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Bucs place Jaelon Darden, Rakeem Nunez-Roches on reserve/COVID-19 list

Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette are done for the regular season after going on injured reserve.
The Bucs' Jaelon Darden (1) attempts to break free from New Orleans' Dwayne Washington (24) during Sunday's loss to the Saints in Tampa.
The Bucs' Jaelon Darden (1) attempts to break free from New Orleans' Dwayne Washington (24) during Sunday's loss to the Saints in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 23, 2021|Updated Dec. 23, 2021

TAMPA ― Injuries have taken a bite out of the Bucs, and now it’s illness.

Wide receiver/kick returner Jaelon Darden and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Thursday.

As expected, the Bucs also placed running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) and linebacker Lavonte David (foot) on injured reserve, meaning they’re done for the regular season.

That gives the Bucs three players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including receiver Breshad Perriman, who missed last week’s game against the Saints and has not been cleared to play Sunday against the Panthers.

With Darden out, even more responsibility could fall to receiver Scotty Miller. Or the Bucs could elevate running back/kick returner Kenjon Barner or receiver Cyril Grayson, who are protected this week on the practice squad.

Tampa Bay also will be without receivers Chris Godwin (ACL) and Mike Evans (hamstring).

The Bucs likely will need to elevate a defensive lineman with Nunez-Roches and Patrick O’Connor (knee) out.

Pro Bowl offensive linemen take a bow

Tackle Tristan Wirfs was nervous before his first game as a rookie last season before veteran backup Josh Wells found the right words.

“Before every game, Josh comes up to me and says, ‘I love you and I’m proud of you,’” Wirfs said. “I remember hearing that before the first game last year. I had anxiety, I was nervous. I was ready to go, and hearing that kind of calmed me down and he says that before every game and it means the world to me.

“I know those guys look out for me, and it’s awesome.”

Their bond grew even tighter Wednesday, when Wirfs and two of his offensive linemates — guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen — were named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Guard Alex Cappa is an alternate.

It was the first time the Bucs have had three offensive linemen chosen for the Pro Bowl. Each is a first-time selection.

“It’s pretty cool, getting to go with your teammates, especially guys you play next to every game,” Wirfs said. “That was awesome. I know how much it means to those two guys. ...They’re two just absolute dogs, those two guys. Getting into the Pro Bowl with them is awesome.”

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Marpet played for Hobart College, a Division III school in New York. Jensen went to Div. II Colorado State-Pueblo.

“It’s amazing,’’ Jensen said. “Nine years in the league and coming from a Division II school. Getting that recognition, it’s huge. It’s humbling. It’s an honor, to be honest. I don’t want to say I was shocked, but I got a little emotional when I found out. It’s something that as a player you work toward wanting to be revered as one of the best players in the league, and that’s another step in that direction.”

Le’Veon Bell has a big day

The Bucs brought in Le’Veon Bell to provide depth at running back. He had only a walk-through practice Wednesday but was able to do more Thursday, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich liked what he saw.

“(Thursday) was the first day we really got movement out of him,” Leftwch said. “So I’ll watch the film, have a conversation with him. (Whether he plays Sunday) is still up in the air right now, but he does have his hand in the pile.

“I know he’s willing to help. He’s a smart guy. I know people who have coached him. I know people who have been in the room with him speak highly of him. Just being around him the last 24-48 hours, I know he’s a sharp guy.”

Running backs coach Todd McNair said Bell impressed him on Thursday.

“If he has his legs under him, I don’t think it will be too long before he’s out there,” McNair said.

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLSTROUD.

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