TAMPA — Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea left Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, the latest in a wave of physical ailments that could affect the team’s starting defensive unit when Tampa Bay plays its preseason opener on Friday in Pittsburgh.
Vea was injured while participating in 1-on-1 blocking drills in the early part of Tuesday’s practice. Team trainers attended to him and he walked off the practice fields under his own power but did not return.
“I haven’t seen him since so I don’t know,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said when asked about Vea following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll check on him and we’ll see what the report is tomorrow. ... I just saw him walking in and he looked fine.”
Asked separately how he was doing at this point in camp, Arians deadpanned, “I’ll be better when I know what’s wrong with Vita.”
Video posted by WDAE’s Len Martez showed Vea getting locked up with right guard Alex Cappa and awkwardly falling to the ground. He appears to hold his left knee while on the ground.
If Vea misses any significant time, it would be the second straight training camp in which injuries have set him back. Last year as a rookie, he suffered a calf strain during the first training camp practice in full pads, an injury that cost him all four preseason games and delayed his debut until Week 4 of the regular season.
At that point, the Bucs didn’t believe the injury was serious, but Vea ended up missing eight weeks.
If Vea can’t play Friday night against the Steelers, the Bucs will be without several defensive starters, including outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who hasn’t returned from an offseason neck injury suffered in a car accident, and inside linebacker Lavonte David, who had arthroscopic surgery on Sunday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Vea was having a strong training camp, pairing with free-agent signing Ndamukong Suh to provide impressive interior pressure in the Bucs’ new 3-4 defensive alignment.
Rookie safety Mike Edwards — currently a projected starter at one safety position — was added to the list of injured defensive players, sitting out Tuesday’s practice. Reserve safety D’Cota Dixon also missed his first practice, as did outside linebacker Anthony Nelson and rookie cornerback Jamel Dean missed his third straight practice with a hip flexor.
Arians said he was holding out hope that “two or three” players in that group could play on Friday, saying that they were mostly dealing with “muscle injuries.”
Winston returns to Heinz Field
When the Bucs open their preseason slate against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston will return to a place where he had one of his best games as a football player.
In his first collegiate game at Florida State in 2013, Winston threw four 356 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on 25-for-27 passing in a 41-13 Seminoles win over Pitt.
How good was that performance? Since 2013, no other college quarterback has matched the 252.2 passer-efficiency rating Winston posted that day in a game with 25 or more pass attempts.
"I've got some good memories at Heinz Field," Winston said with a smile.
Earlier this season, new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich — who was a backup quarterback with the Steelers then — said he attended that game at Heinz Field and remember how Winston’s debut stood out.
"I won’t say who was around the table, but we were talking about Jameis back then," Leftwich said in January. "We were talking about how for a kid to be able to come in and do what he did in his first game, I remember it like it was yesterday."
The Bucs hosted the Steelers in Week 3 of last season, but Winston wasn’t there, serving out his three-game suspension.
“It’s just going to be fun playing against a team with a different color jersey than you,” Winston said. “The competition really amps up. I know a lot of people don’t get really hyped about a preseason game, but I get hyped about games, period.”
— Other players who sat out Tuesday’s practice due to injury were rookie Scotty Miller (hamstring), running back Bruce Anderson (Achilles tendinitis), offensive lineman Mike Liedke and wide receiver K.J. Brent
— Arians was pleased with the play of the receivers over the past two practices. “We went through that little stretch of drops and they all realized that’s not how you make the team and they’ve corrected it,” Arians said.
-- Arians said he hopes to see more from his defensive depth Friday than he saw in Tuesday’s practice. “The guys who are going to play in this game, they need to pick it up. We talk about exposure or getting exposed. And the twos and threes, they’re either going to get exposure or they’re going to be exposed, because they got exposed, some of them in practice today.”
Quote of the Day
"RoJo has always had that swag. That's just kids these days."
— Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, 25, on the outward confidence displayed by second-year running back Ronald Jones, who is just three years younger than Winston.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.