Bucs wide receiver Russell Gage practiced on Monday, November 21, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. It looked promising Gage could play for the first time since Week 7, but things turned doubtful again on Wednesday, November 23. He sat out the team’s practice due to a hamstring injury, but he ran drills on the side, per Pewter Report.
“He’s getting better. He looks better. We’ll see how it goes,” Bucs head coach Todd Bowles told reporters on Wednesday.
Gage missed the past three games due to injury. He has 29 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown this season.
Vita Vea the Biggest Concern Amid Latest Bucs Injuries
Defensive lineman Vita Vea sat out of practice on Wednesday, November 23, due to a foot injury, which could leave the Bucs thin up front against the Cleveland Browns. Bowles didn’t express confidence about Vea being healthy for the November 27 game.
“We’ll see how it goes during the week,” Bowles told reporters on Wednesday.
The Bucs could ill afford to not have Vea against the Browns, the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL. Known as a big run stopper, Vea has 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 26 tackles.
Tampa Bay’s rush defense took its lumps during a 2-5 stretch, and the unit has allowed 4.5 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns so far this season. The Bucs successfully keyed in on Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III amid a 21-16 Week 10 win, but Cleveland poses a different challenge. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both log significant carries and yards, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett is a running threat, too.
“It’s going to be tough, you know? They’ve got two good runners, they’ve got a great offensive line, their tight ends and receivers block as well,” Bowles said. “They’ve been in the top five the last couple of years and it’s going to be a challenge for our guys — gap control, understanding where we’ve got to be.”
“But when you do that, they have play action passes and throw the ball — they have a great screen game [and] they’ve got some good receivers outside. All the way around, we’re going to have to be disciplined,” Bowles added.
The Bucs made due without Vea for a long stretch during the 2020 Super Bowl run, but that took multiple players filling in for him. Bucs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, one of the players who filled in for Vea, could see more snaps in Week 12 if needed.
4 Injured Bucs Players Practiced on Wednesday
Besides Gage and Vea, all other Bucs players on Wednesday’s injury report practiced in at least limited capacity. Running back Leonard Fournette (hip) and guard Luke Goedeke (foot) were limited at practice. Rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum (concussion) practiced in full capacity as did linebacker J.J. Russell (hamstring).
How soon Fournette carries the ball again remains unknown. He injured his hip in the Week 10 win against Seattle.
“He’s pretty sore — we’ll see how the week goes. If he progresses and gets better to where he can run full speed, then he’ll play — if not, then he won’t,” Bowles said.
Similarly for Goedeke, Bowles didn’t say if Goedeke could get his starting job back or rotate in. The Bucs offense notably picked up steam since Goedeke’s injury with Nick Leverett filling in at guard.
“Well this is Luke [Goedeke]’s first day, he’s got to get acclimated,” Bowles said. “It’s his first day in pads so we’ll see as time goes by. Right now, we’re planning on starting [Nick] Leverett — Luke isn’t ready right now, it’s his first day back in pads.”
Ryan Jensen’s Absence Lingers for Bucs
Despite no crutches, Bucs Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen doesn’t appear ready to return from injury anytime soon. Bowles expects it to continue that way.
“They haven’t told me anything right now. We’re going without him — we expect to go without him,” Bowles said. “If he gets better somehow then we’ll welcome him back, but right now we’re going with everybody we’ve got.”
Jensen went down with a knee injury during training camp.