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Big Help Up Front

Posted Aug 4, 2010

Camp Notes: Recently-acquired G Keydrick Vincent was a big part of the Panthers' rushing success in 2008-09 and he'll have a chance to make an impact in Tampa, too

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers met twice last fall, and in those games the two teams combined for 702 rushing yards, five touchdowns on the ground and 5.3 yards per carry.

Carolina's 267-yard performance in the first game was the outlier in that statistical bunch, but both teams ran the ball impressively in each game. Neither team finished with less than 124 rushing yards or 4.8 yards per carry in either contest.

Keydrick Vincent was the starting right guard for the Panthers in both of those games. The next time Tampa Bay and Carolina meet, Vincent could be wearing the Bucs' pewter and red.

Vincent signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in July after starting 30 games over the past two years for the rush-happy Panthers. He is one of 80 men the Bucs have taken to training camp, and he's certainly a good bet to be among the 53 they keep for the regular season. Tampa Bay returns all five starters from its 2009 offensive line, but among the other eight linemen on the team Vincent has by far the most NFL experience. The 32-year-old Vincent has 79 career starts for the Steelers, Ravens, Cardinals and Panthers; the other seven combined have yet to start a game.

Like all experienced veterans joining a new team, Vincent is eager to compete for a starting job, but whether or not he cracks that returning five it's clear that he makes the Bucs' line a deeper, more promising unit.

"He's a big man," said Head Coach Raheem Morris of the 6-5, 325-pounder. "He's able to move people. He's slowly picking up the offense and getting comfortable. He's showing his physical play. He's showing what he does best and I think he likes football a lot. He's an intense young man and I would never know he was in the league as long as he is right now just because of his demeanor and how he approaches the game."

The Buccaneers want to be a power running team that can exploit its loaded backfield of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham. They would do well to match the ground-game effectiveness of the Panthers the last two years, as Carolina finished third in the NFL in rushing yards in both 2008 and 2009. Vincent was a big part of that, and he thinks he can help bring the same thing to Tampa.

"We were a running team with the Panthers and hopefully I can bring that to this team," he said. "They're a good running team anyway, but just a little bit of help from me should help out."

Morris gave Vincent some time with the first-team line in practice on Monday morning, inserting him at left guard between Donald Penn and Jeff Faine. That's an indication that the veteran blocker is picking up the playbook fast after his late arrival, and that certainly doesn't surprise Morris.

"When he came and sat in my office this summer, he was scratching around looking for a playbook," said the coach. "I was running around the office looking for one to give to him because I didn't want him to get angry. He's an intense young man. He brings a certain intensity to us, a Carolina demeanor. 'We're going to run the ball and you're not going to stop us.'"

Vincent stepped in for third-year man Jeremy Zuttah on Monday, much as 2010 newcomer Sean Jones has alternated with Sabby Piscitelli at strong safety with the first-team defense. That is not an indication that the Bucs are unhappy with Zuttah, who impressively stepped in as the starter last year after incumbent Arron Sears left the team. Zuttah gives away a few pounds to his new teammate but is impressively nimble and the Bucs are still very high on his future.

"Zuttah's an athlete," said Morris. "He might be in the top one or two athletes on our O-Line. He's a guy that can move and pull and do some athletic moves in pass protection. He can play tackle, guard or center. Zuttah brings a lot to the table for us. The only thing with Zuttah is it's a matter of playing. He went out there and started for the first time for us last year and I look forward to him in his second year starting, second year playing, to be even better. I have a lot of confidence in these guys. Then once you create some competition, you bring a guy like Keydrick Vincent in to bring some toughness to the whole group, you start to see better play out of everybody."

That competition is all Vincent was asking for when he signed on with the Bucs last month. A Bartow native, he grew up rooting for the Buccaneers and is looking forward to continuing his career in Tampa.

"It's a blessing for me," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me to play football again and I'm just giving it all I've got."


Less Is More

Vincent and the rest of the Buccaneers' linemen may appreciate what Roy Miller adds to their efforts when the offense gets close to the goal line. As we mentioned in our earlier camp report on Wednesday, Miller has been taking some snaps as a jumbo blocking back on short-yardage plays. It's a role he sometimes took on with the Texas Longhorns and it's something the Bucs' coaching staff is considering to increase their roster flexibility on Sundays.

On the other hand, the Bucs' O-Linemen may not appreciate what Miller has been doing on the other 95% of his snaps. While much attention has been given to the Bucs' rookie defensive tackles, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, Miller hasn't exactly gotten lost in the shuffle. The second-year player has been running with the first-team line at nose tackle, next to McCoy, and he has shown outstanding quickness and strength.

