The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' deep run into the playoffs has opened up the possibility that its defense will get back one of its best players.
On Monday, the Buccaneers designed nose tackle Vita Vea for return from the injured reserve list. That means he can begin practicing with the team on Wednesday and could even be activated in time to play in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday in Green Bay. Even if Vea is not deemed ready for Sunday's game, he could possibly be available if the Buccaneers win in Green Bay and advance to the Super Bowl.
Vea has been on the injured reserve list since suffering an ankle fracture in the Buccaneers' Week Five game at Chicago. Players can return from that list after missing as few as three games, but Vea's injury was serious enough to wipe out the rest of his regular season. Now, he will begin a 21-day window in which he can practice with the team but will not count against the 53-man roster. He can be activated to the roster at any time.
The Buccaneers chose Vea with the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft and he was having a breakout season early in 2020 before his injury. In five games, he recorded 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and three quarterback hits. He was also a force in the Bucs' league-leading run defense and a frequent target of double-team blocks, which helped the outside pass rush.
In all, Vea has played in 34 games with 39 starts and contributed 73 tackels, 7.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss and three passes defensed. The Buccaneers also led the NFL in run defense in 2019 with Vea starting all 16 games at nose tackle.