PITTSBURGH — Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea won’t need knee surgery, but for the second year in a row, he could miss three to four weeks of the regular season.
Vea had another MRI Friday that revealed he has an injury to his left collateral cruciate ligament. While he’s not expected to play in the preseason, the Bucs haven’t ruled him out for the regular-season opener against the 49ers on Sept. 8.
A more likely scenario is that he returns within the first month, much like he did a year ago when he sustained a calf injury on the first day in pads during training camp.
Vea was injured during a one-on-one blocking drill with guard Alex Cappa on Tuesday. He grabbed his left knee but managed to walk off the field under his own power.
While the Bucs breathed a sigh of relief that injury wasn’t season-ending, it delays their plan to pair him at defensive tackle with veteran Ndamukong Suh.
The Bucs already are without outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who hasn’t returned from an offseason neck injury sustained in a car accident. Inside linebacker Lavonte David had arthroscopic surgery on Sunday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee and will not play at least during the preseason. Safety Justin Evans is on the physically unable to perform list with foot and toe injuries.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Vea is expected to return within the first four weeks of the regular season.
But missing all of the preseason and possibly several more weeks won’t be good for the Bucs or Vea. He started slowly after returning from his calf injury and conditioning will be a problem without game reps.
Short passes and a missed bomb show patience for Winston
The big emphasis for Jameis Winston this season is on decision-making and he exercised patience during the Bucs’ touchdown drive to start Friday night’s 30-28 preseason loss in Pittsburgh.
Winston went 4-of-5 for 29 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin on the first drive. Willing to take what the defense gave him, Winston did not have a pass over 11 yards on the drive.
His only miss was a deep shot too long for Breshad Perriman.
Winston also ran 10 yards for a first down.
For a quarterback who is trying to do a better job protecting the football, it was a solid sign of improvement.
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RoJo’s night was bright
Friday night was a great start for running back Ronald Jones, who is trying to redeem himself for a disastrous rookie season.
The first surprise was that Jones returned the opening kickoff. He only brought it back 19 yards from the goal line, but utilizing that speed on special teams is an interesting prospect.
Jones entered the game on offense about midway through the first drive and immediately caught a screen pass from Winston for 5 yards. He followed that with an inside run for 7 yards then found a big hole on the right side for 6 yards.
First things first
Outside linebacker Carl Nassib had the first sack of the preseason for the Bucs, a 16-yarder of Joshua Dobbs in which the Steelers were called for a holding penalty that was declined. … Cairo Santos started the game and made the first kick of the preseason, an extra point after Godwin’s TD. Rookie Matt Gay ended the first half with a 55-yard field goal to get the Bucs within 13-10. … M.J. Stewart yielded the first TD pass, a 8-yarder to James Washington from Mason Rudolph with 1:56 remaining in the first half.