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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be without starting kick and punt returner Jaelon Darden for some time as he is currently in NFL concussion protocol.

If this injury had come about just one week ago, it may not have been a problem as experienced returner/wide receiver Jaydon Mickens was on the Bucs' practice squad. He had held down Tampa Bay's starting role as a returner for about a year and a half, but the Buccaneers opted for the rookie in Darden at the midway point of the 2021 season.

However, the Jacksonville Jaguars poached Mickens off the practice squad just last Wednesday. 

That leaves the Buccaneers with the next man, or men, up to fill in for Darden if he can't play in Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons and beyond. Those men are running back Giovani Bernard and wide receiver Scotty Miller, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

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"Obviously, if he clears the protocols, he’ll be the guy back there," Arians said of Darden. "If not, Gio [Bernard] would take over the kickoff return and Scotty Miller will probably do the punt returns.”

Bernard has been used sparingly on returns across his nine-year career, tallying ten kick returns for 14.3 yards on average, including three with the Bucs for 17.7 yards on average this season. 

Miller, meanwhile, was activated from the injured reserve just last week and took the field for eight snaps against Indianapolis on Sunday, four offensively and four on special teams. He's returned one kick in his career, which was this year and went for 19 yards, and no punts, although he's practiced at the position before.

Darden's progress on the injury report will be worth monitoring this week. If he's unable to play on Sunday, the Bucs will turn to a pair of veterans with playmaking ability who lack experience in a returning role.

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