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On Tuesday afternoon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their preparation for their first preseason game of the year vs. the Tennessee Titans, conducting a two-hour practice in shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts) at One Buccaneer Place.
The Bucs welcomed back a few injured players, including linebacker Geno Hayes, center Sean Mahan and tight end Kellen Winslow.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the team still had several sidelined players due to injuries, including defensive tackle Greg Peterson (knee), center Jeff Faine (groin), kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), linebacker Angelo Crowell (hamstring), tight end Jerramy Stevens (undisclosed), and wide receivers Joel Filani (hamstring), Kelly Campbell (quad), Michael Clayton (hamstring) and Antonio Bryant (knee).
Running back and return specialist Clifton Smith did some light running at the beginning of practice, but he remained sidelined for most of the individual and team drills this afternoon.
Clayton and Campbell stayed busy during the practice by doing sets of push-ups while watching the action on the field.
The biggest surprise of the practice came when the Bucs dedicated a portion of today's workout to punt returning and coverage. The only problem was punter Josh Bidwell was missing.
Immediately after the practice concluded, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik disclosed that Bidwell is experiencing hip pain and undergoing tests to determine the severity of the injury he apparently has been attempting to play through for most of camp.
While the team plans to try-out a few punters Thursday, the Bucs had no punter in practice Wednesday, so they used second-year quarterback Josh Johnson.
Johnson didn't actually punt the ball, but he did take the snaps and helped Tampa Bay's punt coverage team in terms of preparing for the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans made the ESPN and NFL Network highlight reels Sunday night when backup punter A.J. Trapasso pulled off an impressive fake punt, which he returned 40 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of a 21-18 win over the Buffalo Bills in the Hall of Fame game.
The Bucs used Johnson's athleticism to simulate similar fake punt plays in an attempt to make sure its own coverage unit was disciplined and assignment sound.
It was also interesting to note that the Bucs ran a few fake punt plays of their own. However, Pewter Report cannot disclose more details than this because of NFL credential policies and stipulations pertaining to team strategies and tactics.
With Smith sidelined, the Bucs used running backs Cadillac Williams and Kareem Huggins, and rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter to field punts from the JUGGS machine.
Shortly after stretching towards the beginning of practice, the Bucs broke off into individual groups to warm up. There were a few drops here, including ones by receivers Maurice Stovall and Dexter Jackson.
There were also a few errant passes thrown during the warm-up sessions, including ones by Johnson and rookie QB Josh Freeman. Both errant passes were badly overthrown to the intended receivers.
The Bucs dedicated most of Wednesday afternoon's practice to scout team 11-on-11 drills, which called for the defense to read a card with a snapshot of the Titans defensive formations and execute those assignments vs. the Bucs offense. The same strategy was implemented for the offense, which would read the play card and attempt to simulate the Titans offense while the Bucs defense attempted to defend it.
On the first play of the scout team defense, Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich took the snap and was sacked by defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who completely blew through the line to get to the signal caller.
The next play was shaky when Leftwich threw incomplete to WR Maurice Stovall on the left sideline with cornerback Ronde Barber in tight coverage.
That's certainly not how Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski want to see their offense start the game on Saturday night, but the quarterback play quickly improved after those two plays.
Bucs QB Luke McCown, who will start the game in Tennessee, entered the lineup and completed a nice pass to TE Kellen Winslow for a 10-yard gain. The offense picked up another 10 yards on the next play when McCown threw a bullet to Stroughter near the sideline with CB Torrie Cox in coverage.
Leftwich's next series was much better than his first. He dumped a short pass off to Stroughter on his first snap. His second was a completion to TE Ryan Purvis in the flat. Purvis saw extra playing time this afternoon with Stevens sidelined with an injury.
The offense was aided by a mental breakdown by the scout team defense on the next play when rookie defensive end Jarriett Buie jumped offsides. However, the offense returned the favor on the next play when tackle James Lee false started.
Lee, who has had a shaky camp, was pulled from the huddle and replaced by starter Donald Penn. While practice resumed, Lee was forced to run a lap around the practice field for the mistake.
Buie helped make up for his penalty from a few plays earlier when he timed a pass from McCown well in the air and batted the ball down at the line of scrimmage to force the incompletion.
