Massive tackle Vita Vea returned to practice for the first time in seven weeks Thursday, giving him a chance to make his NFL debut in Monday night’s matchup against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. But the team announced Saturday that Vea will remain sidelined for another week.
The Bucs will be thin in the middle of the defensive line because both Vea and fellow defensive tackle Beau Allen are out. Also out for the Bucs is cornerback Marcus Williams, while safety Chris Conte and cornerback Brent Grimes are questionable.
Despite Vea’s inability to practice while dealing with a calf injury, he lost 15 pounds and is closer to the playing weight the Buccaneers envisioned.
Still, the lengthy hiatus has Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter concerned about the conditioning level of Vea, who practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.
“When you’ve been out for seven weeks — conditioning indoors is different than playing football outdoors, when you’ve got bodies around your legs and everything,” Koetter told reporters Saturday morning. “There’s no lack of ‘want to’ or anything like that — we’ve gotta be reasonable with how much time we give him … we’ll see.”
The 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea was taken with the No. 12 overall pick by the Buccaneers in the 2018 NFL Draft. The plan was to pair him with six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on a revamped defensive line that added Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry this offseason.
However, Vea injured his calf early in training camp and had to be carted off the field on July 29. At the time, Koetter expressed optimism over the severity of the injury, calling it “better than we thought.”
Vea also was hurt at the NFL Scouting Combine, pulling a hamstring while running the 40-yard dash. Before he was injured, Vea lived up to the pre-Combine buzz as one of the most explosive players in the draft, registering a speedy 5.10 seconds in the 40-yard dash and benching 225 pounds 41 times.
The 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after recording 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season at the University of Washington, Vea helped lead the Huskies to the College Football Playoff in the 2016 campaign.