TAMPA — This year's NFL rookie class has former Ohio State players making huge impacts all over the league, so Bucs DE Noah Spence has been reunited with many of his old Buckeyes teammates. Up next is Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, who is leading the league in rushing and has helped Dallas to an 11-2 record.
"He runs hard — he's an all-around back, a really good back," Spence said of Elliott, who has rushed for 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns. "He's one of my boys, but our whole team was really tight. He's a good dude."
Counting Spence, who finished his college career at Eastern Kentucky, there were 13 draft picks from Ohio State, many of them making big splashes as rookies. Just within their current five-game winning streak, the Bucs faced Chargers DE Joey Bosa, Saints S Vonn Bell and Seahawks TE Nick Vannett.
"It's crazy to realize we were all in the same locker room together," Spence said.
WELCOME BACK: Three of the four Bucs players who missed Sunday's game against the Saints with injuries were back at practice Wednesday, most notably S Chris Conte, who missed two games with a chest injury.
TE Luke Stocker, out two games with an ankle injury, was back in a limited capacity.
WR Adam Humphries and RT Demar Dotson remain in concussion protocol, but Humphries was a full participant in practice and appears closer to being cleared.
NEW ADDITION: The team hasn't had a true fullback on its roster this year, using tight ends (and occasionally defensive tackles) for blocking assignments in the backfield, but it added one Wednesday, signing former Saints FB Austin Johnson to the practice squad.
Johnson, 27, hasn't played in the league this season, but he spent most of the past two seasons with the Saints, getting 12 carries and seven catches, as well as seven special teams tackles. He has a fullback's size at 6 feet 2, 240 pounds and is eager for a chance to prove himself.
"It's a great opportunity," said Johnson, who will wear No. 46. "I've been sitting around for a little bit, longer than I was hoping, and Tampa was definitely high on my list when I had my workouts.
"I love the organization here, what they have going here and it seems everyone is buying in. It's a great atmosphere."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.