TAMPA — The chances of Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea playing Sunday in Cleveland appeared to improve late Friday morning, when the 347-pound Pro Bowler made his first practice appearance of the week.
Vea, absent the previous two days, has been nursing a mysterious foot injury evidently sustained during the bye week. Coach Todd Bowles indicated after practice that Vea could be a game-time decision.
He formally is listed as questionable for Sunday.
“He’s getting better and better,” Bowles said. “Hopefully with a few more days’ rest, we’ll look for him on Sunday to work out and see what he can do.”
Elsewhere, tailback Leonard Fournette, who sustained a hip pointer in the Nov. 13 triumph against the Seahawks in Germany, practiced for the third day in a row, but formally is listed as doubtful.
Veteran tailback Giovani Bernard, who began his 21-day practice window earlier this week and is eligible to return from injured reserve at any time in that span, is in play for Sunday as a possible backup to Rachaad White if Fournette can’t go. Receiver Russell Gage (hamstring) and left guard Luke Goedeke (foot) are out for Cleveland, Bowles said.
“(Fournette) did some things running around,” Bowles added. “I’ve got to see a little bit more though before I’m satisfied.”
Bowles said he is uncertain exactly when or how Vea injured his foot, but is only confident it didn’t occur in the Germany game. He possessed no limp as he walked onto the practice field Friday.
“I think he hurt himself when he got back here,” Bowles said. “I don’t think it was Munich, I think it was a freak thing that came up. He woke up one day and it was hurting.”
The Bucs have won their last two games since veteran tackle Akiem Hicks has returned to the lineup (from an extensive foot injury) to complement Vea on the interior. Having both available for Sunday will be critical against a Browns offense that ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing (150.9 yards per game).
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