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The flip side of the Bucs' rash of injuries

LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times  Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Austin Johnson (46) is tackled by the Washington Redskins' Stefan McClure on a short catch during the first half of a preseason game between the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017.
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Austin Johnson (46) is tackled by the Washington Redskins' Stefan McClure on a short catch during the first half of a preseason game between the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017.
Published Dec. 21, 2017

TAMPA — David Rivers was wrapping Christmas presents in Miami for his baby niece when the Bucs gave him a surprise call Tuesday, offering him a roster spot.

Austin Johnson was home in North Carolina, planning to pick up his brothers at the airport so they could spend the week at his house. The Bucs called and changed his airport plans. He went to departures rather than arrivals.

When you're trying to get another look in the NFL and a team is scrambling to replace five players lost to season-ending injuries, holiday plans can change in a hurry.

"They asked me how quickly I can get to the airport, and I told them an hour," said Johnson, a fullback who was signed to the Bucs' practice squad. He also was on the squad last year, joining on Dec. 14.

"You have to pack up right away. Next thing you know, I'm back here playing ball again. It was an early Christmas present, I guess."

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The Bucs play the Panthers on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., an hour from Hickory, where Johnson's brothers are staying nearby with his parents.

"I said 'Merry Christmas, goodbye,' " Johnson said of his sudden exit. "I had presents, but I said we'd wait to pass out the gifts."

Veteran guard Adam Gettis, who hasn't played in a game this season as he recovered from a foot injury, had plans to fly Wednesday from New York to visit his grandmother in Washington, D.C., but instead took a flight to Tampa for a workout.

"It was crazy," said Gettis, who played in 13 games with the Redskins in 2013 but only four in the past four seasons. " 'Sorry! Gotta go!' (His grandmother) definitely understood. It all works out for the good."

If the Bucs' remaining offensive linemen stay healthy, Gettis will likely be inactive Sunday, but he'll get a game check of just over $40,000 to do so. If he looks good for two weeks, the Bucs will bring him back for a shot at a backup role next season.

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"You do the best with what you've got," Gettis said. "You learn on the fly. I've been doing it for a while now."

When receiver Devin Lucien joined the practice squad Wednesday, it was his fifth team in four months. Cut by the Patriots in September, he spent three days on the Colts' practice squad, then three weeks with the Chiefs and one with the Texans. Now, Christmas in Florida.

Rivers, a cornerback, is excited that he could make his NFL debut Sunday. He was cut by the Packers in June and the Jets in September, and has been released from the Bucs' practice squad twice this season. He had landed in his hometown, Miami, with a spot on the Dolphins' practice squad when the Bucs called.

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"It was real crazy," he said. "I was actually wrapping gifts when I got the (Bucs) call. I was getting stuff for my niece. This is her first Christmas. I just had to hurry up and wrap everything and get on the move."

Coach Dirk Koetter said credit is due to general manager Jason Licht and his staff, who hold workouts throughout the season to have a list of players on call for just such an emergency or five.

"It is a scramble, and definitely I can attest that they were working hard at it," Koetter said. "It comes with the territory at the end of the season. We just happened to have an abnormal number (of injured players)."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Up next

at Panthers, 1 p.m. Sunday, Charlotte, N.C.

TV/radio: Fox; 97.9-FM

Line: Panthers by 10; 461/2