One of the goals during the preseason is for Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris to find a solid, dependable third wide receiver to back up starters Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. The reason this mission is so important is that not only would the third wide receiver see some significant playing time on offense, but the third receiver would become a starter should Bryant or Clayton succumb to injury.
"Somebody has to step up and become the third wideout," Morris said. "Somebody has to step up on the third down and come into the game and say, ‘Hey, I'm in the game, the ball is most likely coming to me – that's why I'm in here. I'm going to demand that you double-team me. I'm going to demand that you double-team one of the other two guys and leave me open and I'm going to win.' That guy has to be [former Detroit Piston reserve guard] Vinnie Johnson, he has to be like [Elbert Mack] on defense. He has to come in and pass the ball on the wing and hit a three and we've got to be able to go home and say, ‘First down.'
Morris said that a quartet of receivers has stepped up over the last couple weeks, but he needs one guy to emerge from that group, which consists of Brian Clark, Maurice Stovall, Cortez Hankton and rookie Sammie Stroughter.
"The other day, the guys that stepped up in the game were Sammie and B.C.," Morris said. "It's back and forth. You need this game to evaluate this [the wide receiver position] as well.
"You've got two guys who've showed up in practice [in Stovall and Hankton] and two guys who've showed up in the game [Stroughter and Clark]. Let's see who can put it all together this week and the next week in practice."
Morris said that Stroughter, who led the Bucs in receiving with three catches for 42 yards at Tennessee last Saturday, has really been impressive since being drafted in the seventh round by Tampa Bay last April. Morris likes the fact that he doesn't make excuses.
"I'm letting the young man play," Morris said. "I'm going to let him go out there and prove himself. You're talking about a guy that hurt the web in his hand and when goes out there to catch a ball and if he drops a ball he doesn't look at his hand. He just goes out and catches the next one."
MORRIS CRITIQUES LEFTWICH'S GAME Morris commented on the playing style of veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich, which features a slow, wind-up delivery in his throwing motion and a lack of mobility in the pocket. Morris acknowledged those shortcomings, but defended his quarterback by saying that he's made it this far with his own peculiar style.
"I'm not the quarterback guru. I just know where the ball is supposed to go and if it gets there nice, I like it. If it doesn't, I'm pretty mad," Morris said. "I don't know the technical coaching points about coaching the quarterback. I know it's different. It's elongated. It's a big, long release. It looks slow out of his hand, but the throw is so fast it makes up for it. He threw a lot of yards with it at Marshall and at Jacksonville and stepped in for the Steelers and did a pretty good job."
Morris went on to discuss Leftwich's 17-yard sack against Tennessee on Saturday night in which be broke free from two defenders on the play only to be finally taken down by former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Jovan Haye. Would he have liked to see Leftwich go down much earlier in the play to avoid taking such a big loss?
"Probably, but you're talking about a competitor," Morris said. "It's easy for us to make the smart decision to go down, and he knows he should have, but he was thinking, ‘I'm going to shake all these dudes off and throw this ball away and lose no yards.' He'll make a better decision. He has to make a better decision than losing 17. But you have to admit, you were in your seat thinking, ‘He's about to get out of this!' Because I was, too."
NICHOLSON GOT PLASTERED; PHILLIPS PRACTICES AT SS Morris discussed the coverage gaffe on Saturday night when Tennessee rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt was left all alone in Cover 2 defense by safety Donte Nicholson. He said Nicholson broke one of the fundamental rules of the safety on a quarterback scramble play.
"Donte Nicholson probably had seven great plays and one bad one," Morris said. "It was a simple thing – it's a plaster rule. You are in zone coverage and the quarterback decides to run, whether it's Vince Young or Jack Delhomme – it doesn't matter. You don't decide to go get him from your half field. That's just not your responsibility. He was just too antsy. Instead of doing his normal rules of plastering the receiver back there with him, he wants to go tackle Vince Young.
"Donte plays fast when he knows what he's doing, and when he doesn't, he plays real slow. He's starting to get better and he's gotten better throughout his career. You just can't do that. I looked at him and he looked at me and he said, ‘Plaster' and he walked off the field."
Speaking of Tampa Bay's safeties, Morris praised the play of starter Sabby Piscitelli and revealed that Jermaine Phillips, who started at strong safety from 2004-08 before moving to weakside linebacker this offseason, took some practice reps at strong safety for the first time during camp. Morris said that Phillips may be called upon to play some safety during a game should Piscitelli get injured.
That may be an indictment of Nicholson's play.
BUCS INJURY UPDATE The Buccaneers practiced in full pads on Tuesday morning and are scheduled to have a walk-through during the afternoon. The following players did not practice: safety Will Allen (shoulder), wide receiver Anthony Bryant (knee), kicker Matt Bryant, receiver Dexter Jackson (ankle), linebacker Matt McCoy (leg), cornerback Kyle Arrington (groin), wide receiver Joel Filani (hamstring), defensive end Stylez G. White (shoulder) and right tackle Demar Dotson (undisclosed).
Tight end Kellen Winslow was at practice, but not in pads and not participating because he is a one-day practice player.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, who missed Monday's practice due to a family matter, returned to practice on Tuesday along with receiver Kelly Campbell, who has recovered from his quad injury.
"I thought our guys were starting to establish their own identity, to be honest with you," Morris said. "Usually I have to give them a spark, but today I felt other players giving sparks. I felt other guys enlightening the practice. The trash talk amongst each other – it was a lot of fun to see. It was a lot of fun to see the personality of your team come out."
"I told them all last night – nobody on the 80-man roster should worry about being cut. If you are worrying about being cut, you probably already are. Right now you are playing your lights out. Don't look around and start trying to count numbers. We're going to keep the 53 best people in this room."
MORRIS PLEASED WITH FIRST CAMP Morris said that his first training camp as the Buccaneers head coach has met his expectations.
"It really has," Morris said. "Like I said right from the beginning … high expectations. I haven't had an excuse from anyone. I don't have problems with any of them. They came out and played hard. They competed hard throughout practice. I didn't have one person complain about the number of padded practices we had. The guy who has been taking off the pads has been me. They came to me a couple of times to actually put them on because they like to play that way. They like to practice that way. … I'm really pleased with training camp to make a long story short."
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: [email protected]