- With all three tight ends experiencing injuries on Sunday, the team added two more to the active roster Tuesday
- Newcomer D.J. Williams played two seasons for the Packers and has also seen time in Jacksonville and New England
- The Bucs will have a new return man this week after waiving WR Marcus Thigpen
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a full slate of roster moves – eight of them in all – before starting their week of practice on Tuesday. Five of those eight moves involved the tight end position, a clear indication that the team is at least uncertain of the status of the first three players at that position.
Tight ends Brandon Myers (calf), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) and Luke Stocker (hip) all missed time due to injury during Sunday's game in Chicago. In addition, fullback Jorvorskie Lane is done for the year due to a leg injury, further complicating matters in the Buccaneers' running game.
In addition, the Buccaneers waived wide receiver Marcus Thigpen, which means that there will be a change at the punt and kickoff return spots. Thigpen is the third player the Buccaneers have tried as their primary return man this season, following undrafted rookie Solomon Patton and former Denver Broncos standout Trindon Holliday.
Here's a run-down of the Buccaneers' roster moves over the last two days:
- Placed FB Jorvorskie Lane on injured reserve.
- Waived WR Marcus Thigpen.
- Promoted TE Cameron Brate from the practice squad to the active roster.
- Signed free agent TE D.J. Williams to the active roster.
- Released TE Ted Bolser from the practice squad.
- Released CB Quinton Pointer from the practice squad.
- Re-signed LB Denicos Allen to the practice squad.
- Re-signed TE Taylor Sloat to the practice squad.
- Signed FB/TE Evan Rodriguez to the practice squad. The Buccaneers will thus start practice on Tuesday with seven tight ends between the active roster and the practice squad. Brate and Williams give the Bucs immediate insurance on the 53-man roster if any of the team's incumbent tight ends are unable to play against Cincinnati on Sunday.
Myers had his lower leg in a protective boot on Monday after hurting his calf while running a route on Sunday. However, the boot was off on Tuesday and Myers said he felt a lot better. The same was true for Seferian-Jenkins whose back tightened up on him during the game.
"No one wants to go out here and say they're going to keep getting hurt or they enjoy getting injured, but everybody's playing injured," said Seferian-Jenkins. "I'm not the only one playing injured and I don't think it's worth really talking about. We're doing our best to be the best we can. Yeah, it's frustrating when you have a few injuries but what can you do? That's football. Play through them and get better."
The Buccaneers gained just 66 yards on 22 carries against the Bears and Head Coach Lovie Smith conceded on Monday that the injuries to all of his lead blockers played a role in those struggles. Seferian-Jenkins echoed that thought on Tuesday.
"We're trying to get the run going, and it's important to not only the tight ends but the tackles, guards, centers," he said. "We're all equally important and when one of those cogs gets out of sorts and it's not there, it's tough to get it fully functioning and doing what we want it to do."
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers return game had another unproductive – and nearly disastrous – outing in Chicago. Thigpen gained 12 yards on two punt returns, with four fair catches, and was fortunate to recover the ball he let slip through his hands in the first quarter. He also returned three kickoffs for 42 yards, an average of 14.0 yards per attempt, as the Buccaneers had an average kickoff drive start of their own 18.
Rookie TE Cameron Brate played with the Bucs during the preseason after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard
Tuesday's moves left the roster back at capacity, and none of the additions are options in the return game, so it seems likely that the team will find its next solution for that phase of the game on the current roster. The removal of Thigpen leaves Bobby Rainey as the first man listed on the depth chart at punt return and the second man at kickoff return behind Mike James, who was inactive for Sunday's game.
Rainey could indeed be the first option. The Buccaneers gave him extensive work catching punts during training camp – a much more difficult job than fielding kickoffs – and then tried him out in that role during the preseason. Rainey ran three punts back for 30 yards, with two fair catches, and took one kickoff back 19 yards. James also had two kickoff returns for 37 yards during the preseason; all the other punt and kickoff runbacks were handled by players who are no longer with the team.
The 6-2, 245-pound Williams was a fifth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2011. He played his first two seasons in Green Bay, getting into 26 games with two starts and catching nine passes for 70 yards. Williams then split the 2013 season between Jacksonville and New England, playing in a total of nine games but without any additional receptions. He went to training camp with the Patriots again this summer. He received the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end during his final year at Arkansas in 2010 after catching 54 passes for 627 yards and four touchdowns.
Brate (6-5, 235) gets his promotion after spending the first three months of the campaign on the Bucs' practice squad. He was, in fact, the only player who was on that ever-fluid crew for each of the first 12 weeks of the season. He played his college ball at Harvard and then signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in May. Both Allen and Sloat are returning to Tampa Bay's practice squad after brief stints with the team earlier in the fall.
The Chicago Bears drafted the 6-2, 239-pound Rodriguez in the fourth round in 2012, Lovie Smith's final year as the team's head coach. Rodriguez has since played for Chicago in 2012 and the Buffalo Bills in 2013, seeing action in 19 games with five starts and four receptions for 21 yards.
Rodriguez (6-2, 239) originally entered the league as a fourth-round draft selection (111th overall) by the Chicago Bears in 2012. After spending the 2012 season with the Bears, Rodriguez played for Buffalo in 2013 and spent this offseason and preseason with the Bills. In his three-year career, the Temple product has played in 19 games with five starts, catching four passes for 21 yards.