for 126 yards and a score.
Schroeder also started the Chicago game in Week Seven when the Bucs opened in a four-wide formation. However, he has been inactive for each of the last four games and has not caught a pass since the Raider game.
The 6-5, 305-pound O'Dwyer has been a starter through most of his 10-year NFL career. Though the team did not produce a depth chart until training camp, he was running with the first team offensive line, at left guard, when the team held its last mini-camp in late June.
A second-round pick by the New York Jets out of Northwestern in 1995, O'Dwyer earned a starting job by the end of his rookie season then started all 16 games the following season. He did the same for two more years in New York before joining Cincinnati as an unrestricted free agent in 1999. O'Dwyer opened all 16 games at left guard for the Bengals in 1999 before having his consecutive starts streak snapped at 74 by an ankle injury 10 games into the 2000 campaign. Before his injury, he was a driving force in Corey Dillon's eventual 1,435-yard season.
O'Dwyer re-signed with Cincinnati before the 2001 season and spent three more years with the Bengals, though he lost four games to injury in '01 and missed most of 2003 with a foot ailment. In 2002, however, O'Dwyer was the only player on the team to play every offensive snap, starting the whole season at left guard.