Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith takes pride in his defense’s ability to create turnovers and last night’s effort provided a number of promising moments.
The Bucs picked off starting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice, returned one for a touchdown, and forced and recovered a fumble. All three turnovers came on successive second-quarter Cincinnati drives and resulted in 16 points in a span of just 4 minutes, 49 seconds.
That’s a solid effort for an entire game, let alone a portion of one quarter, but Smith is greedy when it comes to flipping possession.
“We talk about it being in our “Tampa Bay DNA” if you play defensive ball around here,” Smith said during his Tuesday afternoon press conference at One Buc Place. “We do practice it and you need to see some results. But we left a lot on the field in a lot of different areas.
“It’s about getting the ball back. That’s what you’re trying to do when you’re on the defensive side – and score.”
Cornerback Alterraun Verner got the takeaway binge starter when he picked off a tipped pass to Bengals receiver A.J. Green and returned it 24 yards to the house. Three offensive snaps later it was free safety Bradley McDougald snagging a high, deep-middle pass intended for tight end Tyler Eifert and bringing it back 38 yards to the Cincinnati 12.
Following Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon’s 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Russell Shepard, Tampa Bay’s third and final turnover was a fumble caused when cornerback Mike Jenkins punched a ball free from Jeremy Hill and recovered by linebacker Bruce Carter.
Smith described the forced fumble and recovery as the team’s only “hard takeaway as we see it.” Both interceptions came while taking advantage of Cincinnati mistakes: Green’s tipped dropped pass and Dalton’s sailed delivery to Eifert.
Smith did praise the Bucs’ ability to turn Verner’s interception into an immediate six points, though he thought there was an opportunity to do the same with McDougald’s runback.
“It has to become a habit for us,” Smith said of defenders reading turnover situations quickly and knowing their blocking assignments. “At first you have to get that takeaway, and then from there, yes, you transfer from defense to offense right away. On Alterraun Verner’s that was a good escort into the end zone. Some good blocks there.
“On McDougald’s, though, we had a chance to score on that one. You can’t assume if you get it down there you’re going to score touchdowns. It’s about getting it into the end zone then. We’ll keep working on that.”
Overall, the Bucs won Monday’s turnover battle 3-0. During last year’s two-win debacle of a season, Tampa Bay finished with 25 takeaways and 33 giveaways, a minus-8 differential.
It looks like wide receiver Mike Evans’ preseason is over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday that the hamstring injury that cut the second-year receivers’ night short Monday will be evaluated closely as the regular season approaches.
“I know right now Mike Evans probably won’t play anymore the rest of the preseason,” Smith said at his 4 p.m. press conference at One Buc Place. “We’ll probably keep him out. Hamstring. You guys know how I am about the hamstrings – it takes a while.”
Evans exited last night’s second preseason game against Cincinnati after being targeted twice without securing a reception. The second-year pro didn’t record a catch on any of the three passes thrown his way last week in Minnesota, either.
In addition to Evans, Smith said rookie quarterback Jameis Winston’s rolled ankle isn’t serious and that defensive back Leonard Johnson also suffered an ankle injury.
“We’re still evaluating it,” Smith said of Johnson’s situation. “Again, a physical football game like that you normally have some injuries and we had some.”
Johnson, battling to retain his role at nickel back, “might miss a little bit of time,” Smith reported. He added that Johnson will not play Saturday’s third preseason game against Cleveland.
All throughout training camp, one young Buccaneer turning heads on a consistent basis has been undrafted free agent wide receiver Rannell Hall.
The rookie’s taken advantage of this past month’s opportunities by showcasing both his speed and ability to catch the football, picking up periodic praise from head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter along the way.
“He’s an undrafted free agent that seems like every day he’s practiced he’s done something that we’ve liked,” Smith said after Saturday’s final training camp practice.
But when Tampa Bay strapped it up last weekend for its preseason opener in Minnesota, Hall was one of six Buccaneers that didn’t see the field.
Pregame reports were that Hall was dealing with a hamstring issue and Smith reiterated that yesterday. The former UCF Knight, however, said that while he felt ready and able to debut last week, it just has him more amped up to run out onto the field Monday night at Raymond James Stadium.
“I’m a full-go,” Hall said yesterday. “I’m in perfect condition. I wasn’t even hurt last game. It’s always upsetting, being a competitor, but everything happens for a reason. I feel like the team went out there and did pretty well. We came up short in the game but there are always things to learn from.
“I’m just excited for this upcoming game Monday against Cincinnati.”
In his four years in Orlando, “Speedy” Hall accumulated 2,051 yards and nine touchdowns on 145 receptions, 264 yards and two touchdowns on 43 rushing attempts and 2,083 yards on 82 kick returns (25.4 average).
