Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle Returns to Practice

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have their biggest defensive star available when they take the field on Monday Night Football's crucial showdown against the New Orleans Saints. Defensive tackle Vita Vea returned to practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday's session with a foot injury. Vea returned from the Bucs' Week 11 bye feeling soreness in his foot, but it has yet to cost him playing time. He has, however, missed three practices in two weeks, and the Bucs allowed 189 rushing yards on 34 attempts against the Cleveland Browns in Week 12's crushing 23-17 overtime loss.

Vea is a key cog in what has been a wildly inconsistent run defense for the Bucs this year. One game before being hammered by the Browns, the Bucs allowed an amazing 39 rushing yards on 14 attempts to the Seattle Seahawks. But two weeks before that, the Bucs allowed an embarrassing 231 rushing yards to the Baltimore Ravens. The Bucs never allowed more than 92.5 rushing yards per game in any of Vea's three previous seasons.

Vea initially joined the Bucs as their 12th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He became the fulcrum of an incredible Bucs' run defense from 2019 to 2021, earning a massive four-year, $71 million extension last year. This season, he has added a penetrating component to his game, totalling career-highs with 6.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss through 11 games. It's possible that upfield attack has come at the expense of the Bucs' run defense: Pro Football Focus has given him a career-low overall grade of 59.4 for his efforts this year.
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