TE Nate Lawrie played in multiple-tight end sets on several occasions during his first stint on the active roster
Nine days ago, tight end Nate Lawrie and fullback Rick Razzano essentially switched places, as a series of Buccaneer roster moves sent Lawrie to the practice squad and Razzano up to the active roster.
Now they've switched back.
On Friday, the Bucs announced that Lawrie has been signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, where he had spent the last week. To make room for Lawrie, the team released Razzano. When the rookie fullback had cleared waivers, the team re-signed him to its eight-man practice squad.
Razzano's name has appeared in a long list of Buccaneer roster moves this season. He originally made the team's active roster out of training camp but was inactive for the season opener. He then missed the next four games while serving a commissioner's suspension. The Bucs activated Razzano from the reserve list on October 15 following the end of his suspension and he played briefly on special teams the following afternoon against Miami.
The Bucs lost quarterback Brian Griese for the rest of the season to a knee injury in that Dolphins game and responded by trading for San Francisco's Tim Rattay. To clear room for Rattay, the team waived Razzano on October 18, then re-signed him two days later when Griese officially went to injured reserve. Razzano was inactive for the Bucs' next game at San Francisco, then was waived again on October 2 and immediately re-signed to the practice squad. He spent two weeks with that group before coming back up to the active roster last week.
Lawrie has been on the Bucs' active roster all season, with the exception of the past week. He has appeared in five games, was active but did not play in two other games and landed on the game-day inactive list for another two.
Lawrie has played primarily on special teams and in three-tight end sets. His activation could be tied to Anthony Becht's ankle. The Bucs, who have used multiple-tight end formations frequently this season, will carry four tight ends into Sunday's game, including Becht. If Becht can't play, rookie standout Alex Smith would start (Smith has already started six games along with Becht in two-tight end sets) and Lawrie and veteran Dave Moore would be candidates for the second tight end spot. Moore's primary role is as the team's long-snapper on punts and placekicks, but he played on offense last Sunday in Atlanta and has 201 games of NFL experience on which to draw.
As of Friday, the Buccaneers' starting safety duo hadn't changed from Sunday's game in Atlanta.
That's because both Will Allen and Dexter Jackson remain questionable on the injury report. Jackson has practiced all week; Allen has not. It's possible the Bucs could have their opening-day free safety starter back in action against the Bears, but the final decision probably won't come until the morning of game day.
"Well, he's had a pretty good week here," said Gruden of Jackson, who has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury. "He hasn't had any significant set-backs but he is questionable. So right now the safeties are [Kalvin] Pearson and Jermaine Phillips. Hopefully [Jackson] can go through the whole week with no set-backs and we'll see what happens."
Allen's lack of practice time makes him more of a question mark. The second-year safety who has opened seven games this season is recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of last Sunday's game in Atlanta.
Allen was the only one of the four players on the Bucs' injury report to not get involved in practice in some capacity on Friday. Tackle Anthony Davis (ankle), who saw limited work on Thursday, repeated that effort on Friday, while tight end (knee) got back on the field after sitting out the previous two days.
Gruden said that Davis, the team's starting left tackle, has shown progress this week but was not 100 percent recovered as of Friday. If Davis can't play, he would be replaced by veteran Todd Steussie.
Despite the varying degrees of recovery of the four players on the Bucs' injury report, it's probably going to come down to a game-time determination on all four.
"We'll just make that determination when the facts are all," said Gruden. "We'll reserve judgment until we know the finality of it all."
The Bears made an unusual adjustment to their official injury report on Thursday. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who at the beginning of the week had been given the designation of "out," was upgraded to questionable. He has a thumb injury. Because the "out" designation is defined to mean that there is effectively no chance a player will play in the upcoming game, it's rare, but not against the rules, for such a player to be upgraded.
On Friday, Berrian was further upgraded to probable. However, rookie wide receiver Airese Curry, who was just promoted from the practice squad this week, was added to the report as doubtful due to a hamstring injury.
The Bears also removed three players from their six-man injury list on Thursday. Cornerback Jerry Azumah (hip), guard Ruben Brown (chest) and center Olin Kreutz (elbow) all began the week as "probable" but are no longer on the list. Running back Cedric Benson (knee) remains out and quarterback Rex Grossman (ankle) is questionable.
A win over Chicago on Sunday would give the Bucs a "sweep" of the NFC North this season, following early-season victories over Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit.
That would be an enormous improvement over last season, when the Bucs' division, the NFC South, was pitted against all four teams from the NFC West and Tampa Bay went 1-3 in those games. It would also give the Bucs three inter-division sweeps of their primary conference foe in the four years of the new scheduling format.
In 2002, the South and North were also pitted against each other in a big round-robin tournament and the Bucs beat the Vikings, Packers, Lions and Bears during their second-half Super Bowl stretch drive. In 2003, the Bucs slipped to 7-9 but still won every game against the South's primary NFC division opponent, the East. The Bucs started that season with a win at Philadelphia and went on to conquer Dallas, Washington and the New York Giants.
Since leaving what used to be known as the NFC Central, the Bucs have dominated their old division mates, who now make up the North. In the four seasons under the new scheduling format, Tampa Bay has compiled an 8-1 record against Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. The only loss in that span was Green Bay's 20-13 victory in Tampa in 2003, a win that broke the Packers' 0-5 drought in Raymond James Stadium.