The return of Ryan Jensen, atop the postseason wish list of most Bucs fans, is one transaction closer to reality.
The 2021 Pro Bowl center has been elevated from injured reserve to the active roster and is expected to make his season debut in tonight’s NFC wild-card game against the Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium.
To make room on the roster, the Bucs waived backup linebacker J.J. Russell.
“It was a big blow to us in training camp when he got injured and we thought he would be out the entire season...but it turns out he found his way back for this game,” quarterback Tom Brady said earlier today on his weekly “Let’s Go” podcast.
“And it’s a big boost for us because he’s got a great attitude and he’s an incredibly talented player and he adds a big presence to the middle of our offensive line.”
Jensen, who suffered a left-knee injury the second day of training camp, began his 21-day practice window on Dec. 28. He recently has been taking first-team reps at center, and appears in play to start.
Jensen’s return, even in a limited capacity, could buoy a patchwork offensive line hindered by injuries most of the season. Second-year center Robert Hainsey, who stepped into the starting role when Jensen went down, exited with a hamstring injury in last weekend’s regular season finale in Atlanta, but has practiced in a limited capacity this week and formally is listed as questionable.
Meantime, left guard Nick Leverett — a starter the last 10 games — is dealing with knee and shoulder issues, and didn’t practice Friday or Saturday. He’s listed as doubtful.
If Jensen starts at center and Leverett can’t go, beleaguered rookie Luke Goedeke — the season-opening starter at the position — is expected to replace him.
“I don’t know who’s going to ultimately play the bulk of the game, you know; obviously we hope Ryan can go the whole game,” Brady said. “Who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen. But you know, Hainsey is there ready to go too, so we’re in a good position at the center position, which has been a challenge for us all year.”
A nine-year veteran noted for his physicality and on-field snarl, Jensen quickly earned the trust of Brady upon the quarterback’s arrival to Tampa in March 2020, embracing Brady’s desire to keep footballs dry with towels and talcum powder.
When Brady announced his return for a third season in Tampa only 40 days after a hasty retirement announcement, Jensen was the first free agent re-signed by the Bucs — on a three-year, $39 million deal.
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Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.
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