Miller credits his quick start in part to his efforts to lose about 20 pounds since the end of last season, getting him closer to an even 300. When he arrived, the thick 6-2 tackle was asked to play at a heavier weight because then-defensive coordinator Jim Bates preferred big cloggers in the middle of his scheme. The Bucs' Cover Two-based defense had for many years made very good use of smaller, quicker defensive tackles. When Morris took over the defensive play-calling for the stretch run last season - and then kept the defensive coordinator mantle for 2010 - the pendulum swung back to that latter form of player.

And that's the type of role Miller believes he is best suited for.

"Unlike last year I wanted to lose a little weight and be able to play lighter," he said. "I felt more comfortable in college. Coming in here last year was a big transition for me to play at 325. To be able to come in here 20 pounds under that, it feels great."

Of course, the Bucs didn't want Miller to lose some of his bulk and then suddenly be easy to push around in the trenches. Thus, the young defensive tackle focused on combining his weight loss with an intense program in the weight room to build strength. He believes he has put himself in position to excel in his current form and now he just has to recapture what he knew about that style of play.

"I'm still learning, or remembering some old things I used to do when I was in college," said Miller. "I'm just trying to put it all together here in camp. I feel a lot faster. I just feel a lot healthier. I feel like I'm strong enough to play at a light weight."


Camp Sounds

Many other topics were discussed on the fifth day of the Buccaneers' 2010 training camp. Here's a sampling of what was heard around One Buc Place on Wednesday.

QB Josh Freeman on reacting to a good defensive showing in the goal line drill:

"Obviously, we want to score every time we're down there, but at the end of the day we're all teammates and it's great to see those guys do such a good job. There have been a lot of good battles up front in this camp."

RB Cadillac Williams on taking some hard hits in that drill:

"It was just exciting to come out for our first live action. It was good to have the guys hit pads, bump heads, and I think so far things are going good. I'm just excited for this season."

Head Coach Raheem Morris on if Cadillac Williams can be an elite back again:

"When you're talking about Cadillac you're talking about what's right between his rib cage. Period. You're talking about a guy that's got all kinds of heart. He's just a different animal than what we know. On game day when you give him the ball he's going to give you every single thing he's got. There's no reason that he cannot become an elite back in this league again and there's no reason that he's not an elite back in this game when he's healthy. Right now he's as healthy as he's been. He's coming off his first offseason without an injury in a long time and he's excited. He knows it. He wants it. He's in a contract year. It's all the great stuff that you love as a coach."

S Sean Jones on his competition with Sabby Piscitelli at strong safety:

"Oh, it's going good. Like I said before, competition brings the best out of us. Sabby's been doing a great job but I came down here for a purpose. That's to start, first of all, and to make plays and be an impact player for this team. I'm definitely working hard. I'm trying to everything I can to help this team win."

Morris on the progress made by third-year DT Dre Moore:

"Dre's looked as good as I've seen him look in his three years here. He's lighter, he's playing better, he's playing with better pad level, better base. He's buying into everything that we're saying. He's not going to go away easy and that's awesome. He sees the writing on the wall. We wanted competition and we got it. Dre has absolutely stepped up to the challenge. I'm very proud of what he's done at this camp and I look forward to seeing continued growth from him. He's going to go out in the preseason games and prove himself."

DT Roy Miller on how the defensive line is progressing:

"We got a lot of confidence definitely towards the end of last season. We improved a lot. This year, throughout the whole offseason, we had a chance to work on the defense and learn the calls and everything that goes with it. You can imagine that everybody here is pretty comfortable with everything that's going on. You've got guys like Gerald and Brian Price coming straight out of college and that's what they've done. You can bring these guys in here with a great advantage, to be able to play early, and it just looks good for the defense."

Freeman on how camp is going for him:

"It's going well. The first day I had to shake off a little rust. Now I'm starting to learn when to check the ball down. When they take away everything down the field, come to the checkdown and let him get his five or six yards and keep drives going. I feel like I've improved in that area. Also in the protection area, we've been spending a lot of hours just watching film, watching blitz packages, learning these protections and it's going really well."

Morris on RB Kareem Huggins and his performance at the goal line:

"We're looking for touchdowns. We're looking for guys who can get in the end zone and Kareem Huggins made a nice jump-cut, put his foot in the ground, got vertical. A lot of people call him little but he says, 'No, no, no. I'm just short.' We'll see."