Following a one-year stint in New England that netted him a Super Bowl ring, tight end Tim Wright is back in Tampa Bay and apparently his future quarterback couldn’t be happier.
“Oh my God, he’s amazing,” rookie Jameis Winston said with a smile after Tuesday’s mandatory mini-camp. “I prayed for him during our stretches. I had to thank God for having Tim Wright here and it made him laugh.”
Wright’s addition would provide Winston with another big-bodied pass catcher to throw to and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound pro showed off his hands on a few occasions Tuesday while running with both the first- and second-team offenses.
Tampa Bay’s tight end room didn’t get any more crowded after Friday’s move since the Bucs waived 22-year-old Taylor Sloat. Wright jumps into the competition for tight end receptions with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers.
Over two full NFL seasons – the first in Tampa Bay, the second in New England – Wright has appeared in all 32 games and totaled 80 receptions for 830 yards and 11 touchdowns. The majority of that production (54 catches for 571 yards and 5 TDs) came after he was picked up as an unrestricted free agent by the Bucs and his former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
“It’s cool [to be back],” Wright said of his return to Tampa Bay. “It’s another opportunity … another blessing from God to be able to step on the field again and do what I love, contribute to the team and do what we can to win games.”
About a third of the organizations in the NFL pursued Wright after being waived last week but had nothing but praise for his former employer.
“It was a great organization,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of people that operate in the system well and they’ve got guys that put themselves second and the team first and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
The re-acquisition of Wright returns to Tampa Bay half of what it sent to New England last August to get left guard Logan Mankins. The third portion of that deal was this spring’s fourth-round NFL Draft selection the Patriots used to get Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers.
“As we look at the waiver wire, any player available that we think will improve our ball club we’re going to jump on,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “That was an easy decision to make on Tim. We liked Tim [last year] and we decided to go a different direction. But where we are right now, we’re a stronger football team with Tim on our team. It’s good to see him back.”
The Buccaneers will show their support for the fight against childhood cancer Tuesday afternoon at One Buccaneer Place by participating in the Cut for a Cure Challenge.
A group of 15 players and team personnel, including rookie QB Jameis Winston, have already committed to have their heads shaved by pediatric cancer patients and survivors to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. According to a press release from the team, this is the organization’s third consecutive year participating in the program.
Winston will be joined in the scalp-shearing event by fellow rookies Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Jared Koster, as well as veterans Lavonte David, Andrew DePaola, Will Gholston, Mike James, Michael Koenen, Patrick Murray, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Evan Smith, Akeem Spence and Keith Tandy. Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford will also take part.
While also getting a trim of his own, Winston will help shave the head of one of the fans in attendance who raised the most money toward the team’s fundraising cause. Other pre-selected fans who helped raise money will be able to watch the event, as well as have the chance to get their heads shaved.
Simply put, there isn’t much worth remembering from last year’s 2-14 campaign. Outside of a few notable, individual accomplishments, requests for Bucs 2014 Season In Review videos probably aren’t inundating phone lines at One Buc Place this summer.
But now that the organization is months removed from the misery that “earned” it this spring’s No. 1 overall draft selection, there is some good that can come from the prolonged dejection.
“Every single person on this team has got to get better – 2-14’s not going to cut it,” said veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner, returning for his second season in Tampa Bay. “And that’s why it’s a motivation to know that we can do a lot better.”
The drive doesn’t just come from those within the walls of the facility working to redeem themselves, Verner added, but from outsiders still viewing Tampa Bay mores as Yucks than Bucs.
“People are still doubting us and I love it,” he said. “I love playing the underdog role, I love when people are sleeping on you. I use it as motivation. It’s definitely in the back of my mind but I’m also not letting that override or overrule how I’m going to play.”
While Verner managed to stay out of the crosshairs of angry fans and critical media members with his play in 2014, he was still part of the league’s fifth-most abused secondary. Tampa Bay surrendered 255.2 yards passing per game and 28 touchdowns. As a unit, Bucs cornerbacks and safeties accounted for 10 of the team’s 14 interceptions, with Verner grabbing two.
Helping Verner create a consistently effective pass defense at corner this season will be a healthy Mike Jenkins and ever-improving Johnthan Banks.
“He’s definitely an X-factor and he brings a lot of intensity and passion for the game,” Verner said of Jenkins, who suffered a season-ending injury during Week 1’s home loss against Carolina. “He’s somebody who’s been playing for eight years and you know he’s going to bring that to you. So it’s been good to have him back and competing.
“And then Johnthan has just grown as a player as you saw last year, so I like the depth. We’re all just pushing each other because at the end of the day [defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier] will put the best people out there and nobody’s job is secure or safe. So I love it. I love us all being out there competing.”
Twenty-four hours after shaking off some debut jitters, a pair of Tampa Bay Buccaneer rookie pass catchers said they were able to smooth out a few rough edges on Day 2.
“We came out here today and our focus was to get better from yesterday,” said Kaelin Clay, the Bucs’ sixth-round selection from Utah. “Yesterday the end of practice wasn’t so good, so our focus was to get better in practice today overall and I felt like today we did that. Better route running and just focusing on the small things – catching the ball and depth of routes, specifically.”
