The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to be getting two starters back for Sunday's home game against the New Orleans Saints. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee) and defensive end Stylez G. White (shoulder) returned to practice on Wednesday. The Bucs had White at full participation in practice on Wednesday while Bryant was listed as a limited participant.
Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) and quarterback Byron Leftwich (right elbow) were also limited in practice. Head coach Raheem Morris said that he limited running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams (knee) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) in practice for added rest.
"Just some rest. With Cadillac getting his knee done, just some rest on it today. He'll be ready to come back tomorrow," said Morris. "We're just taking care of Winslow, Cadillac, and some of the sore Bucs."
White entered the starting lineup at right defensive end when Gaines Adams was traded to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick. In the 2009 season White leads the Buccaneers with 18 quarterback pressures. He is second on the team with three sacks, and tied for second in tackles for a loss with four. White has 30 total tackles for the season.
Bryant has missed the past two games while trying to rest his injured knee. The Buccaneers' franchise player Bryant is playing under a one-year $9.884 million contract. He has missed three games this season due to the knee injury. For the season, Bryant has 16 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Filling in for Bryant has been wide receiver Maurice Stovall. He has 11 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown in three starts. He caught four passes for 47 yards with a 33-yard touchdown catch against the Dolphins. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that Bryant's absence has limited the Bucs offense.
"With him healthy you have a number of plays in the game plan where he is number one in the progression," said Olson. "A healthy [Bryant] would be one in the progression, so we got plays there. If he's not healthy then certainly those plays fall down the list.
"It is difficult, but again there is not an easy answer to that. We sat him now for two weeks. He worked out a little bit today. He was out there today. We'll evaluate, I'll get a chance to look at practice when I break from this meeting, and we'll look at him again today. Certainly with the two-week break, we're hoping that he'll be healthy this week, but we probably won't make that decision until later in the week. [Stovall] has done a nice job from the last two weeks, so [Stovall] will be ready if [Bryant] can't go."
During training camp Bryant had surgery on the knee, and missed all of the preseason games. After missing the Week 2 matchup with Buffalo, Bryant played in the next five games. The flight back from London caused Bryant's knee to swell, and set him back in his post-game recovery. The Buccaneers have not had the luxury of Bryant on the field since quarterback Josh Freeman entered the lineup. Even with the number one receiver potentially back in the lineup, Freeman does not feel pressure to get him the ball.
"I never feel like I have to go one person in particular," said Freeman. "'I'm just trying to get the completions. Whoever is open I'm trying to get them the ball, and I mean [Bryant], I've gotten plenty of work with [Bryant]. I know how he likes to run his routes. What his strong points are. I'm definitely excited about having [Bryant] back. [Stovall] has done a great job. I'm thinking we'll continue to give him some work. It is definitely exciting to have [Bryant] and his skill set back in the lineup."
Morris was fined $20,000 by the NFL for the remarks he made to the officials during last Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins. During the game Morris was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct for his comments. The play that Morris was contending occurred with 1:43 left in the first half. The replay assistant challenged a pass to wide receiver Michael Clayton, which was originally ruled incomplete by the officials. Replays seemed to show that Clayton caught the pass, and was done by contact. After the review, the play was ruled to be an interception by the Dolphins' Jason Taylor.
"You know I got fined, and I'm more than happy to give my money to a charity of their choosing, and I'm excited about it," Morris said. "I'm fortunate enough to be in a society where I can be fined that much money and be able to give it to a charity and move on. I learned my lesson. It was my fault. I made a mistake, no doubt about it."
FREEMAN EXCELS IN FOURTH QUARTER
Freeman is the fourth-ranked quarterback in the NFL during the fourth quarter. Against the Dolphins last Sunday, Freeman threw a touchdown pass and led another touchdown drive to take the lead with under two minutes to play. In his first start against the Packers he threw two touchdown passes in the final quarter to take a lead and get Tampa Bay their only win of the season thus far. The 21-year old said there is no secret to his success in the fourth quarter.
"Really the whole offense turned it up," said Freeman. "We got the ball back late in the game and we had to throw something together. This last week coach called a lot of runs and we were getting six, seven, eight yards a chunk. That helped us in the passing game."
Freeman's fourth-quarter quarterback rating is 117.9. Ahead of him is the Saints' Drew Brees at 124.2, Vikings' Brett Favre at 119.3, and the Ravens' Joe Flacco at 118.9. According to one of Freeman's wide outs, his success is due to his mental toughness.
"He doesn't get rattled," Clayton said. "He is pretty special throughout the whole game. He is pretty consistent throughout the whole game. We make mistakes. Every offense does, but he is unwavered and doesn't get rattled. Our confidence inside our own 50 is tremendous, his ability to escape the pocket and make all those throws down there. We're pretty efficient when we are down in that zone."
Olson agreed that Freeman has the mental skills to thrive when the pressure is on.
"It is early, it is only two games, but his composure, you talk about sometimes the game slowing down in those pressure moments," said Olson. "You'd like to check some guys heart rates in those pressure moments. He seems, and the good ones I think, they seem very cool and under control. He is that way, and he doesn't get rattled. On the sideline he is very calm. He sees the field well. The other thing with those guys, the really good ones, is their ability to perform under duress. He sees the field very well under duress, and that is a real positive quality that the good ones have. Through the last second they see the field well, and they can come off the field and articulate to you what they saw.
FREEMAN EMPHASIZING BALL SECURITY
Freeman said a point of emphasis this week would be ball security. The rookie Freeman has six fumbles in two games. He is second on the team in fumbles to backup quarterback Josh Johnson who had seven fumbles in five games. Both quarterbacks had only one of their fumbles recovered by the opposition.
"We will put more of an emphasis on it, but it is one of those things that just happened in a game. A shotgun snap we've never messed up in practice," Freeman said. "Under center exchange, I thought we had that all cleaned up. Then again we had a situation with that. We messed it up. Yeah it is putting an added emphasis between me and Jeff with just getting the ball."
The fumbled snaps were very frustrating for Olson.
"Reps that is it probably, I know I'm beating myself up over it. Both Jeff Faine and the quarterbacks are beating ourselves up over this thing," said Olson. "Throughout the season now there have been some critical, critical quarterback-center exchange issues. It just can't happen. It is unacceptable. They work the snaps everyday before practice. They take snaps throughout practice. You know do we have the problem in practice? No, so that is what is discouraging. The shotgun snap [Freeman] took his eye off the ball. That can't happen. We're in scoring position when that happens. You take away the possibility of seven points for us. We end kicking a very, very long field goal. But we were really in a position where we get a first down and then maybe a touchdown.
"We have a situation Sunday where the defensive line made a call in the middle of the cadence, and a quarterbacks got to have his hands ready at all times. In case he snaps it on the wrong cadence. Obviously they weren't. It happened the previous week. It happened twice there in critical situations. It could've cost us the football game. Revolving door at quarterback, there are still no excuses there and we got to get that cleaned up."
SAINTS INJURY REPORT
The New Orleans Saints had two players limited in practice: defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (knee) and safety Darren Sharper (knee). The following players did not participate in practice: running back Reggie Bush (knee), center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), cornerback Jabari Greer (groin), wide receiver Lance Moore (ankle), cornerback Tracy Porter (knee), and tight end David Thomas (knee).
BUCS AVOID BLACKOUT
According to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their home game on Sunday hosting the Saints will not be blacked out in the Tampa Bay area.