NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs not short on running backs

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
TAMPA, Fla. -- As a new head coach, Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith still is getting to know his players. But it’s obvious he already has developed a comfort level with his running backs.

“I went in there the other day and I asked them if there was a requirement to being under 5-[foot-]10 to be in this room,’’ Smith said with a laugh.

With Doug Martin listed as 5-9, Bobby Rainey at 5-8 and Mike James at 5-10, the Bucs may be short at running back. But they aren’t short on running backs.

“We have three running backs that have a 100-yard game on record,’’ Smith said. “That’s hard to say for most teams.’’

But Smith is inheriting a situation where running back might be the deepest position on the roster. Martin entered last season as the starter. When he went down with a shoulder injury, James took over. After James went out with an injury, Rainey took over as the featured back an prospered.

“I like everything about all of them,’’ Smith said. “They can catch the ball, even though they haven’t been used that way. They can run inside of the tackles. They have good quickness and can make you miss. They come to work with a smile on their face every day.’’

And it might not be hard to keep a smile on the faces of all three running backs. Smith has said he plans to use a rotation at that position.

“As far as how many play, Doug Martin’s our starter, but they’ll all play,’’ Smith said. “We’ll let them have their reps.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to begin the first minicamp practice under new coach Lovie Smith. But All-Pro guard Carl Nicks will not be taking part in the drills.

Although the team previously had expressed optimism that Nicks would be able to participate in the offseason program, Nicks said he still is in the rehabilitation process. Nicks missed all but two games last season with a toe injury and a MRSA staph infection. Nicks said he wouldn't try to estimate where his recovery stands, but sounded optimistic he'll get back on the field

"I don't know about a percentage," Nicks said. "I'm not a percentage guy. I've never been that guy. But obviously I'm not ready to practice right now. But I feel comfortable saying I'll be back for training camp."

That would be good news for an offensive line that's been overhauled this offseason. But Nicks, who first revealed there was nerve damage to his toe last year, said he might have to play through pain the rest of his career.

"There's some nerve damage, so there's going to be pain, from what I've been told, for the rest of my life," Nicks said.

Nicks said he wasn't sure if the nerve damage was caused by the toe injury or the MRSA.

"That's a good question," Nicks said. "I wish I had the answer."

Nicks said he might return at less than 100 percent, but said he remains confident he'll return to the playing field.

"Lovie told me the other day my 80 percent is still pretty good," Nicks said. "If I'm not 100 percent, hopefully I can get 95 or 99.99 and I'd be happy with it."

Nicks said he's anxious to play again.

"I've got the chicken pox when it comes to that," Nicks said. "Scratching it all the time. Very itchy. I don't want to force it, I don't want to rush it. When I come back I want to be able to play more than two games."

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers already lead the league in one category.

Since the start of free agency, the Bucs have given out $74.3 million in guaranteed money to their incoming free agents and the ones they’ve re-signed, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

No other team is even close. Denver is second with $65.5 million in guaranteed money. The Raiders ($51 million) and the Vikings ($50.2 million) are the only other teams to top $50 million in guaranteed money.

But spending big money in free agency doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Last year, four teams (Lions, Dolphins, Colts and Cowboys) spent at least $50 million in guaranteed money in the first month of free agency. The Colts were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs.

Rotation won't slow Doug Martin

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Even though coach Lovie Smith has said he plans to use a rotation in his backfield, don't go dropping Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin from your fantasy team.

Martin still is going to be the main ball carrier and that means he still will be a fantasy force. Smith and his staff will work Mike James and Bobby Rainey into the rotation, but that’s not going to diminish Martin’s impact.

If anything, not having to handle virtually all the carries, the way he did under former coach Greg Schiano, should help keep Martin fresh. James and Rainey showed they’re capable runners last year when Martin was out with a shoulder injury.

But James and Rainey aren’t quite in Martin's class and that means the rotation isn't going to split up the carries too much. Martin still will get the bulk of the carries and he’s shown he can produce in fantasy and real life.