“I didn’t finish here at the end of practice so [receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker] had every right to get on me for that,” said fifth-round pick Kenny Bell of a Saturday interaction with his new position coach. There’s a heightened sense of scrutiny surrounding practice and preparation in the NFL compared to college and Bell said he’s beginning to grasp that quickly.
“Obviously, I loved my time in Nebraska but it’s a whole new level,” Bell said. “The level of coaching in the meetings and the amount of correction you go through is unbelievable and I wouldn’t want anybody but Coach Stoker doing it.”
As for working with the draft’s top selection, quarterback Jameis Winston, the receivers had nothing but praise Saturday.
“Obviously chemistry is something that takes a while to build,” Bell said, “but when you have a quarterback with that much talent it makes your job that much easier.”
When asked about how it is catching throws delivered by Winston’s strong right arm, Clay said he’s already suffered an equipment casualty two days in.
“You guys don’t even know,” Clay said. “He threw one to me today and it ripped my glove. He’s got some power behind it.”
Before Jameis Winston can start trying to post the numbers Buccaneers fans really care about – those that help produce wins – he needed pick the one they can now buy on jerseys around the Tampa Bay area.
Rather than stick with trusty No. 5, the digit he won a college national championship with at Florida State two season ago, Winston decide to return to his earliest football roots.
“One thing about number 3 – that was my first number ever playing football,” Winston said during Friday’s introductory press conference at One Buc Place. “So I just look at it as a new beginning.”
Winston strapped it up in those early Alabama days for the youth league Bessemer Tigers, he said at a follow-up conference in the media room at One Buc Place. He went on to play his high school ball at nearby Hueytown High.
“In high school I wore number 8, in college I wore number 5, so five plus three is eight … and five minus three is two. Little addition and subtraction there,” Winston joked during the roughly 13-minute Q-and-A.
Had he wanted it, No. 5 is currently available on the Tampa Bay roster. Going back to No. 8 would have involved a conversation with fellow quarterback Mike Glennon.
When Winston makes it onto his first regular season active roster in pewter and red, he’ll officially be the fourth Buccaneer to wear No. 3 in team history and first non-place kicker. The number’s previous owners were Bill Capece (1981-83), Matt Bryant (2005-08) and Shane Andrus (2009).
Well that didn’t take long.
A Tampa Bay Buccaneer for less than 24 hours and new quarterback Jameis Winston has his first, albeit mini, controversial moment under his belt.
Winston’s decision to post – and subsequently delete – an Instagram photo showing him sitting in front of a plate of crab legs drew plenty of flak from the public and media members across the nation.
The team officially introduced Winston during a press conference at 4 p.m. today and it took about a minute for the 21-year-old to have to address the situation.
“I wasn’t thinking of what would come from it,” Winston said of posting the photo. “I was just showing thanks to a good friend of mine and that I was blessed for him to provide [the crab legs] for the party for my family.”
The “good friend” Winston referred to is Capt. Keith Colburn of the reality television series “Deadliest Catch.” During a 10-minute follow-up interview with the media Friday, Winston said he’s known Colburn for about two weeks.
Winston said it didn’t dawn on him until after the negative reactions began flooding in that the posting of the picture may cause a stir.
“That’s the only reason I took the picture down,” Winston said. “I didn’t want any negative publicity for this day because that took it away from this whole organization and my family. I never would’ve expected that.
“I had no intention in that. There’ve been a lot of things that I have done that have definitely been blown out of proportion, but I was just saying thank you to a good friend. It looks like a statement, but he made my family happy.”
Immediately after last year’s come-from-ahead loss against New Orleans, outside opinions about who the team should take with the No. 1 overall pick weren’t hard to come by for Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht.
Some came in from friends and former co-workers within the industry.
So when Smith’s former boss Tony Dungy – a close, respected confidant – came out in the corner of quarterback Marcus Mariota, it had to carry some weight, right?
“On third-and-short I’m not calling for outside help,” Smith said shortly after Tampa Bay made quarterback Jameis Winston this year’s top pick Thursday night. “We paid attention to what was being said and what we saw on the inside. We have a great scouting department that did a great job with a lot of research on all of our players. We trust what we saw on video and that’s what we went with.
“It’s exciting when everybody has an opinion and everybody’s an expert, but again, we went with what we thought on the inside of our building and we feel very good about it.”
Licht addressed the Tampa Bay media prior to Smith and offered similar comments without wanting to specify sources of influence.
“We’ve said all along that we’re not going to get into the specifics of who we talked to and what they said, but there were quite a few,” Licht said. “[There were] people that came out of nowhere to give unsolicited opinions that we didn’t even seek out that weren’t even real close with him. It was really a fun, interesting process that leads us to today.”
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended their 39th NFL season in historic fashion, but there wasn’t any celebrating following Sunday’s 23-20 loss to New Orleans.
This is the fifth time the Bucs have finished with only two wins, matching the woeful teams of 1977, 1983, 1985 and 1986, but it’s only the second season in franchise history that ended without a win at home. Only the inaugural 0-14 1976 Buccaneers can claim that ignominious home-turf distinction.