Competition at receiver is as deep as any position on the team this year and Hall is one of 11 in camp currently. Locks to make the final 53-man roster are Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy. Rookies Kenny Bell (fifth round) and Kaelin Clay (sixth round) also have a leg up on other newcomers by virtue of their selections in this past spring’s draft.
That would leave Hall competing for limited position slots with Robert Herron (second year), Adam Humphries (rookie), Tavarres King (third year) Donteea Dye (rookie) and Russell Shepard (third year).
As of Sunday, players have a little over a week and two more preseason games to make their cases before all NFL teams must cut their 90-man rosters down to a maximum of 75 by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1.
Maybe there aren’t a lot of morning people on this Buccaneers roster.
The sparse crowd that showed up to Wednesday morning’s altered practice got to see the most physical and intense session of training camp.
“Oh yeah, you saw where we were at,” tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said succinctly after practice.
The chippiness began about 45 minutes in during O-line vs. D-line drills. Linemen go through combinations of one-on-one, two-on-one and two-on-two reps and the first shoving match took place when defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was engaging with a pair of offensive linemen. Rookie Ali Marpet and third-year guard Patrick Omameh were in the mix, as players from both sides of the ball swarmed around to break things up.
The pushing, shoving and yelling that has been largely absent this training camp continued sporadically until practice wrapped up around 11:15 a.m. While no situation got out of hand Wednesday, the final 20-30 minutes provided some of the most entertaining moments of training camp.
Veteran defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and third-year offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey found themselves in the middle of a few scraps and the overall intensity ramped up to its highest level during 11-on-11 goal line scrimmages.
When running back Doug Martin broke through the left side behind a block from rookie left tackle Donovan Smith, the entire offensive unit erupted and rushed over to celebrate. Almost every other play to follow ended with a few players needing to be pulled apart, including McDonald making his way over 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage to get into the face of an offensive player.
“That’s what Coach [Lovie] Smith is trying to get out of us, especially as a defense,” McDonald said. “We have to be a tough-minded, tough-bodied and strong-willed defense. We can’t let guys score, we can’t let guys get first downs and we’ve got to take the ball away and get interceptions and score on defense. That’s our mentality and I think we’re kind of molding into where we need to be.”
Smith – as expected – downplayed the day’s intensity before highlighting the importance of getting tough reps in during practice.
“Yeah, a little chippy,” Smith said. “Not even enough to really talk about … didn’t know if you all would even notice it. Good physical play as much as anything. We have to be a good physical football team. We talked about running the ball offensively. Once you get down near the goal line we know what’s coming. The defensive side, of course, knows what the offense is doing so it’s good to see our players in a situation like that.”
Saturday night’s preseason opener had its less-than-flattering moments, but it wasn’t all bad in Minnesota.
Rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander represented one of those bright spots and was rewarded by getting first-team reps Monday afternoon.
“What happens when you make plays? You get an opportunity to get more plays,” head coach Lovie Smith said after the team’s first practice since opening preseason play. “We are looking at different combinations. It’s what we are doing. We wanted to see him working with the different groups today. That’s what we got. We are very pleased with what he has done as a rookie. Rookies, though, have a long way to go to start. He’s doing some things to make us notice.”
Alexander recorded the first of his four total tackles Saturday on the opening play of the second quarter when he brought down Vikings running back Matt Asiata for a 1-yard gain.
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound backer out of LSU spoke to the media after practice Monday and said that while the brief promotion is encouraging, he’s trying to just keep everything in perspective at the moment.
“I had a pretty good game,” Alexander said. “I’ve always got a chance to get better. I’m just coming out to practice to get better. Today I was with the 1’s. So I’m out here grinding, man, trying to get my role and make the team better. That’s it.”
Alexander stepped into the middle linebacker role that veteran Bruce Carter has been occupying throughout camp. Despite starting at LSU on the outside, the Bucs have moved Alexander to the middle and listed him as Carter’s backup when the first depth chart was released last week.
“I can play either one,” the rookie was asked where he feels most comfortable. “Wherever coach wants me to play, I’m going to play. But the middle is harder because you’re the key of the defense. You’ve got to call everything out so everybody knows their roles. Just talking is the key to the defense.”
One day prior to opening their four-game preseason schedule, Tampa Bay announced the signing of defensive back Derrick Wells.
The 6-foot, 201-pound Wells played collegiately at Minnesota and spent time this past offseason with the Buccaneers. He’ll wear No. 5 in Tampa Bay.
