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Bucs LB Kendell Beckwith unable to return on first day eligible to practice

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith, whose season-long recovery from ankle surgery has left a major void defensively, did not practice on Wednesday – the first day he was eligible to return to the field.

Beckwith, who was placed on the non-football injury active list to open the season, said his recovery is going well, and he expects to return “sooner than you think.”

“Going real good,” Beckwith said. “Just got to keep progressing, keep going uphill. It’s definitely been a battle, but the battle is almost over.”

Still, there’s no clear timetable for Beckwith, and his uncertain return is a hit for a struggling Bucs defense. Beckwith played an important role as a rookie last season as the team’s starting strongside linebacker. He logged 73 tackles while filling in elsewhere when starting linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander missed time with injuries.

Beckwith sustained a broken ankle as a passenger in an April car accident in Baton Rouge,  La. The injury required surgery, and he was unable to participate in training camp or any preseason games.

Since he was placed on the NLI active list to open the season — he didn’t count against the team’s 53-man roster — Beckwith was not eligible to practice until six weeks into the season, and Wednesday marked the first day he could do so.

“I don’t have a set date, like this (is) the date I’m coming back,” Beckwith said. “We’ll definitely see. It’s just kind of all about feeling 100 percent again and being totally confident. I guess once I reach that point and everything keeps progressing, I’ll be out there sooner than later. … Just when I’m 100 percent confident in it.”

While Beckwith said it’s matter of when and not if he returns, the Bucs must now navigate a window that makes that return possible. When the team clears Beckwith to practice, he would then have 21 days to practice before the team must place him on the active roster. If he’s unable to play when that clock ends, the Bucs would then have to place him on the non-football injury reserve list, which would make him inactive for the remainder of the season.

Beckwith said the the toughest part of being sidelined this deep into the season being unable to help a struggling defense.

“Even when it comes dealing with the injury and things like that, the hardest part for me is just watching, just being on the sides,” Beckwith said. “I’m just such a competitor. I’d rather be out there fighting with you, rather be out there winning or losing with you. That’s the toughest part, being on the side and you can’t really help. That’s hard.”

The Bucs’ re-signing of linebacker Devonte Bond on Wednesday also indicates a need at the strongside linebacker spot. Bond, who was released in September and reached an injury settlement after a foot injury suffered in Tampa Bay’s third preseason game, returned to the team to fill a roster spot created Monday when the team released wide receive Freddie Martino.

Bond saw most of his playing time on special teams last year, but also made two starts late in the season.

Bond always seemed likely to return to the Bucs’ roster. He had opportunities elsewhere, and this was the first week he could return.

“That was the plan,” Bond said. “I wanted to come back here. Of course there were other teams and what not that I was possibly trying to work out with, but I always wanted to come back here. That was the the whole plan. … I have unfinished business.”

Bond will compete with Adarius Taylor for playing time at strongside linebacker.

“He’s been around here for the last couple years, so he can compete right off the bat,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said of Bond.  “The thing you’ve got to remember is that we’re in sub defense at lease 70 percent, roughly 70 percent of the time. Adarius Taylor is playing well at Sam linebacker right now, so you can say it’s somewhat of a depth move and also though Devonte Bond is a really good special teams player. He’s gives you another guy with your core special teams.”

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