From there, Leftwich received some more snaps and delivered two nice throws. The first was caught by a diving WR Pat Carter for a 12-yard gain on the left sideline. The next was a bullet thrown to WR Cortez Hankton in-between CB DeAngelo Willingham and S C.J. Byrd.
The quarterback play didn't miss a beat when McCown returned to the lineup. He completed a short pass to TE John Gilmore in the flat, and followed that up with a 12-yard completion down the right seam to WR Mario Urrutia.
Tampa Bay's defense also had a sharp outing vs. the scout team offense. The series started in the red zone, with the scout team offense driving towards end zone from just 20 yards away.
The series was run-heavy in nature, and rightfully so since the Bucs defense is preparing to face one of the league's best running back duos in Tennessee's Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
Bucs RB Derrick Ward and Huggins took most of the carries for the scout team offense, but found little running room against the Bucs defense.
The defense also made coordinator Jim Bates happy when it forced an unidentified running back to fumble, which allowed backup middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides to recover the ball and sprint up the right sideline for a big gain.
Once the red zone session concluded, the Bucs offense returned to the field to face the scout team defense again.
Leftwich had a nice series, completing a 10-yard pass to Stovall, who hauled it in near the sideline.
McCown got off to a good start, completing a short pass to Urrutia in the flat. However, the next snap didn't go so well for McCown, who was sacked by rookie defensive end Kyle Moore and backup MLB Rod Wilson, who blitzed on the play. Both players came from the left side of the formation.
McCown quickly rebounded, though, firing one of his best passes of camp to Winslow down the left seam for a big gain against rookie CB E.J. Biggers.
Leftwich cooled off a bit on his next series, throwing a short pass to Purvis across the middle that should have been intercepted by MLB Barrett Ruud, who showed an impressive vertical while defending the pass on the play. Ruud punished himself for not coming up with the pick by doing push-ups on the field before returning to the huddle.
His next throw fell incomplete on an attempt to WR Brian Clark. After a short completion to Stroughter, Leftwich delivered a nice throw to Winslow down the sideline.
Johnson and Freeman saw some action today, but not much during the scout team sessions. Johnson's first pass attempt was dropped by Purvis, but he would have been sacked on the play.
On the ensuing play, Johnson's pass to the back of the end zone was dropped by Purvis.
Freeman didn't fare particularly well in the red zone session, but not all of the blame fell on his throwing shoulder. Freeman threw up a ball into the back of the end zone that should have been intercepted by S Will Allen, but it was dropped.
While that mistake was on Freeman, some of the others were not. On the next play, his pass to Carter sailed right through the receiver's hands in the end zone, falling incomplete on a play that could have produced a touchdown.
On the next play, Freeman threw a fade to the left corner of the end zone. The pass was intended for Winslow, who dropped the touchdown because linebacker Quincy Black hit the ball out of his hands.
The practice came to an encouraging end for Freeman, though, as his final pass attempt to the back of the end zone was completed to Stroughter, who made an impressive one-handed grab for the score.
Leftwich's final series produced mixed results. He was sacked by Cox and defensive lineman Louis Holmes on one play. However, his next pass attempt was completed to Clark down the right seam for a decent gain.
Johnson's last few pass attempts were entertaining to say the least. His first pass was completed to Hankton across the middle. But the result was different the next time Johnson attempted a pass to Hankton.
That play came on a deep throw into the end zone while Johnson scrambled towards the right sideline. Johnson waited too long to throw to Hankton, who had a one-on-one matchup with Byrd. The pass hung up too long in the air, but Hankton still appeared to out jump Byrd for the ball, but the rookie safety knocked it from his hands at the last second as both players fell to the ground.
Johnson's final throw of practice was batted down at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Dre Moore.
The Bucs are scheduled to hold two practices on Thursday. The morning workout, which was originally scheduled to be dedicated to special teams, has been changed to a full practice. The Bucs will practice at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday evening, but that workout is closed to the public.
PEWTER REPORT QB SCORECARD While it was a tight battle, McCown outperformed Leftwich today while both quarterbacks attempted to execute vs. the scout team defense. McCown was careful with the football and did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands in a timely manner, although he did check the ball down a little too often.