The Bucs are going to run the ball a lot, maybe even more than they did with Schiano. James and Rainey will help keep Martin fresh. That little bit of rest could help Martin, who carried 319 times and caught 49 passes as a rookie in 2012, be even more productive.
Todd McShay's fourth mock draft Insider is out, and I can't say I'm surprised by what he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers doing.

Despite a 4-12 record last season, the Bucs have done a nice job of narrowing their needs. They still could use some help on the offensive line, some depth on the defensive line and they might even consider a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.

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The steady parade of quarterbacks into One Buccaneer Place likely isn’t a smokescreen.

Every action we’ve seen out of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht so far has been very deliberate. That’s why Johnny Manziel's visit Thursday is the latest sign the Bucs might be serious about taking a quarterback in this year’s draft.

They’ve already had visits with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and they still could bring in another quarterback or two. On the surface, the Bucs seem to have bigger needs than quarterback.

They seem to have a decent quarterback situation with veteran Josh McCown backed up by Mike Glennon. McCown is scheduled to make nearly $5 million in guaranteed money this season, so he’s not a guy the Bucs want carrying a clipboard.

In the modern NFL, if you draft a quarterback early, you’re expected to play him right away. But maybe the Bucs are thinking about going against that trend. They could draft a quarterback and let him sit for a year behind McCown.

Most mock drafts have the Bucs going in another direction. But I’m not ready to write off the possibility of them drafting a quarterback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting one of the biggest names in this year’s NFL draft on Wednesday.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is visiting the Bucs, according to The Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings. Manziel becomes the third quarterback known to have visited with the Bucs. The team previously hosted Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

I never like to read too much into these visits because teams can bring in 30 players and some of them are nothing more than smokescreens. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs, who already have veteran Josh McCown and second-year pro Mike Glennon, are at least doing their homework on this year's crop of quarterbacks.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Greg Schiano is gone from One Buccaneer Place, but the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach hasn't been forgotten.

You had to read between the lines only slightly to see the players are happy they now are coached by Lovie Smith. On the second day of the offseason program, five players were brought in to speak to the media. There was a common theme among all five.

"I think (Smith) treats us like men," kicker Connor Barth said. "I think that's the main thing. He said he's going to treat us like men and that's awesome."

None of the players directly said anything negative about Schiano, but the implications were everywhere.

"Me personally, I'm not a rah-rah guy," linebacker Lavonte David said. "Everybody staying calm and everybody keeping their composure, it can turn over to the field where the crowd's going crazy and something bad happens and everybody's keeping their composure on the sidelines. That builds more confidence to overcome (adversity)."

As a former college coach, Schiano had a reputation for being a "rah-rah" leader and stern disciplinarian. The atmosphere has changed with Smith and his coaching staff.

"All of them have the same personality," David said. "It's weird. Nobody's a rah-rah guy. Everybody's just cool, chilled, laid back and ready to get after it."

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson said he respected Schiano's discipline approach, but went on to sing Smith's praises.

"Just a smart man, you can just tell," Jackson said. "Very thought out, very well planned. He does everything with a purpose. Every minute in this building is going to be useful for us and it's going to make us better as men as well as football players.

"It's about treating guys like men, representing the Buccaneers and this organization and the city in the right light. We definitely want to do that on the field as well. We love his message and the tone that he's bringing to this organization."
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the moment at least, Mike Glennon has been relegated to the role of backup quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that doesn’t mean Glennon has given up on the possibility of reclaiming the job he held for 13 games as a rookie last season.

Upon signing veteran free agent Josh McCown in March, coach Lovie Smith said McCown would start off working with the first team.

“I’m just going to go out there and compete every day and help the team win in whatever way possible,’’ Glennon said Tuesday after taking part in the second day of the team’s offseason program. “Josh has been great so far to me and it’s going to be a great opportunity to work with him every day with a guy that has so much experience like that. But, at the same time just by my nature I’m going to go out there and compete. Whatever my role may be I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and help this team win.’’

