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Bucs Adjust, Ready to Fight On

Posted Oct 7, 2013

Thorough evaluations during the bye week should lead to some changes for the winless Buccaneers, but they haven't lost their fight nor their belief in the foundation they've been putting down for months

  • Coming out of the bye week, the Bucs will try to re-establish their deep passing game and get RB Jeff Demps more involved
  • TE Tom Crabtree had an encouraging practice on Monday and the team is hoping he'll be full-go at practice Wednesday
  • Whether it's Michael Vick or Nick Foles at the helm, the Bucs have to prepare for a unique Philly attack this week
Head Coach Greg Schiano looks at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2013 season as a 16-round prizefight in which his team has taken a few more punches than expected but is still on its feet.

"We may be down on the card a little bit right now," said Schiano, "but there’s a lot of fight left.”

Thanks to a well-timed bye week, the Buccaneers had a little more time in the corner before the start of Round Five. That helped heal up some bumps and bruises (more on that below) but just as importantly gave the coaches time to hone their strategies for the remainder of the fight. Schiano said before the bye week that he and his staff would evaluate everything from the top down, looking for common threads in the Bucs' four losses – particularly the three that slipped away in the closing seconds of regulation – and areas which need change or significant improvement.

Some answers have been found.

"We’ve looked at a bunch of things, both as a staff and with our players," said Schiano. "I think some things have come to light or have to come to a head and some things we need to adjust. You always use this time to add a few things that you didn’t quite get to if there’s something that’s come up since you broke camp. It’s been a good period, good time, and now we have to finalize this game plan.”

Just as a corner man isn't going to give away his fighter's punching plan, Schiano isn't likely to share all of the strategic decisions that were made during the last week. However, he did mention a few things on offense that will receive greater emphasis. For one, he wants to restore at least some of the down-the-field punch that was so important to the Bucs' offensive success last year. And two, he believes there are ways to turn Olympic sprinter-slash-running back Jeff Demps into more of a threat to opposing defenses.

“We talked about it last week, I think throwing the ball down the field some more – it wasn’t for a lack of trying," said Schiano. "Sometimes defenses take you out of it by coverage and things like that. I think Jeff Demps is getting more and more comfortable so I think there’s some things we can do with him. He’s a valuable weapon."

The Bucs already made the biggest change possible on offense when they promoted Mike Glennon over Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback in Week Four. Glennon followed that up by completing passes to nine different pass-catchers, as the offense was eager to show more variety after leaning heavily on Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin through three games. A more active role for Demps could add even more diversity, and the additions of receivers Chris Owusu and Tiquan Underwood should change the approach somewhat, as well.

Still, whether on offense or defense, the Buccaneers aren't looking to start a brand new fight after the bye week. The results in the standings have not been good, obviously, but the team still wants to build on the foundation it has been putting down for the last six months.

- The Bucs made good use of their extra time during the bye week

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a new beginning," said linebacker Dekoda Watson. "There are a lot of good things that we have done, but we’ve just got to continue to build. I don’t want to say we want to start fresh or start new, because, if we do that, I feel like we’re back-tracking. We’re just going to go in there, we’re going to tweak things and get things better.”

* Tampa Bay did not have to file an official injury report with the NFL following Monday's practice, but there was still some evidence that the bye week has had a good effect on the team's overall health.

Most notably, tight end Tom Crabtree was on the practice field and performing well enough on his injured ankle that there is hope for a favorable report when it is first due on Wednesday.

"We’re going to start getting some guys back healthy now," said Schiano. "Tom Crabtree did more today. So I’m hoping that tomorrow he gets back and he feels good and Wednesday we’re at full go."

With Nate Byham headed to injured reserve a week ago, the Buccaneers have just two tight ends on the active roster in Crabtree and rookie Tim Wright. The team did add a third tight end to the practice squad last week in Matt Veldman. The lack of another addition to this point indicates some level of confidence in Crabtree's availability on Sunday.

Schiano also noted that both defensive tackle Derek Landri and cornerback Michael Adams, who have been dealing with longer-term knee injuries, were able to do some work on the practice field Monday. They may not be quite as far along as Crabtree, however, and the Bucs will have to wait and see how the rest of the week of practice goes before deciding if either will be able to return to action this weekend. Safety Mark Barron, who missed a good portion of the Week Four game against Arizona after suffering a strained hamstring, was in practice on Monday and does not appear to be a major concern for the coming game.

* Michael Vick, starting quarterback for the Buccaneers' Week Six opponent, Philadelphia, suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday and did not finish the Eagles' game against the New York Giants. Philadelphia Head Coach Chip Kelly has referred to Vick's status as "day to day" and has indicated hat the quarterback is not likely to join the team on the practice field on Tuesday.

If Vick is unable to play on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the start would go to second-year man Nick Foles, who took over in the second quarter against the Giants, completed 16 of 25 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia's 36-21 victory in the Meadowlands. The Buccaneers are familiar with Foles, who got his first career win as a starter last December at Raymond James Stadium in a last-second, 23-21 decision. What they are not yet familiar with, beyond what is surely a large amount of game-tape study, is the Eagles' new offense under Kelly.

