-The Buccaneers made the signing of veteran Le'Veon Bell official on Wednesday and while he's new to the Bucs, he's not entirely new to the offense he'll be playing in. Though Head Coach Bruce Arians was no longer in Pittsburgh (he was with the Steelers' from 2004 to 2011 and was their offensive coordinator from 2007-2011) when Bell arrived, there were still certain continuities carried over in the offense while Bell was there. Bell even said on Wednesday that some of the verbiage is the same and that he's picking things up quickly. We'll see if that translates into instant playing time as Tampa Bay plays the waiting game to see how bad running back Leonard Fournette's hamstring injury ends up being.
"Depends on how fast he can catch up," Arians said of Bell. "He's been a good receiver in the past and played in this offense in Pittsburgh for a while. We'll see what he can learn and what he can give us in the next few weeks."
Bell will be crucial in keeping up the Bucs' momentum in the run game going – momentum they've spent all season building. Quarterback Tom Brady has gotten used to relying on a pass-catching back thanks to Fournette becoming one of the best dual-threat backs in the league this season. Bell offers the opportunity to maintain the current offense.
"It's huge," said center Ryan Jensen of Bell's signing. "Le'Veon – I watched him when I played in Baltimore for a lot of years and went against him a lot. I feel like he really fits our offensive scheme when it comes to the run game. A lot of the stuff he did really well in Pittsburgh is the same concepts of run that we do here, so I'm excited to see what he can do for us."
Helping the line in pass blocking comes with the whole pass catching thing for running backs. That's what separates every-down backs from those with third-down roles. With Giovani Bernard still on injured reserve and both Ronald Jones and Ke'Shawn Vaughn limited in their third-down and pass-catching snaps, the question is now if Bell can step in right away.
"Yeah, I think so," Bell said. "Just making sure, one for protections, making sure Tom [Brady] is protected and he's comfortable with that and confident that I can protect him. Then obviously confident in [me] catching the ball and making sure I'm in the right spots for my checkdowns. I think the more I learn and [by] making sure I'm always in the right spots – the more confident he is going to be in giving me the rock."
-Fournette isn't the only starter that suffered a significant injury on Sunday. News came this week that wide receiver Chris Godwin tore his ACL and that his season was over. With Mike Evans also dealing with an injured hamstring, the depth of the receiver corps is about to be tested. The team does get Antonio Brown back from suspension this week and could get Breshad Perriman off the COVID-19/Reserve list before Sunday but another receiver who will undoubtedly have to step up is second-year player Tyler Johnson.
Johnson is a formidable slot threat, coming out of Minnesota in 2020 as the school's leading receiver. His skillset is akin to that of Godwin's in that he can line up all over the field and the good news is, he's been watching Godwin do it for the better part of two years. It's safe to say Godwin has rubbed off on him in myriad ways.
"Just the way Chris comes off the ball," Johnson said of what he's learned from Godwin. "He can create separation and he attacks the ball. Those are the small things in his game that I've paid close attention to. Chris is a great player. I'm praying for him [to have] a speedy and healthy recovery."
-And while the offense deals with injury, the defense seems to be getting some players back. Though Lavonte David seemingly suffered a significant injury last Sunday, the team said it was too early to tell whether or not he'll need to go on injured reserve. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. missed practice again on Wednesday so his return this weekend is probably in doubt. But, the good news is that safety Mike Edwards will be returning, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Richard Sherman both practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday and safety Jordan Whitehead seems good to go after returning last Sunday against the Saints. And more continuity means more stability and more comfortability for the defense down the stretch.
"Absolutely, our secondary to line to linebackers – we've definitely improved throughout the season," said inside linebacker Kevin Minter, who will be filling in during David's absence. "We just have to keep climbing. I know it's been a long season, but like you said, we are jelling and that's what it's about this time of year – December football – starting to put your foot on the gas and get ready for these playoffs. We just have to keep going. Like I said, keep climbing."
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