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Thursday Notes: Full Speed Ahead

Posted Sep 5, 2013

WR Vincent Jackson is ready to build on his outstanding first season in Tampa and thinks the Buccaneer offense is primed for greater things in year two...Plus, an updated injury report, options at left guard and more


After a 2012 campaign in which it set team records for points scored and yards gained and spawned such true NFL stars as Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense seemed to take a step back during the 2013 preseason.  And it did…by design.

 

Like every team in the league, the Buccaneers attempted to execute their offense as crisply as possible but purposely didn't dive deep into the playbook, especially with two of their four preseason opponents showing up again in the regular season.  That doesn't mean the Buccaneers were pleased with their diminished August numbers – 224.3 yards of offense per game and 66 total points in four outings – and certainly there were other NFL squads who found more success in August without giving away any secrets.  But neither are they giving those statistics a second thought now that the regular season has arrived.

 

In fact, the key players on the Bucs' offense are as confident as ever.

 

"We definitely went out there and tried to execute some of the things that we implemented, but we’re going to be very vanilla in the preseason – not show our hand as far as what we have in our bag of tricks," said Jackson.  "But now that the gloves are off and we’re ready to go ‘full-speed ahead’ and it’s no holding back. We’re going to be very aggressive, and I think this offense can be very successful this year.”

 

After arriving as a highly-coveted free agent in the spring of 2012, Jackson went on to catch 72 passes for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.  He came within 38 yards of the Bucs' all-time single-season record and led all players in the NFL with 19.2 yards per catch.  It will be a challenge to go up from that starting point, especially if some new additions to the Bucs' offense lead to quarterback Josh Freeman spreading the ball around a bit more, but Jackson says he can improve even if the numbers don't rise.

 

“There’s always more room to grow," he said.  "I have a lot of football left in me; I feel great. I think this offense allows me to be successful.  We have some great guys around me that can draw some attention off of me and make plays down field. For me, it’s just about contributing, it’s not about statistics – never has been. I’m going to go out there and do my job, contribute, draw guys off other guys, block down the field for Doug – whatever this offense asks of me. That’s being successful for me.”

 

Of course, it's completely possible that Jackson's numbers could take another jump, if the offense as a whole continues its development in its second year under Coordinator Mike Sullivan.  The Bucs' 5,820 yards last season where their best ever, but still just ninth in the NFL as a whole, so there is clearly room for improvement.  Tampa Bay has never had an offense ranked higher than ninth in the NFL at the end of a season, so this team might be about to break new ground for the franchise.

 

"Even though it’s only our second year together as a group, we keep adding a few new parts here and there," said Jackson.   "Having that year under our belt, that experience we got last year, coaches being more comfortable with the players, playing being more comfortable in the system, it’s really going to allow us to go out there and just see things a little bit better, see things a little bit faster and hopefully get off to a fast start.

 

"[We can improve]  in every area.  We want to run the ball well. We want to get the ball to everybody out there – tight ends, receivers – to be balanced. I think [we want] to continue to improve in the red zone, continue to improve on third down. Those areas are the biggest thing in this league. You look around, across the board, if you have a high third down percentage as an offense and you score touchdowns, not field goals, down in the red zone, you’re going to win a lot of games. So, for us, that’s the goal.”

 

* G Carl Nicks did not practice again on Thursday due to his foot injury.  While Schiano said on Wednesday that Nicks had not yet been ruled out for the opener, the team obviously has to prepare contingency plans at left guard.  Two of the three reserve offensive linemen on the Bucs' depth chart got preseason starts at that spot – one for Ted Larsen and two for Gabe Carimi – and the third, Jamon Meredith, opened 12 games at right guard for Tampa Bay last year.

 

Carimi's two starts came at the end of the preseason, so there is obvious speculation that the Bucs will tab him on Sunday if Nicks is absent.  However, Schiano considers all three reserve linemen an option and hasn't yet indicated the likely choice.

 

“We have Carimi, we have Ted and we have Jamon," said Schiano.  "All three of them are options for us at the guard spot and I’m comfortable with all three. Whichever one we finally decide is the guy that should be there, then that means we’re most comfortable with that guy, but I am confident that all three will get in there and play well.”

 

Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph, who is making his own return to the starting lineup after missing all of last season with a knee injury, was encouraged with the way the line practiced on Thursday, even without Nicks.

 

"We're all adjusting and learning and getting our chemistry together, so it's going to take everybody," said Joseph.  "We have to work well as a unit, so we're just getting comfortable again and I think we had a really good practice today."

 

When Nicks does return, either on Sunday or shortly thereafter, the Bucs will have three former Pro Bowlers starting on their offensive line.  Left tackle Donald Penn, who has a trip to Hawaii on his resume like Nicks and Joseph, is obviously looking forward to having Nicks lined up next to him again, but until that time he's focused on helping the current group of starters come together.