Because schedules didn’t expand to 16 games until 1978, this year’s eight home losses tops even Rich McKay’s Creamsicles from ’76 by a game.
This also represents Tampa Bay’s first 0-6 finish as a member of the NFC South and the first time the Bucs went winless in division play since 1976.
Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith took to the podium at One Buccaneer Place for the final time this regular season before Sunday’s finale against New Orleans.
“Injury list: Mason Foster did not practice again, but it’s not like he pulled his Achilles any more or anything like that – we just kind of kept him off of it all week to help the chances for him to play Sunday if we get to that point. Again, it is tough when you don’t practice all week. Everybody else should be available for us to play, which is good this late in the year to have that many options. We realize what’s at stake. We’ve been here a lot of different Fridays; down to the last one. One last chance to get a look at some of our players. One last chance to get a home win, to just kind of show up and play better.”
(On the team signing wide receiver Louis Murphy to a multi-year extension today)
“I should have kind of started off the press conference with that. He’s been a consistent performer from our offseason workouts – showing up every day, he’s done everything, he’s competed hard, he started at the bottom and worked himself up. Big performer during the game. Fought through that injury and [was] injured in training camp, not on the roster the first couple of weeks. But he’s just been one of our guys, and you want to reward players that take it a long way and earn it the right way. We like him. When he was healthy and ready to go as our third receiver, he did some positive things and [is] somebody that we want to keep building with.”
(On keeping players focused during a tough season)
“There are some things that you have to go through before you win I think, on the scoreboard. We’re deciding what our culture, what our locker room, what our team will look like and we’ve gotten a lot of those things done. Guys show up, they’ve stayed out of trouble, done what we’ve asked them to do, so we do take some things that won’t show up right now as we start building that are positive. We know that eventually those will lead to wins for us. That’s kind of where we are which is a great thing and I know those that can’t wait for those wins to start coming. I’m going to say it one more time, we have one more chance to let those guys give us one more look to let us know what they want to do in the future.”
(On how he spent Christmas)
”Great day, whenever you can be around family for me, being a granddad and all, these are great – someone asked me ‘Did you have a good Christmas yesterday?’ I said ‘No, I didn’t. I had a great Christmas yesterday.’ I hope we can finish it up with a great weekend too.”
Hours after the team announced it had signed wide receiver Louis Murphy to a 3-year contract extension, the 27-year-old veteran addressed the local media Friday afternoon about his belated Christmas present.
“Best Christmas ever,” the St. Petersburg native and graduate of Lakewood High and the University of Florida said in the media room at One Buc Place. Instead of speaking to the press on the field immediately following Friday’s final practice of the season, Murphy chose to wait until he officially inked his name on his new deal.
The team has yet to release the exact terms of the 3-year deal, but Murphy said he’s thankful for the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
“Being home playing for the Bucs – I’ve been a Bucs fan my entire life – for this deal to be done I’m thankful and like I said words can’t explain how I feel right now,” he said. “It’s a blessing. It took me six years to get to this point and it’s been a tough road. I commend my family for being there and sticking by my side. It means everything, it’s a blessing and I can’t take any of the credit. I’m a firm believer in Christ and I just believe that things happen for a reason.”
Tampa Bay is Murphy’s fourth NFL stop in his six-year career. He spent his first three season (2009-11) in Oakland, then bounced to Carolina in 2012 and the New York Giants in 2013 before getting picked up by the Bucs this past offseason.
Head coach Lovie Smith said Murphy’s extension is an example of what can be achieved with a strong work ethic and determined effort.
“He’s been a consistent performer from our offseason workouts,” Smith said Friday afternoon. “He’s been showing up every day, he’s done everything, he’s competed hard. He started at the bottom and worked himself up and he performed.
“But he’s just been one of our guys and you want to reward players who have taken the long way and earned it the right way. So we like him and when he was healthy and ready to go, he was our third receiver, did some positive things and he’s somebody that we want to keep building with.”
Coming to work every day with a goal-oriented mindset is something Murphy said his father instilled into him long ago.
“My dad always told me growing up, ‘When preparation and opportunity meet it equals success,’ ” Murphy said. “So this year I wrote it on my bathroom wall and just took that every day, this opportunity that I have, don’t let it slip by.
“Early on in the game you can drop a ball and be like, ‘Aw, well I got another chance at this.’ The road that I’ve taken and the road that I had to go through, I was like, ‘No, I’m not letting anything slip through the cracks.’ And that’s just how I’m going to keep it and take that mindset from here on out.”
The 2014 Bucs season has mostly been one to forget and Murphy’s year ended during Week 15’s home loss to Carolina after recording 31 receptions for 380 yards and two touchdowns. But Murphy believes this team is headed in the right direction and wants to be here when things turn for the better.
“I believe in this team, I believe in Coach Lovie, I believe in the organization – Jason [Licht], Coach Lovie, our receivers coach [Coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker] – I believe in all the guys that are in that locker room regardless of what the record says,” Murphy said. “I believe that we’re going to be contenders in the future and I want to be part of it. I want to see it turn around.”