The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have on hand virtually every piece that, by the midpoint of 2012, had helped its offense emerge as one of the NFL’s most explosive attacks. Thanks to a variety of injuries, some dating back to last fall and some more recent, the Buccaneers are still working on putting all those pieces in place at the same time. On Sunday, in their 2013 home opener against the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs will move a little closer to that goal.
Rejoining the fight in Week Two is starting fullback Erik Lorig, who missed the entire preseason and last week’s regular-season opener in New York with a nagging calf injury. Having the rugged and experienced Lorig available as a lead blocker and a pass-catcher out of the backfield will open up a greater percentage of Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan’s proven playbook.
“Erik is a valuable guy, a valuable part of our team,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano. “He’s also valuable on special teams. So we’re glad to have him back. We thought there was a chance we might get him back for the opener but it just came up a little short. But he looked really good in practice this week and we’re starting to put that offense back together, piece by piece.”
The Bucs actually have one additional piece in place in 2013 that wasn’t available last fall: Pro Bowl right guard
Nicks saw limited action in practice this week and appeared to be running without difficulty on the side, but he wasn’t quite far enough along in his return from a toe injury and a foot infection to gain clearance for Sunday’s game.
“He’s looking good,” said Schiano. “He desperately wanted to play this week – desperately. This is his old team, and he sees how we didn’t perform as well as we’re capable of last Sunday and wants to be part of the solution. But we just didn’t feel like it was the prudent thing to do. He’ll get more work this coming week and then we’ll see how it is going into the next game. Carl, when he is ready to play, is going to be a big shot in the arm for us, and that time will be when it is.”
Both Lorig and, eventually, Nicks, will add a much-needed physical element to the Bucs’ offense, which will match the tone the team is already setting on the other side of the ball. Tampa Bay’s new-look defense recorded five sacks last week against the Jets and a rather noticeable number of hard hits downfield. Unfortunately, several of those hits drew untimely roughing penalties, part of a 13-flag flurry that played a big role in the Bucs’ one-point loss. Prior to Sunday’s game, Schiano reiterated his feelings on the matter from earlier in the week: the penalties must be reduced, but not at the expense of the team’s aggressive and hard-hitting style on defense.
“I believe so much in the game of football, what it is and what it represents,” said Schiano. “I want to play within the rules. But what makes this game great is the physical nature and the ability to fly around, and that’s what we preach. So when you do that and the other team’s doing that and two guys, or three or four guys, are moving at a high rate of speed, sometimes body parts move at the last second. The one thing that I examine on the tape when we get those types of aggressive penalties: Does it appear that someone was actually trying to do something [to inflict injury]? It doesn’t mean that it’s legal – sometimes the bodies move at just the right time and then you have contact that’s illegal. But I want our guys flying around. The penalties that I can’t stomach, and our whole organization can’t stomach, are those false-starts, those delay-of-games – procedural penalties that there’s no place for on this football team.”
No doubt, and the hard thing about getting after #9 is that he has a great feel for the pressure and gets rid of it. So we’re going to have to sneak up on him a little bit, blindside him. This guy’s a future Hall-of-Famer, without a doubt, so we’ll have our hands full.
Tampa Bay ranked in the lower half of the most-penalized teams in the NFL last year, Schiano’s first at the helm, and there’s no reason to believe that this will be an ongoing problem for the current squad. Only once last year did the Buccaneers commit 13 or more penalties in the game, and in the very next outing the team drew exactly one flag. Schiano didn’t feel a need to belabor the penalty point throughout the last week of field work.
“We do that all the time, so to amp it up more is going to be reactionary,” said Schiano of focusing on flag avoidance. “We have officials at practice, every practice. We report the penalties, our guys [know] there are consequences for penalties in practice. We just said, ‘Hey look guys, we just need to buckle down and do a little bit better in everything.’ My whole thing has always been, you take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. That’s all we did. We focused on the little things, and we’ll go out there and do that today. You have to do that not only in practice but then go out and do it in the game.”
One of the little details in today’s effort could prove to be a deciding factor in the final outcome: The amount of pressure the Buccaneers’ defense is able to get on Saints QB Drew Brees. As noted on Buccaneers.com earlier this week, Brees’ win-loss record goes down sharply when he is dropped at least three times in a game.
“No doubt, and the hard thing about getting after #9 is that he has a great feel for the pressure and gets rid of it,” said Schiano. “So we’re going to have to sneak up on him a little bit, blindside him. We’re going to have to do some things, because he’ll throw the ball. He’s a smart quarterback. This guy’s a future Hall-of-Famer, without a doubt, so we’ll have our hands full. He’s got talented weapons to throw to and to run, but I’m anxious to see our defense go play. I think our guys feel good about where we are and they’ll be ready to go.”
Each team was required to declare seven players inactive prior to today’s game. In addition to Nicks, the Buccaneers deactivated the following men: QB
The Saints declared the following players inactive: RB Khiry Robinson, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, T Terron Armstead, DE Tyrunn Walker, DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR Nick Toon and DE Glenn Foster. Abdul-Quddus, Walker, Bunkley and Foster were out due to injury. John Jenkins will start in place of Bunkley at nose tackle.
The Buccaneers and Saints will face off in Tampa Bay’s 2013 home opener at 4:05 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium and will be aired on television by FOX. The game will be broadcast by the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com throughout the day for further reports on the game action, including coverage of the team’s postgame press conferences.
Schiano is eager to see how his team responds to this important division matchup after last week’s disappointment.
“The guys have worked very hard,” said Schiano. “I think we got better. I told them at the beginning of the week, ‘We need to get better as a football team in all three phases,’ and our guys attacked it. They really had a workmanlike attitude and great focus. They’re anxious to play.”