BUCS GET LYNCHED ON THURSDAY The Buccaneers had a special visitor for Thursday morning’s walk-through practice. Former Tampa Bay strong safety John Lynch was strolling the sidelines with Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who was an assistant defensive backs coach when Lynch was wearing red and pewter.
Lynch, who retired from the NFL and is working as an NFL analyst for Fox this year, has been hired by the Buccaneers to provide color commentary for three of the four televised preseason games, starting with Saturday’s game at Tennessee.
“Johnny Lynch is in town – he’s working our game this week,” Morris said. “You guys might get pissed off at me, I’ll put him in first class with me – even though he’s media. But he has money in the emotional bank account. He’s 47 Red. He’s back home.”
Lynch, who is partnered with Chris Myers during the preseason, said that he will be teaming up with Ron Pitts to cover 15 NFL games for Fox this year during the regular season. Lynch said he would enjoy covering Buccaneers games, but only has the Fox schedule for the first three contests of the year and none of those games involve Tampa Bay.
HAMSTRING INJURIES A PRODUCT OF PHYSICAL PRACTICES The Bucs have already ruled out several players for their preseason opener in Tennessee, including receivers Antonio Bryant (knee injury/surgery) and Michael Clayton (hamstring), kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), punter Josh Bidwell (hip), center Jeff Faine (groin) and linebacker Angelo Crowell (hamstring).
Wide receivers Kelly Campbell (quad) and Joel Filani (hamstring) will be game-time decisions. The good news for the Bucs is running back Clifton Smith returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play vs. the Titans.
Tampa Bay currently has four players sidelined with hamstring injuries, and linebacker Geno Hayes and Smith just returned from their own respective hamstring ailments.
According to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, the hamstring injuries are not a concern and are simply a product of the physical practices Tampa Bay has conducted in training camp.
“It’s been a thought, but the problem is we’re not used to [physical practices] because we used to have so many walk-thrus,” Morris said of the hamstring injuries. “What I think it is is me being tough on them, me having them put the pads on and me having the run. You’re going to get more hamstring and groin injuries. When you look back at the injuries like [trainer] Todd Toriscelli has done, we had more hamstring injuries under [former head coach] Tony Dungy because he kind of practiced like us, with more pads, more tempo and more physical play. When you’re dealing with more toughness, more heat and more physical play, you’re going to get a few more hamstring injuries.
“I’ve got the best trainer in the world. He’s very confident in getting all these guys back. He’s never had a hamstring injury that lingered. I can’t remember one on this team that has been a problem throughout the year. I remember Aqib [Talib] having a hamstring injury when we played the Bears last year. He missed that game and was back for the next. That doesn’t usually happen. I trust our trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to make the right calls. I’m fine with that. We’ll pull back when we have to. We’ll be smart about it, but we’re developing the mental toughness.”
MORRIS SLOWS THE PRACTICE TEMPO The Buccaneers were scheduled to have a 70-minute special teams practice Thursday morning, but the hip injury to Josh Bidwell forced the team to nix those plans. So Tampa Bay announced that they would be having a regular, two hour and 10 minute practice instead.
But Morris made another change on Thursday morning and decided to shorten the practice by an hour and have a walk-through tempo prior to Saturday’s preseason opener at Tennessee.
“We’re getting close to the game and I want to try to get these guys to the game so they can play,” Morris said. “We want to evaluate them in their best form and in their best shape, so I thought it was a smart decision to have a little walk-through. We’ll get this afternoon and get out to the stadium and have a little glide-stride rather than the normal tempo you’re used to. We’ll still have our helmets on and no shoulder pads. We’ll run around in our sneakers and our cleats and get that stuff done.”
Morris envisions the same type of walk-through tempo tonight at the stadium practice where the coaches will go through a dress rehearsal of sorts with some coaches up in the press box using the stadium communication system to send plays down to the field.
“I’m going to put all situations out there and let them go through the situations,” Morris said. “It’s one thing to sit in your office and script it, that’s easy. I’m the best coach upstairs [in the meeting rooms at One Buc Place]. I should’ve been a head coach six years ago, but until you’re under the fire and under the gun, there’s nothing like it. Tonight is more about rhythm and timing and getting it for the coaches and players.”
Thursday night’s practice at Raymond James Stadium will be from 4:55 – 7:00 p.m. and is closed to the general public, but will be open in its entirety to the media.
THE PLAN FOR WILKERSON Gone this year is 6-foot-6, 305-pound Kevin Carter, who was Tampa Bay’s starting left defensive end over the past two years. In his place is Jimmy Wilkerson, who stands just 6-foot-2, 270 pounds and will get his first regular starting NFL job in his seven years in the league.
Because Wilkerson, who was tied for second on the team last year with five sacks as a reserve, is somewhat undersized compared to the likes of Carter and other bigger defensive ends around the NFL, Morris says they have a plan for making sure he holds up over the entire season.
“With Jimmy Wilkerson, you’re talking about a hardcore, hard-nosed guy,” Morris said. “You’re talking about a guy who is going to give you complete effort at left end and move inside on third down and give you that rush. You’ve got to spell him a little bit because he’s a smaller guy. He’s a smaller guy playing left end, but his effort, his motor, his intensity is going to make him the best left defensive end we have. I’ve got to be smart with him.
