Tampa Bay’s secondary, which has had to test its depth significantly throughout the 2012 season, could be getting reinforcements soon.
Second-year CB Anthony Gaitor, who has been on injured reserve for the past six weeks due to a hamstring ailment, will begin practicing with the team on Wednesday and could return to game action as soon as Week 14.
Gaitor is the first Buccaneer to make use of the new “injured reserve/designated for return” option instituted by the NFL in 2012. In previous years, since the early 1990s, being placed on injured reserve ended a player’s season. That is still the case for the vast majority of players who land on I.R., but now each team is given the option of using the “designated for return” option on one player per season. They must designate a player as such at the time they put him on injured reserve, and then he cannot return to action until at least eight games have passed.
Because he has only been on I.R. for six weeks, Gaitor can begin practicing with the team immediately but cannot play in a game until two more weeks have passed. The first game for which he could be activated is the December 9 home contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bucs could choose to extend that practice time before his return to three weeks, during which Gaitor would be exempt from the 53-man roster limit, and that would lead to a return for the December 16 game at New Orleans.
Gaitor had a very promising rookie season in 2011 after arriving as a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida International. He appeared in eight games last fall and contributed three tackles and two stops on special teams. The 5-10, 178-pound Gaitor was also one of the team’s defensive standouts during the 2012 preseason, before his injury cost him the last two games, racking up nine tackles, a sack and five passes defensed.
Despite the injury, Gaitor made the 53-man roster again this year but was inactive for four games before he was placed on injured reserve. In the meantime, the team has given significant playing time to six different cornerbacks, including, most recently, undrafted free agents Leonard Johnson and LeQuan Lewis. As much as the Buccaneers have been impressed by the play of Johnson and Lewis, the team would gladly welcome another strong competitor into the cornerback mix.