- RB Jeff Demps and WR Solomon Patton, two of the more unexpected cuts on Saturday, are returning on the practice squad
- New practice squad eligibility rules also allow the Bucs to bring back QB Mike Kafka
- Undrafted rookie TE Cameron Brate, a Harvard product, can use the practice squad to get his foot in the NFL door
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew their final cuts on Saturday would be difficult. Fortunately, they didn't have to completely cut ties with some of the talented players who just missed making the 53-man roster.
The Buccaneers began forming the first iteration of their 2014 practice squad on Sunday by bringing back six players they had waived the day before, including the two cuts that had been met with the most surprise: running back Jeff Demps and wide receiver Solomon Patton.
Tampa Bay also re-signed tight end Cameron Brate, quarterback Mike Kafka, linebacker Brandon Magee and defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo. That still leaves four open spots on the newly-expanded practice squad, which will likely be filled by players from other clubs that piqued the Bucs' interest on the waiver wire.
The NFL recently announced two rule changes regarding practice squads, one that expanded it to 10 players and another that allowed for the addition of more experienced free agents. Two of the 10 practice squad spots may be devoted to players with as much as two years of accrued free agency credit. Hypothetically, a player could appear in as many as 32 regular-season games over a two-year period and still maintain his practice-squad eligibility.
That came into play for Kafka, the only one of the Bucs' signees so far who would have been ineligible for the practice squad under the old rules. The new practice squad rule dovetails quite nicely with the 2011 change that eliminated the "inactive third QB" option on game days, which has led to many teams carrying two quarterbacks on the active roster instead of three. Those teams usually keep a third quarterback on the practice squad, and the new eligibility rules allow for more players like Kafka to fill that role.
Undrafted rookie WR Solomon Patton was waived on Saturday but the Bucs were quick to re-sign him to their practice squad on Sunday
Of course, it is Demps and Patton who will draw the most attention in this group. Demps, the former Olympic-medalist speedster, spent training camp and the preseason trying to demonstrate that he could play running back in the NFL, and his chances seemed to get a boost when rookie running back Charles Sims suffered an ankle injury. Patton did well enough with his preseason opportunities to climb the depth chart at both the punt and kickoff return positions before his release.
It is worth noting that early-season practice squad spots quite often turn into opportunities on the active roster before the season is through. Last year, five players started out on the Bucs' practice squad before getting a promotion, including wide receiver Chris Owusu, who made the 53-man roster to start the 2014 campaign.
Brate, the undrafted rookie tight end out of Harvard, is another interesting roster candidate in this regard. The Buccaneers kept the expected three after the trade of Tim Wright – Brandon Myers, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Luke Stocker – but recent experience has demonstrated that one often needs more than three tight ends to get through the season.
The practice squad tends to have a fluid roster throughout the season, and the expansion from eight players to 10 should only increase the number of opportunities for young players. The Bucs, in fact, still need to populate 40% of their first practice squad, but they got the process started on Sunday by holding on to some of the players who very nearly made the team.