“We’ve got a plan. We’ve got to follow it. We need some other guys and help. We need Kyle Moore to be able to come along and give us some snaps. We need Greg White to come on and give him some snaps. All of those things have to happen. We need Quincy Black to give us some rushes at left end so he can have a couple snaps off. We have to have his best self. If we have his best self I think we can get about 40 snaps. I can’t overdo it.”
PHILLIPS, PISCITELLI TO GET PLENTY OF WORK VS. TITANS The Buccaneers’ decision to move Jermaine Phillips from strong safety to weakside linebacker this year was largely made due to the emergence of Sabby Piscitelli. Phillips, who has started at strong safety since 2004, turned 30 this offseason after signing a one-year deal with the Buccaneers, and the team feels he has the speed and physical presence to finish out his career at linebacker.
Morris is anxious to see how well Phillips has transitioned to linebacker when lines up at his new position for the first time in a real game on Saturday night against Tennessee. Phillips has struggled a bit with underneath coverage and questions linger if he can shed guards effectively and hold up physically near the line of scrimmage.
“This is another big test for Jermaine Phillips and I think he’s going to shock us all,” Morris said. “I can’t wait to see him go out there and do it. I’ve watched him in the box for years. I’ve seen his talent. I’ve seen him be able do it. He’s just got to do it consistently and every snap now.”
Piscitelli, the team’s second-round pick in 2007, gets his first chance to be the team’s full-time starter at strong safety this year. Piscitelli’s rookie season was largely spent on injured reserve with a broken foot. He did have five starts last year filling in for the injured Phillips, but Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Bates want to see Piscitelli get extended playing time in the preseason, especially with the Bucs’ new defensive scheme.
“He’ll get more snaps than Tanard [Jackson],” Morris said. “He played most of the time last year or split time with Jermaine [Phillips] and Tanard last year. Sabby is going to run around a little more in this brand new defense. He’s still a young player. He’ll play more than Tanard. The reason Tanard doesn’t have to [play that much] is because Tanard can go all day. We’re going to go out there and get Tanard one series. We’ll get Sabby a couple more and let him play with Will [Allen] a little bit.”
BACKUP TACKLE A POSITION OF CONCERN FOR BUCS? Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line is already set. That includes the left and right tackle positions, where Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood will start, respectively.
Penn, who signed a one-year tender worth $2.7 million as a restricted free agent this offseason, missed several voluntary workouts due to being unhappy about not receiving a long-term contract from the Bucs.
However, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has liked what he has seen from Penn, who has started 28 games in three seasons in Tampa Bay.
“Donald Penn has all the talent in the world,” said Morris. “As far as him progressing right now, it’s with his position coach [Pete Mangurian]. I can see those two forming a bond, starting to have fun together. They can actually yell at each other and get a little smirk or grin at the end of the deal. Donald Penn is working on his weight, it’s coming down. He’s starting to get into the best shape of his life. He’s working harder. He understands the concepts. He understands the system. He’s getting better and better every day. He’s got a tough coach, one who will be on him every day. You’re talking about a guy who came from the bottom, who has no ego.”
The real competition is behind Penn and Trueblood. While they could keep more than one backup offensive tackle, the Bucs would ideally like to keep a swing tackle on their 53-man roster. The preseason games likely will decide who that player will be.
“At swing, you’re talking about guys like James Lee, Anthony Alabi, and this new guy Demar Dotson. He’s been showing up. He’s been impressive. I can’t wait to see him get in the game. We’re talking about a kid who played four years of basketball and one year of football. He came in here at new agent tryout. I didn’t have big enough cleats to fit him so he wore sneakers all week and now he’s out there kick-sliding and blocking defensive ends, blocking great players, learning the system. He didn’t know football. He’s learning everything from Pete [Mangurian], but he is 6-foot-9, 310 pounds and has basketball feet. I can’t wait to see him go out there and compete.
“We’ve got [rookie Xavier Fulton] playing everywhere. We’ve got him playing guard, playing tackle. You’re talking about a smart kid. He has Jeremy Zuttah-type qualities. He’ll be another guy in the mix.”
BROOKS TO VISIT RAIDERS NEXT Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks is scheduled to visit the Oakland Raiders Friday, according to his former teammates, John Lynch, who was at One Buc Place Thursday.
Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowler, played for the Bucs from 1995-2008. He was released in Tampa Bay’s youth movement in February. Brooks worked out for the Saints earlier this week, but left New Orleans without signing a contract.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Raheem Morris on his stable of running backs and those players have a 53rd man mentality.
“It’s a great room. When you talk about guys who have dug themselves out of the 53rd man on the roster. Who was Earnest Graham? What round was he drafted in? Exactly. What round did Derrick Ward get drafted in? Exactly. Cadillac [Williams] is the only guy in there that was drafted high. You’re talking about a great character guy. You’re talking about a guy who bonds with his teammates. You’re talking about a guy that can get them all going. What round was Clifton Smith drafted in? That’s right. That’s what I thought. You’re talking about a bunch of guys that work together that love playing football, that hustle, that cheer for each other, that have bonded together in the pit, in the tunnel – whatever you want to call it – they just come out here and start swinging at people. That’s great.