The Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcomed back fullback Mike Alstott, who had been held out of action since suffering a neck burner in last Wednesday’s morning practice, during their afternoon practice on Sunday, which was in shorts and helmets. Alstott participated in all of the individual and team drills on Sunday, but Michael Pittman was limited in practice with a hamstring injury.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden noted a couple of players who missed Sunday’s practice.

“We held out Derek Watson; he has a stomach virus,” Gruden said. “We’re looking at that. Doug Buckles, an offensive guard, has a stomach ailment; we’re looking into that as well. Those two guys were held out today.”

Guards Jeb Terry (knee) and Sean Mahan (elbow) attended practice, but did not participate. Terry was on crutches.

Starting left guard Matt Stinchcomb returned to practice, while left tackle Derrick Deese attended practice without his boot cast, but was limited to some individual work with a trainer due to his lingering foot injury, which has caused him to miss the majority of training camp.

When asked about Deese’s progress, Gruden scowled and said, “He doesn’t look like he’s ready to go. He’s still working through it.”

Perhaps the most interesting event at Sunday’s practice was the sight of “reward stickers” on the back of some Buccaneers players’ helmets. Gruden decided to reward certain players for their performance against Tennessee in Tampa Bay’s 20-17 overtime win on Friday night.

“It’s just a little personal matter, you know, rewards for good physical plays that they made,” Gruden said. “Just good plays in the game…it’s a symbol, if you know what I mean, kind of like Ohio State gets the Buckeye leafs. Michigan, they cover their helmets with those stickers. We realize we can’t wear them during the games, but we can wear them out here.”

Gruden didn’t want to get into specifics about the circular white stickers, which say “Opponent Killer” and feature a bastardized version of the Bucs skull and swords – minus the red flag.

“It’s just something that we’re using to have some fun with the guys,” Gruden said. “We’re not allowed to reward players with money because it’s against the collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap, things of that nature, so the best I can do is a sticker.”

When asked who was in charge of dishing out the stickers, Gruden said, “I’m the sticker man. I don’t know how it’s going to go over, but I’m having fun with it.”

One of the most overlooked stats in Tampa Bay’s 20-17 overtime win at Tennessee on Friday was the Bucs’ lack of penalties. Tampa Bay totaled just four penalties for 25 yards against the Titans.

For all of the criticism Gruden and the Bucs took for being undisciplined last year during their 5-11 season with a whopping 117 penalties for 916 yards, Tampa Bay’s play was crisp and never got sloppy in the preseason opener despite shuffling several new players and rookies into the lineup throughout the game. Gruden was impressed by the efficient play and the lack of penalties and assignment errors.

“Yeah, it did [impress me],” Gruden said. “We’ve had officials here for the offseason program and the camps. They know that’s the thing we’re looking for, you know? For a first preseason game to play 82 players, yeah, I was pleased with that.”

With Alstott having the “A-Train” moniker, and Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, Carnell Williams being called “Cadillac,” Gruden decided to dish out a few more nicknames to his stable of running backs on Sunday while discussing some of the players who caught his attention from the Bucs’ preseason opening win against the Titans.

“I thought Scott Jackson helped himself,” Gruden said. “He came out there with a broken hand and played well at center. He made some good plays in a very difficult situation. I thought Earnest Graham…Earnest “Dodge Ram” Graham…I call him Ian “Go-Cart” Smart…Derek “The Datsun” Watson. Those guys filled in for our Cadillac and did good things. Tennessee’s no slouch of a defense. If you look at [Albert] Haynesworth and [Keith] Bulluck and the history that they’ve had there in that stadium in that defense, we did some things. We’re going to build off of that. We’ve got to find out who makes this team at the running back position. Rick Razzano comes back this week to make it more competitive, and we do have our draft pick in the first round who will play a little bit more this week.”

If Razzano’s blocking skills are as good as advertised and he ends up making the Buccaneers, perhaps Gruden will officially nickname him the “Razzmanian Devil” as some Bucs fans have already begun to call him.

On Sunday, Gruden was asked about his receiving corps. With Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard locked into the first three spots, Gruden said that he is still waiting for some younger receivers to step up and earn roster spots to fill out the depth chart.

“Well, I like [Joey] Galloway, I like [Michael] Clayton,” Gruden said. “If you saw Clayton’s block on Earnest Graham’s first touchdown, you’d like Clayton. You’d like Galloway. If you’ve been out here watching him, you’d like Ike Hilliard. I feel pretty good about those three guys. Edell Shepherd’s making progress. I feel a lot better about the receiving corps now than I did at this time last year. We lost our top six guys, if you want to count [Frank] Murphy and Edell Shepherd and Charles Lee and Galloway and [Keenan] McCardell and [Joe] Jurevicius. So I feel damn good right now…how’s that?”

One of the players who stood out for his toughness on punt returns at Tennessee was DeAndrew Rubin.

“He made a great catch on third-and-six, too – inside, caught the ball on impact, protected the ball for a critical first down,” Gruden said of Rubin. “I like the way he runs and I like the way he played. He played physical. Paris Warren played physical and did some good things. His helmets loaded up with stickers today. So those two guys at the wide receiver position stood up. We’re a lot like everybody else. We have competition. Some of these players are a little bit obscure for the four, five, six and seven holes, and we’ll see what happens.”

Gruden on feeling good about winning the preseason opener:

“We want to win the game,” Gruden said. “That’s the number-one goal. It’s great to make field goals. We’ve lost a number of games in the last couple years, tight games. It certainly helps when you’re two-for-two. That’s a good start for us. We’ve said here in the last seven or eight days that both men have kicked the ball well. There was a lot of pressure on that [game-ending] kick, to make that kick now. If [Matt Bryant] misses that field goal that’s a long plane ride home, now, because we’ve got to keep playing.”

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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