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Could Ryan Jensen return from injury as Vita Vea did during Bucs’ Super Bowl run?

The team likely won’t put the center on injured reserve until after the cutdown to 53 players so that he is eligible to return sometime during the season.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen sustained a significant knee injury only a couple of days into training camp. He has been undergoing more testing to determine the path forward.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen sustained a significant knee injury only a couple of days into training camp. He has been undergoing more testing to determine the path forward. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Aug. 5|Updated Aug. 5

TAMPA — Center Ryan Jensen sustained a significant knee injury only a couple of days into training camp, but the Bucs have had no updates on his condition.

Even so, they fear it could be season-ending.

Jensen was said to have been undergoing more testing to determine the path forward. The best-case scenario would be if he could return sometime in late November or December.

In the meantime, the Bucs will take advantage of more than a month before the Sept. 11 opener at Dallas to determine who will replace him. Robert Hainsey, the Bucs’ third-round pick from Notre Dame in 2021, has been taking most of the reps with the first-team offense. He is battling Nick Leverett for the starting job.

Regardless, the Bucs don’t plan to make a roster move with Jensen before final cutdowns.

That’s because if he is not on the final 53-man roster and a move is made to put him on injured reserve beforehand, he will be lost for the year. By keeping him on the roster for at least one day after the cutdown to 53, the Bucs could then move him to injured reserve and have him eligible to return.

Best-case scenario may be that Jensen is this year’s version of Vita Vea. During the 2020 season, Vea sustained a broken leg in a loss at Chicago in October. Because he began the season on the active roster, he was eligible to return from injured reserve.

Although not 100 percent, Vea was activated for the win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. He played only 33 snaps, almost exclusively on passing downs, but ate up enough double teams to allow Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul to combine for five sacks of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Who knows what condition the Bucs’ offense line will be in later this season, but they are keeping their options open with Jensen for now.

Don’t expect to see Brady at Raymond James for awhile

Quarterback Tom Brady won’t play in the first preseason game against Miami, the only one of the three at Raymond James Stadium. The others will be at Tennessee (Aug. 20) and Indianapolis (Aug. 27).

Because the Bucs have joint practices with the Dolphins and Titans prior to those games, Brady and the starters will get the bulk of those reps in a controlled scrimmage with minimal risk of injury.

If Brady doesn’t play against the Dolphins, it stands to reason he will sit out at Tennessee, and there’s no reason to play him in the final preseason game.

Regardless, the Bucs open the regular season at Dallas and New Orleans. So, the earliest Bucs fans will see Brady playing at Raymond James Stadium will be Sept. 25 against the Packers.

“There will be a lot of starters that won’t play in that game (against the Dolphins),” head coach Todd Bowles said. “They’ll get plenty of work in practice, though. The two practices we’ll get to, we’ll play similar to a game for those guys. We want to see some of the younger guys play ... and try to build our depth a little bit and go from there.”

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It’s not unusual for Brady to miss the preseason opener. He missed his final four with the Patriots. He had a brief stint during the first of three exhibition games last year. Overall, this will be the ninth time in 23 seasons he sits out the first exhibition game.

Expect more Brate

Cameron Brate is the longest-tenured player in the Bucs’ tight end room. The retirement of Rob Gronkowski diminished the position, even with the addition of Giants and Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was merely the best player available at his position.

Rudolph is a good in-line blocker, but whatever speed he had is no longer there at age 32. Rookies Cade Otton and Ko Kieft are progressing but still learning the offense and making a big transition to the speed and strength of the NFL.

For the past two seasons with Gronkowski on the roster, Brate averaged 35 percent of the offensive snaps.

“For me, I think that’s a little bit harder of a role — when you’re not playing all the time and you’re kind of just thrown out there on third down and got to beat man coverage and stuff,” Brate said. “After having that experience, now where I’ll probably be used more a little bit on early downs, I love that — kind of get into the rhythm of the game. Excited for that challenge and looking forward to it.”

Otton has received raves for his football IQ, which makes sense since his grandfather and father were both high school coaches. But he needs to get a little stronger, having missed much of the offseason recovering from ankle surgery.

Brate finds himself in the role as mentor with Gronkowski’s retirement.

“Just being around him, trying to soak up as much as I could from his game, it was awesome, and we’ll definitely miss him this year,” Brate said, “But I’ll try to teach some of these young guys some of the stuff I’ve picked up from him.”

Praise for McCollum

The Bucs were bitten hard by the injury bug in the secondary last season, and they’ve tried to rectify that. Signing free-agent safeties Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal. Dee Delaney will provide some depth at the cornerback position.

But the Bucs have had nothing but praise for cornerback Zyon McCollum, their fifth-round pick from Sam Houston.

McCollum was the most athletic player at the NFL combine with a 4.33 40-yard dash. Although still learning the defense, he has moved up quickly to the second unit and drawn praise from coaches and teammates.

“Zyon is a great fit for our defense,” cornerback Carlton Davis said. “He’s learning, but he came in really advanced, even from the college he came from. He’s a rookie that’s working his way up, working his way up the ranks, and he’s going to have a bright future.”

Cornerback Jamel Dean had a similar evaluation: “He’s looked pretty good. He came in strong and is having a great camp right now. So, I’m just looking forward to see what he can do in the season.”

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