After being sidelined nearly three weeks with a foot injury, Buccaneers left tackle Derrick Deese returned to practice Monday and is expected to start in the team’s preseason finale Thursday night against the Houston Texans.

“I’ll be playing, definitely,” Deese said after practice. “It was a slow road back, but I’m back today and it felt good. I thought I was able to get some of the rust off, so I’m excited.”

Deese, 34, underwent foot surgery on Aug. 10 to remove bone spur fragments from his foot. While the surgery was a success, it left Tampa Bay’s starting left tackle on the sideline for several weeks.

Having the opportunity to play in at least one preseason game is important to Deese, who said the game experience with his new teammates, especially the offensive linemen, is invaluable.

“I think it’s really important for me, personally, just from the fact that I get to work with some of the other guys and you get to see some of the speed,” said Deese. It’s going to be a little bit different. But it’s going to change from preseason to regular season anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I’ve played the game long enough to where I know these things, so I’m not overly concerned. But I do want to get a little bit of work in.”

Bucs offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir said he expects Deese to be a bit rusty, but to also work out some kinks on Thursday night.

“If you check my pulse before the game, every week’s a big week,” said Muir. “Obviously, let’s be honest about it — Derrick has missed a lot of time. While we’re all anxious to have him back, he doesn’t have an ‘S’ on his chest and there won’t be a phone booth anywhere nearby. I expect him to go in and look like somebody who hasn’t played in the preseason up to this particular point. But I expect to see some flashes of what he?s going to be able to contribute to us.”

Deese, who signed a six-year deal with the Bucs back in March and hasn’t allowed a sack in the past 35 games, has started 116 of the 136 games he’s played in during his career, but missed five contests last season due to injuries.

According to the former San Francisco 49er, the foot injury shouldn’t be something that hinders his ability to play throughout his first season as a Buc.

“I don’t think so, I don’t think it will,” said Deese. “I think the longer and longer I keep running on it, the stronger and stronger it will get. It will take its knots and it will be fine. I don’t think this will be a problem.”

And if the injury turns out to be reoccurring, Tampa Bay is comfortable with having second-year T Anthony Davis, who performed admirably while starting all three preseason games in Deese’s’ place, start at left tackle if and when he’s called on during the regular season.

“In my opinion, he’s proven that he can play in the National Football League, preseason or not, he blocked Justin Smith, he blocked Hugh Douglas and he blocked Jason Taylor,” Muir said of Davis. “Did he struggle at times? Yeah, so does everybody else. Yes, he can play in the National Football League. I’d be glad to have him play.”

While he’ll wait to determine exactly how much Deese plays on Thursday night, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has no doubt that Deese is ready to return to action.

“We’re not rushing anybody back,” Gruden said of Deese. “He wouldn’t be out there if he wasn’t ready to go. He’s been off the injury for over two weeks and it sounds like he feels good. With that being said, it’s time to get back to playing football. Thank goodness we have a little bit of a preseason game for him to get some snaps, and a couple bonus [practice] days. We’ll give him some snaps and get him ready to go.”

Tampa Bay must cut its roster down from 88 to 65 players by 4:00 p.m. Tuesday. The final roster cutdown to 53 players will come no later than Sept. 5.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the short week of preparation heading into the game against the Houston Texans on Thursday night

“It poses a great challenge. Obviously, the Texans play a 34 defense, which is a front we haven’t seen all season. From a learning standpoint and a game-planning standpoint, there are some rule changes that you obviously have to take a look at. We’ve just got to be mentally tough and do the best we can to get our team prepared to play. We’ve got to provide the energy and I’m confident we will.”

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