 

"To tell you the truth, I really can't worry about [Nicks' absence.  "If I sit there and worry about that I'm not going to be able to focus on everything I need to do and help some of the guys like Gabe, Ted and Jamon get ready.  Carl knows what he needs to do, he's doing everything possible and he's doing even more.  When it comes, it comes.  I'm glad to have Davin back.  We've been doing well.  We've got three guys we can throw in there [at left guard] that can play and they've all started for us before.  Knowing that's in your back pocket makes you more comfortable."

 

* Nicks was one of three Buccaneers who didn't practice Thursday, as tight end Tom Crabtree and cornerback Rashaan Melvin also were sidelined for a second consecutive day.  The entire injury reports for both teams, as updated on Thursday:

 

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

TE Tom Crabtree

Ankle

Did Not Participate

RB Mike James

Eye

Limited Participation

FB Erik Lorig

Calf

Limited Participation

CB Rashaan Melvin

Hamstring

Did Not Participate

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

CB Darrelle Revis

Knee

Full Participation

 

Jets:

Player

Injury

Wed. Participation

LB Nick Bellore

Oblique

Full Participation

G Willie Colon

Knee/Shoulder

Full Participation

LB Quinton Coples

Ankle

Did Not Participate

CB Antonio Cromartie

Hip

Limited Participation

DE Leger Douzable

Illness

Limited Participation

G Vlad Ducasse

Calf

Full Participation

DT Kenrick Ellis

Back

Limited Participation

WR Clyde Gates

Shoulder

Full Participation

LB David Harris

Hip

Full Participation

DT Damon Harrison

Knee

Full Participation

WR Stephen Hill

Knee

Full Participation

WR Santonio Holmes

Foot

Did Not Participate

T Ben Ijalana

Knee

Full Participation

WR Jeremy Kerley

Finger

Full Participation

CB Ellis Lankster

Foot/Hamstring

Full Participation

CB Dee Milliner

Achilles

Full Participation

QB Mark Sanchez

Right Shoulder

Did Not Participate

QB Matt Simms

Calf/Oblique

Full Participation

QB Geno Smith

Ankle

Full Participation

G Brian Winters

Ankle

Full Participation

TE Kellen Winslow

Knee

Limited Participation

 

Lorig could be returning just in time to help a Buccaneer offense that is down one of its blockers in Crabtree.  Lorig hasn't been a full participant in practice yet, but he's obviously making strides after a calf injury caused him to miss the entire preseason.  Whether or not he's ready by Sunday remains to be seen, but Schiano takes it as an optimistic sign that Lorig is out on the practice field this week.

 

"He was limited today," said the coach.  "That means he practiced some, so that gives him a chance to [play Sunday], yes. He’s doing all the mental stuff, he’s gone through walk-throughs and jog-throughs, but he hasn’t played a lot of football this year so far. So that certainly puts him behind.”

 

As for the Jets' 21-man official injury report, it's obviously lengthy, and it would seem to put them in jeopardy of not being able to field a team if most of those players were in doubt.  The Friday injury report, the first one with game-status designations such as "probable" and "doubtful," will be more telling, but one would probably do well to focus on the players who have been limited or sidelined this week.

 

In that regard, the Jets' injury situation actually had several points of improvement on Thursday, as both tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) and defensive end Leger Douzable (illness) returned to limited participation after sitting out on Wednesday.  On the other hand, wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot) sat out Thursday's field session after taking part in a limited fashion on Wednesday.  The only two Jets who have not practiced at all this week are linebacker Quinton Coples (ankle) and quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder).

 

* Schiano repeated on Thursday that he is pleased with Da'Quan Bowers' progress and expects him to continue to develop into an impact player.  But Bowers is not starting at left end, as was considered a strong possibility at the beginning of training camp, and that's not all due to his own play.  Defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who gave the Bucs very steady play at right end last year after the injury to Adrian Clayborn, is the current starter at left end, and he's there because he earned it.

 

“That’s the only way we do it around here," said Schiano of choosing starters based on performance. "Daniel is a steady as she blows. He goes in and does his job and plays really well against the run. The thing that people miss out is, he had [three] sacks last year, just playing hard, tough, relentless football. We’re very pleased with the way Daniel is performing, but I’m also pleased with the way Da’Quan is getting better, he just hasn’t gotten to where we think he needs to get to yet, but he’s getting there. He’s improved substantially.”

 

Te'o-Nesheim made 13 starts at right end in 2012 and was an important part of the team's top-ranked run defense.  On a defense that relies on gap control and every player knowing his assignment on every play, Te'o-Nesheim's dependability is a huge plus.  What he can provide in the pass-rush, on the other hand, comes from another source.

 

“He’s technically very sound, he’s strong, he’s got a low center of gravity," said Schiano, "but his best trait is that he’s relentless.”