NFC South Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. — Monday morning introduced maybe the most important harm information in a promising week of returns for the Bucs: Pro Bowl heart Ryan Jensen, out with a left knee harm since July, has been activated off injured reserve and can make his season debut for Tampa Bay in Monday’s wild-card sport in opposition to the Cowboys.
The Bucs count on to be as wholesome as they have been all season, every week after resting 9 gamers coping with harm or sickness with the hopes of getting them when it counted.
One lingering concern for Tampa Bay on the harm entrance has been on the inside offensive line, the place the highest 4 choices had been all restricted by harm in some type this previous week in apply. And for Tom Brady, doubtlessly taking part in within the closing sport in a 23-year NFL profession, the place is vitally related to his consolation degree throughout any sport.
“Very,” Brady stated Friday when requested concerning the significance of the place for him. “It’s a very important position. There’s a part of that that is very nice to know exactly what you’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s new and you’ve just got to deal [with it]. Every position deals with it. I think quarterback-center is naturally unique. … You’ve got to have a lot of people come through when guys get banged up and injured and knocked out. Hopefully we’ll see whoever’s ready to go out there and who can go out there and play well.”
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The Bucs misplaced Jensen within the second apply of coaching camp, and it solid a pall over a promising season, taking away the offensive line’s tone-setter, a veteran chief who has at all times been the primary to guard his quarterback, throughout and after a play. They received a Super Bowl with Jensen at heart within the 2020 season, and he earned his first Pro Bowl nod final season.
When Brady got here out of a quick retirement this spring, the Bucs’ subsequent motion was to convey again Jensen on a three-year, $39 million cope with two years assured. So when Brady noticed Jensen go down in apply, when he instantly realized the severity of the harm and its influence on the season, the quarterback went down on one knee for a second.
The Bucs have not shared the specifics of Jensen’s harm, however they made a cautious level to not place him on injured reserve till the day after closing cuts had been made, carrying him on their preliminary roster to depart open the potential for him returning sooner or later, late within the season. For 5 months, the reply was that there was solely a small probability that Jensen might return in any respect, and even then, it may be deep within the playoffs.
But three weeks in the past, the Bucs designated Jensen to return from injured reserve, opening a 21-day window that may enable him to apply with the workforce, testing his knee every day as he progressed towards a possible return. Now he is again on the roster, and the Bucs actually want him.
Robert Hainsey, a third-round decide in 2021 from Notre Dame, took over for Jensen and has dealt with the beginning job nicely, taking part in each offensive snap all season. But Hainsey tweaked his hamstring early in final week’s regular-season finale at Atlanta, a sport by which the Bucs didn’t play both beginning offensive sort out to provide them the very best probability of being wholesome for the playoffs.
Hainsey was changed within the sport by beginning left guard Nick Leverett, one other first-year starter who did not miss a snap within the closing 10 video games after taking up at left guard for rookie Luke Goedeke, who had struggled within the first two months of the season. Leverett performed each snap in opposition to the Falcons, however he hobbled off the sphere with knee and shoulder accidents, barely practiced this week and is listed as “doubtful” to play in opposition to the Cowboys. Even the fourth choice, John Molchon, who made his NFL debut at guard in opposition to the Falcons final week, was restricted by an ankle harm this week and is listed as questionable.
Tampa Bay is all of the sudden wholesome everywhere in the area — tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs will each play, serving to the Bucs higher deal with a pass-rush expertise like Dallas’ Micah Parsons. Defensive tackles Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks are each wholesome, and the Bucs are 6-1 this season when each play at the least 10 snaps, in comparison with 2-8 when both one fails to take action. In the secondary, they’re going to have their high three corners and high three safeties all wholesome and taking part in for the primary time since Week 4.
The lingering query remained at heart and left guard, a limiting issue within the Bucs’ offensive success all season. Tampa Bay has had the league’s worst run sport within the league, and whereas the workforce hasn’t given up many sacks, that is extra a perform of Brady adjusting his inside clock and eliminating the ball extraordinarily shortly with a watch on self-preservation. For the 45-year-old quarterback, that is confirmed sensible, as three playoff groups this weekend had their No. 3 QB on the sphere, two of them eradicated that manner. The Bucs have not had the identical downfield passing menace that was a central a part of their averaging 30 factors a sport within the earlier two seasons, however their quarterback survived to make it to the playoffs for a 14th consecutive season.
For Bucs followers, that chance has been a motivating supply of optimism and confidence for 5 months — simply get within the playoffs, hold successful, and maybe Tom Brady will get his Pro Bowl heart again. It has the identical feeling as in 2020, when Vea was misplaced to a fractured decrease leg in October and was gone for 3 months earlier than returning within the NFC Championship Game, serving to the Bucs to their second-ever championship.
“They’re all sore — we’ll see,” Bowles stated of his unsure facilities and guards Saturday morning. “They’ve got two-and-a-half more days to go. We’ll give it time. We’ve got to make the decision probably [on] the day of the game. … It’s still too early. We’ll make those decisions as we go, probably on Monday.”
When Vea got here again two years in the past, he had been gone for 108 days. For Jensen, Monday’s sport falls 172 days after his harm, almost a half-year of affected person restoration and rehabilitation with the aim of serving to his workforce this season. Now, he’ll get to do this in a house playoff sport, with every thing on the road.
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, masking the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his tenth season masking the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having hung out on the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can comply with him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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