In other jersey-number related happenings, newly acquired defensive tackle Tony McDaniel will now wear No. 77 and defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley will wear No. 59.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans attending Tuesday’s ninth training camp practice will finally get to see wide receiver Louis Murphy in pads rather than standing on the sideline in shorts.
The 28-year-old St. Petersburg native is coming back from an ankle injury that ended his 2014 season early and the team announced this morning that Murphy has passed his physical and been activated for duty.
Murphy appeared in 11 games last year, totaling 380 yards (12.3-yard avg.) and two touchdowns on 31 receptions. The Bucs rewarded him last December with a four-year, $4.75 million deal.
Despite the contract, Murphy may be challenged for playing time this season by a number of new faces at the position. Rookies Kenny Bell and Rannell Hall are turning heads and Robert Herron and Adam Humphries are also trying to make roster-spot decisions as tough as possible on the coaching staff and front office.
In other roster news, the Bucs signed punter Karl Schmitz and waived linebackers Quinton Alston and Sammuel Lamur.
New Buccaneers safety D.J. Swearinger is known as a heavy hitting safety, so going half-speed or pulling up in practice can get frustrating.
Sometimes guys can’t resist taking a shot from time to time.
“You’ve got to,” Swearinger said after practice Sunday afternoon. “Any time you’re on the field, any time you’re able to put pads on you want to get a little thud in and that’s what I did. It’s just competing – competing and having fun.”
Swearinger’s little thud – to the delight of the crowd – sent running back Mike James straight to the turf as he tried to make a run around the right side. It’s nothing personal, the third-year safety said. It’s just how he’s played the game his entire life.
“It’s just football. Sometimes you want to get a little thud in and remind them it’s not just tag and we’ve got to hit every now and then,” he said. “It’s just us competing and I got a little shot in.”
Head coach Lovie Smith took a moment Sunday to speak about Swearinger and what he brings to the safety competition during camp.
“Smart player, high IQ – Wonderlick test, all that good stuff,” Smith said. “He gets it. He’s a hitter, too. His strong suit is more in the box than back deep, and of course we got a taste of it. But he’s been good. He’s been one of the guys since we got him here [who’s] in a hard competition, [at] the safety position.”
Swearinger comes to Bucs camp after spending his first two seasons in Houston. He’s appeared in all 32 games as a pro, racking up 145 combined tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
Tampa Bay is coming off a season in which its secondary surrendered 255.3 yards per game, good for fifth-worst in the league.
Seven practices into training camp, Bucs coaches are keying in on increasing the team’s depth at cornerback to make sure there’s not a repeat of last year’s porous pass defense.
One player brought in to compete for meaningful snaps this season is fifth-year veteran Sterling Moore. Tampa Bay signed the 25-year-old in March after Moore led the Dallas Cowboys with 13 passes defensed. Helping the SMU product land a job in Tampa Bay is that he spent time at nickelback and on the outside last season and throughout his career.
“We were concerned about our depth at corner so we wanted to create some competition,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said earlier this week. “[Moore’s] played both [outside corner and nickel]. He started at nickel, played a lot of corner a year ago, so he’s capable of doing both. But right now we need the competition and the depth at corner.”
Moore’s displayed the ability to get to the football so far this summer by jumping and picking off a few passes from quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Mike Glennon during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
“We’ve seen him being able to make plays,” head coach Lovie Smith said after practice Saturday. “He’s a smart football player that knows how to get good position. A couple times Sterling and Mike Evans – and there’s a little bit of a difference there – Sterling knows how to use his body [against bigger receivers]. As I said, he’s a smart football player and we’re noticing him every day.”
The Bucs bring back six cornerbacks from last year’s roster, including regular starters Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner on the outside and Leonard Johnson at nickelback. Mike Jenkins is also back after spending nearly all of last year on the injured reserve and looking to play his way back into the regular rotation.
Defensive end George Johnson and offensive lineman Logan Mankins did not participate in Saturday’s delayed practice.
Johnson sat out for what head coach Lovie Smith described as “general soreness” and Mankins, an 11-year veteran, was given the day off.
“[Johnson] should be fine,” Smith said. “Logan, there’s nothing wrong with him. We have a vet day from time to time.”
Toward the end of practice, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was seen grabbing at his left arm but remained in action. Smith said he took a shot to his elbow and should also be okay.
Through seven days of training camp the Bucs have managed to avoid serious injuries and remain relatively healthy.
Receiver Louis Murphy and defensive tackle Akeem Spence haven’t participated at all this camp and offensive lineman Josh Allen was hurt during practice this past week.
“The good part about training camp is we haven’t had any major injuries and hopefully tomorrow we’ll get some of the guys back,” Smith said. “But throughout we’ll give diff guys vet days off.”