Glennon said Smith called him shortly after the Bucs signed McCown and gave him the news.

“He just said, to start out, there’s got to be a person to start that goes out with the first (team) and that person is going to be Josh,’’ Glennon said.

Glennon is the type of guy that’s going to follow the company line. But, reading between the lines of his first comments since being demoted, I got the sense he has a very strong competitive streak.

“I realized that I’m just going to have to continue to work hard and improve myself,’’ Glennon said when asked about his reaction when Smith told him McCown would open as the starter.

Glennon’s taking the right approach and really the only one that makes sense. He’s going to continue to work hard. He could have a great preseason and McCown could struggle. Or McCown could get injured.

“Lovie said it to me and he said it to the team yesterday that the best players are going to play and I don’t think that’s any different for the quarterback position,’’ Glennon said.

It’s not any different for the quarterback position. McCown starts off with the edge as the veteran, but Glennon isn’t ready to concede anything.
Although they have signed veteran Josh McCown and still have Mike Glennon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have repeatedly said they still might draft a quarterback at No. 7.

In the latest sign the Bucs might be serious, NFL Network reports that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is visiting One Buccaneer Place on Monday. Bridgewater is widely viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and could be a top-10 pick.

Just because Bridgewater is visiting the Bucs doesn't mean the team will draft him. But it's a sign the Bucs are doing their homework on all possible scenarios.

Generally, you don't find a franchise quarterback beyond the top-10 picks and the Bucs are hoping they're not in that position in future years. This might be their shot to get a franchise quarterback and they have to know all they can find out about Bridgewater.

Bucs add depth in secondary

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith has reached back into his past to add some more depth for the secondary.

Former Chicago safety Major Wright agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on Friday evening.

The move is somewhat curious because the Bucs appear to have starters at both safety positions with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. But Goldson has had issues with being fined for illegal hits.

At best, Wright could challenge Goldson for a starting job. But it’s more likely that Wright will play in sub packages and on special teams.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft after going 4-12 last season.

A wide receiver, an offensive guard and anything that would bring much-needed depth to just about any position would make a lot of sense for the Bucs.

Mel Kiper’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his choice isn’t a big surprise for the Bucs. In this mock draft, Kiper chooses what he thinks each team should do, not what it will do.

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I thought Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht made a very nice statement last week when he said he didn't think it was fair to ask fans to be patient.

Licht was talking about why the Buccaneers have been so active in free agency. Coming off a 4-12 season, change is necessary. But I think those who believe the Bucs simply are trying to buy a winning season are off target.

"We're not trying to put a dream team together or a quick fix," coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL owners meeting last week.

Smith's right. What the Bucs have done has been to take a calculated approach toward improving their roster. But it's important to note the Bucs mostly have been adding complementary players to their existing nucleus. Of all the players the Bucs have signed as free agents, I'd say defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner might be the only ones that qualify as core players.

"We're trying to improve our ball club and we addressed some areas. I'm going to piggyback on what Jason said. One of my first statements was that I couldn't wait for the day when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relevant again. It's all on the same line. There's no rebuilding," Smith said.

No rebuilding, but there definitely is some building going on. The Bucs have added a slew of role players to go along with core players such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.

"You look at every position and you evaluate every player on your team and see if you need to improve that position," Smith said. "If we think we do need a lot of improvements in a lot of areas I think you do owe it to your fans -- and not just our fans, but everybody who loves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- to do that. That's what we've done. We're going to do the same thing in the draft. Right now we have the seventh (overall) pick. We could move up. We could move back. We're going to add some more football players that will be new. I'm not afraid of new.”

New can be good. There's no question the Bucs have a better roster today than they did at the end of last season. With the exception of quarterback Josh McCown, 34, their biggest additions have been in their 20s. The Bucs are building to win now but they're also doing it with a goal to stay good for the foreseeable future.

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’