TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea, who missed one month with a sprained LCL in his left knee, will be active Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians announced Friday.
“He came in great shape and maintained it,” said Arians, adding that Vea wouldn’t be on any type of a snap count despite just returning to practice this week.
“I feel good,” Vea said. “I’ve been working out with the strength staff. The training room, they’ve been running me to the ground so I feel good. I feel like I haven’t missed a step conditioning-wise — everything’s just mental right now to get back into it.”
The 12th overall draft pick in 2018, Vea was praised by several Bucs staff members for having arguably one of the best offseasons of any player prior to the injury, which he suffered during a blocking drill. The original prognosis was 4-8 weeks, but at the time of the injury, Vea feared it was much worse.
“It runs through your head but you always think of the bright side, like, ‘No, nothing bad,'” he said. “Even when I did the [first] MRI right after [it happened], I told my mom and she was like praying for me and she’s like, ‘Everything’s gonna be all right.’ I took a second MRI and I thought it was gonna be like, ‘Oh, it was a mistake,’ but everything was fine. It came out what it was, I stuck to rehab and now I’m here.”
He is expected to play a big role in Todd Bowles’ defense this year alongside All-Pro Ndamukong Suh.
“That is a powerful inside. [They are] not just space-eaters — these are penetrating guys who can rush the passer and eat up blocks and just free those linebackers up,” Arians said. “And they can make plays themselves.”
Inside linebacker and team captain Lavonte David will also play after missing the last four weeks due to a torn meniscus, resulting in him having his knee scoped. Like Vea, David returned to practice for the first time this week.
“It’s huge,” Arians said on getting Vea and David back. “I mean, you are talking about two of the best players we have: one of the best leaders we have and one of the best young leaders that we have.”
Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans missed Friday’s practice with what Arians said Friday was “a bug that’s been going around,” although he is still expected to play at this point.