On Friday Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris discussed the tough roster cuts the team has to make on Saturday to finalize the team's roster and addressed the situation of some of the players on the bubble. Morris also spoke about the team's injury situation, including the progress made by QB Josh Freeman.
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said that the team is busy evaluating the preseason finale at Houston, which Tampa Bay won 24-17, to determine which players will make the final roster as all NFL teams must submit their roster cuts to the league no later than 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.
“Today is the tough day and we have to go make decisions here in a bit,” Morris said. “It’s a positive thing that the cuts and the roster moves will be difficult. That means that we are getting better and we are going in the right direction.”
Morris said the Bucs’ brain trust when it comes to roster cut-downs consists of himself, general manager Mark Dominik, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
“Keep the 53 most physical football players,” Morris said. “You can’t let numbers get completely out of whack because you get in trouble and you start to run out of players or you start to get into those injury issues.”
Morris said he was “extremely pleased with the last two draft classes” and indicated that the roster will include most – if not all – of the products of Tampa Bay’s 2009 and 2010 drafts. He also talked about some of the players that are on the bubble, including 2004 first-round draft pick Michael Clayton, a former starter who did not see any action at wide receiver in the third preseason game and only a few plays against Houston on Thursday night.
Not only does the team have to look at his $3 million base salary in 2010, but also the fact that the Bucs have several young, developing wide receivers, including 2010 draft picks Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, 2009 draft choice Sammie Stroughter and veterans Maurice Stovall, Reggie Brown and Micheal Spurlock.
“Clayton is particularly a hard one,” Morris said. “We’re talking about living off his production from the past and what he’s been able to do this offseason and how he’s been around the building and what he’s done in his first preseason with this new bunch of guys and these hungry young men. We’ll go upstairs and he will be a part of the number crunching.”
Morris indicated that the Bucs won’t keep more than six receivers, but that the competition at wide receiver has made the decision-making process a tough one.
“It’s usually around five or six,” Morris said. “If you go over that then you really have a strong group and you really feel good about them and we’re close to that if not there.”
Another offensive player whose roster spot is in jeopardy is Clifton Smith, the NFL’s leading kickoff return man in 2009 with a 29-yard average and a Pro Bowl kick and punt returner in 2008. Smith has struggled with injuries and fumbles in his three-year NFL career and the emergence of players like Spurlock and Stroughter in the return game and Kareem Huggins at the running back position has made it tough on the Fresno State product.
“Cliff came on last night and he showed some stuff of him being back and of him being a flash,” Morris said. “He really did a great job in protection last night. We are going to go upstairs and evaluate and figure out where Cliff is and figure out exactly where we are with our running back situation.”
A defensive player on the bubble heading into Tampa Bay’s preseason finale at Houston was backup safety Corey Lynch. After getting the start at free safety against the Texans, Lynch recorded two interceptions – one that he returned 91 yards for a touchdown and one that set up another Buccaneers touchdown right before halftime.
“Corey has had a really good preseason,” Morris said. “That first game, he could have walked away as the player of the game that week. Last night, he cashed in on his opportunities, which showed signs that he is getting better. That 91-yard touchdown interception – that was a big-time play now. Coming off the other half of the field and reading out a play and diagnosing something in his own head and made a play on a play he had made a mistake on before in practice.”
Lynch is battling Sabby Piscitelli, a second-round pick in 2007 and a former starter, in addition to Cody Grimm, a seventh-rounder in 2010, for a roster spot. Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs keep five safeties this season as Morris has some defensive schemes that call for three safeties to be on the field at the same time. The fact that free safety Tanard Jackson can also play cornerback factors into that equation.
Lynch’s case may be helped at least initially by the fact that cornerback Aqib Talib will miss the season opener against Cleveland due to an NFL suspension. That gives Tampa Bay a one-week roster exemption.
“I can keep 54 guys now,” Morris said. “[Talib] won’t be on our football team that week.”
Helping the Bucs make the necessary roster cuts is the fact that the team is quite healthy coming out of the preseason.
“I couldn’t be happier with the overall health of our football team,” Morris said.
Tampa Bay’s head coach didn’t say that he knew the full extent of any injuries in last night’s game as those players would come in for physicals after his press conference, but the Bucs have only had to place one player – linebacker Jon Alston – on injured reserve thus far.
“Our most significant injury was a thumb two weeks ago,” Morris said, referring to quarterback Josh Freeman’s broken thumb. “We are highly anticipating his return like we talked about the first week [versus] Cleveland. That would be the only significant injury to talk about. If you wanted to talk, I guess Maurice Stovall missing [three] weeks there with the high ankle [sprain], if you talk about a high ankle [sprain] being significant. I’m very pleased about where we are.”
Freeman is scheduled to practice on Saturday for the first time since he broke his thumb against Kansas City on August 16 during the team’s walk-through at One Buc Place, which will be closed to the media. His first real practice will occur on Tuesday after a special teams practice on Sunday and the players take the day off on Monday.
Prior to the Texans game on Thursday night, Freeman was throwing several passes during warm-ups, including some downfield throws to see how his thumb would react.
“Hopefully we’ll get to see if he’s full stride on that [Tuesday] practice,” Morris said. “I don’t know if I was encouraged as much as his teammates were.
“I think he let it rip a little bit in the stadium. I think that was the first time he threw that thing down the field 80 yards. … He was trying to get a feel for how it feels and if he’s comfortable and what he wants to do. Is he going to go with the Tom Brady look with the glove and all of those types of issues? He’s getting a feel for it. He’s a positive young man. I think you are learning about his toughness and the kind of player and person he is. If it was hurting, I don’t think he would let you guys know anyway. He’s just a tough guy like that.”
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