"Defensively, we have a unique set of challenges with the offense that Philly’s running," said Schiano. "They’re exceptional right now. After five games they’re historic right now with their numbers. We certainly have our hands full and it’s a well coached team. A team that knows exactly what they’re executing."

Through five weeks, Philadelphia has the NFL's second-ranked offense in terms of total yards, trailing only the equally record-breaking Denver attack, and is first in the league with 186.6 rushing yards per game. That has translated into 27 points a game for the Eagles, which will be a test for a Buccaneer defense that is allowing just 17.5 per outing.

Vick's potential absence could change the Eagles' approach somewhat, but the Bucs will still have to deal with LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher among other challenges, and the extreme up-tempo approach the Eagles have adopted under Kelly.

"It’s not a modern thing you see in the NFL, how fast they run plays, and you don’t see a whole lot of zone read in the NFL, especially not with those two types of athletes back there with Vick and McCoy," said defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. "We’ve just got to play detailed football and stay locked in on the defensive side of the ball and try to knock that running game out.”

For now, the Buccaneers will prepare for an offense led by both Vick and Foles, but most importantly they'll try to break down the scheme they see on tape and prepare themselves for the Eagles' unique attack.

"I think the nuts and bolts of that offense will remain consistent, certainly with different emphasis depending on who the quarterback is, so we have to prepare for both," said Schiano. "But I think the scheme itself is going to remain constant.”

We’ve just got to play detailed football and stay locked in on the defensive side of the ball and try to knock that running game out.
-- DE Da'Quan Bowers

* The Buccaneers signed rookie quarterback Jordan Rodgers to their practice squad on Monday, restoring the depth chart at the position – at least during the work week – to the usual total of three names.

That's the same number of quarterbacks with which the Buccaneers started the season, albeit configured in a slightly different manner. Tampa Bay began the 2013 campaign with Freeman as the starter and both Glennon and Dan Orlovsky on the 53-man roster, backing him up. While the team had devoted just two active spots to the quarterback position the previous two years, the decision to go with three in 2013 was not a real surprise. Glennon won the second spot on the depth chart but the team chose not to head into the season with only an inexperienced rookie backing up Freeman. Thus, the veteran Orlovsky, who was not eligible for the practice squad, was also retained.

Freeman, of course, was released by the Buccaneers last week, not long after Glennon supplanted him as the team's starter. With the experienced Orlovsky now waiting in reserve in case anything happens to Glennon, the Bucs are comfortable going back to their previous configuration of two passers on the 53-man roster and a third on the practice squad. Rodgers, like Adam Weber and Rudy Carpenter before him, will primarily run the scout team during the practice week. He will not be eligible to play in a game unless he is first promoted to the active roster.

It has become common for teams to carry just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster since the game-day inactive rules were modified in 2011. Previously, a team could have 45 players active on game day plus an "inactive third QB," who could play in the game but would make the other two quarterbacks unavailable if he entered the game before the fourth quarter. Now, there is no inactive third quarterback rule; teams merely get 46 active spots and usually do not devote one of them to a third passer.

That doesn't mean the Buccaneers have no long-term interest in Rodgers. Schiano said on Monday that he and General Manager Mark Dominik have been keeping an eye the former Vanderbilt quarterback since the 2013 draft. Rodgers signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars but subsquently had surgery to repair a groin injury suffered during the Jaguars' rookie camp and was later released in July. He has since made a full recovery.

"There’s something about him," said Schiano. "He’s a competitor. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s just a fiery guy who’s a baller. He fits in our building. He’s a ball guy, he loves it. [He’s] a grinder, likes to study, likes to be around football, likes to be around the locker room, and we’re looking for as many of those guys as we can put in this building.”

Rodgers and Glennon were actually roommates earlier this year while working out in California prior to the NFL Scouting Combine and have remained friends. Rodgers gets a chance to work with Glennon again thanks in part to what was apparently a strong workout with the Buccaneers on September 3, during which Schiano said the young passer "caught our eye."

"I felt really good," said Rodgers. "I'd had workouts before that, and I think that was probably my best workout. I knew they weren't pressing, didn't actually need a quarterback at the time, but it was good to be on their radar, I guess, after a good workout."

The 6-1, 212-pound Rodgers joined the Buccaneers in time in order to take partin Monday morning's practice, as the team got in a "bonus" workout following their bye week in preparation for Sunday's game against Philadelphia. He didn't have much advance preparation for the practice, but Rodgers did leave the field with a good feeling about where the Bucs' currently struggling offense is headed.

"So the first day in it, I was swimming a little bit, catching on to some pieces of terminology here and there," he admitted. "But we've got a lot of weapons. There are a lot of talented people on this team and I think it's just a short time before we start putting it all together. I think Mike is developing and this bye week was great for him."