Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Able to Bounce Back

Thursday Notes: Despite their youth, the Buccaneers have shown impressive resiliency this season, rebounding from losses and key injuries with equal swiftness

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have three two-game winning streaks this season, but not a single two-game losing streak.

Obviously, that's how the team has managed to keep its record well north of .500 and in striking distance of the division lead, and it's fair to say those accomplishments have surprised many outside observers.  After all, the last time the Buccaneers went an entire season without losing two in a row was 2002, the season that ended with a Lombardi Trophy.

With five games to play, of course, the Buccaneers still are a long way from making it to the end without consecutive losses.  And, in fact, they have to fight off such a streak this Sunday at Raymond James, as they take on the 9-2 Atlanta Falcons seven days after dropping a close 17-10 affair in Baltimore.

But the Buccaneers have already rebounded from more difficult losses this season, such as when they struggled in Pittsburgh in Week Three but then went on the road to beat Cincinnati.  The Bucs could have been emotionally drained by their just-miss comeback attempt in Atlanta in Week Nine, but instead followed up immediately with a handy win over Carolina and a their best out of the season in a shutout victory at San Francisco.

The Bucs will be in for a fight this Sunday in their Falcon rematch, but they won't be lacking in confidence despite their most recent loss.

"It has something to do with the short-term memories of all my guys," said Head Coach Raheem Morris.  "In this building every week following a game, when we start practice on Wednesday, you'd never know if we just lost or won.  It's always the same mentality.  It's always the same bunch of guys walking around, happy to see each other.  They can't wait to get back into the fight, to go out there and try prove themselves again."

The ability to avoid any losing streaks in 2002 led to a team-record 12-4 record because the team also went on several long winning skeins.  The current Bucs would have to run the table to duplicate that feat, but that's not on their minds at the moment.  Morris has convinced his players time and again that the most important game they've ever played is the one right in front of them, and so a one-game winning streak is all the Buccaneers are chasing this weekend.  But that sense of urgency does apply to the season as a whole.

"Nobody in this organization is content with anything less than going out and trying to win a championship," said Morris.  "I don't want [anyone] to say, 'Well, the Bucs have surpassed our expectations.  We're content, we're happy, we're fat and let's go home and enjoy this.'  That's not who we are.  I'm still at the point where I'm racing to 10.  We're trying to get there.  We want to get there first if we can, and it's still possible.  After that, we can figure out what we need to do."

The Bucs are also trying to figure out what they are going to do at free safety after the season-ending injury to Cody Grimm.  Whoever gets the call for the opening snap on Sunday will be the 39th player who has started a game for Tampa Bay this season.  Already, the Bucs are relying on a number of players who weren't even in their plans during training camp, from LeGarrette Blount to Ted Larsen.

Others who have stepped up from time to time when needed have included Dekoda Watson, Erik Lorig, James Lee, Jeremy Zuttah (who will now start at right guard in the absence of Davin Joseph), Tim Crowder, Al Woods and many others.  On the flip side, some men have been supplanted by rapidly improving young players, and they too have found other ways to contribute.  Zuttah, for instance, ceded his starting left guard job to Keydrick Vincent, then was starting at center when Vincent was released and Larsen put a stranglehold on the left guard spot.  Now Jeff Faine is back at center but the Bucs need Zuttah at left guard.

"There have been a lot of men who have shown character.  We brought it up the other day talking about Maurice Stovall.  It's hard to lose a starting job and then become a dominant special teams player because that's your role.  Then when you're called on you've got to go out there and fill whatever role you have to fill.  We've watched it happen here a bunch.  Those are the guys that last in this league, and those are the guys this league is made of: Men."

Whether it's an injury, a demotion or a full-team loss, the Buccaneers have shown an uncommon ability to bounce back from it all in 2010.  If they can do so again on Sunday against Atlanta, they'll be right back in the NFC South race.

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Expanding Class

Of the 69 players the Buccaneers are currently carrying on the active roster, injured reserve or the practice squad at the moment, 24 are rookies.  Tampa Bay has the youngest roster on the league and recently became the first team in eight years to win a game in which it started seven rookies.

These facts, especially considering the Buccaneers' 7-4 record in 2010, are quite encouraging for the team's future, and they have already been widely reported.  But there is a growing subset of those 24 rookies that Buccaneer fans may not be aware of, and it is this: 14 players who were part of the NFL's 2010 draft class are now Buccaneers in some capacity or another.

After purposely stockpiling picks for what they – among others – believed was the deepest draft in years, the Buccaneers eventually made nine selections this past April.  Only one of those nine, sixth-round punter Brent Bowden, is no longer with the team, though two of the remaining eight, defensive tackle Brian Price and safety Cody Grimm, are now on injured reserve.  Price and Grimm showed enormous potential before their injuries and figure heavily in the team's plans moving forward.

Obviously, there were other players in the 2010 pool of talent that the Buccaneers coveted but weren't able to grab in April's draft.  Of course, they continued to track those players, and on occasion they have become available.  The Buccaneers haven't hesitated to act on those occasions, and now their de facto 2010 draft class has swelled to 14 players.

Those 14 players are listed below.  They include only players who were drafted in 2010, not such undrafted free agents as LeGarrette Blount and Preston Parker.

Name

POS

COLLEGE

RD

PICK

DRAFT TEAM

Gerald McCoy

DT

Oklahoma

1

3

Tampa Bay

Brian Price (ir)

DT

UCLA

2

35

Tampa Bay

Arrelious Benn

WR

Illinois

2

39

Tampa Bay

Myron Lewis

CB

Vanderbilt

3

67

Tampa Bay

Mike Williams

WR

Syracuse

4

101

Tampa Bay

Al Woods

DT

LSU

4

123

New Orleans

E.J. Wilson (ps)

DE

North Carolina

4

127

Seattle

Larry Asante

S

Nebraska

5

160

Cleveland

Dezmon Briscoe

WR

Kansas

6

191

Cincinnati

Ted Larsen

C/G

N.C. State

6

205

New England

Cody Grimm (ir)

S

Virginia Tech

7

210

Tampa Bay

Dekoda Watson

LB

Florida State

7

217

Tampa Bay

Doug Worthington (ps)

DT

Ohio State

7

242

Pittsburgh

Erik Lorig

FB/TE

Stanford

7

253

Tampa Bay

Obviously, almost all of the players drafted in the higher rounds remain with their original teams and have not been available for heist.  However, the list of newcomers includes two fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder and two sixth-rounders.  Given the unquestioned depth of this year's draft, some of those players would have gone even higher in previous years.

The Buccaneers picked wide receiver Mike Williams with the third pick of the fourth round, then didn't have a fifth-round selection due to a trade up in the second-round to get Arrelious Benn.  They used their sixth-round pick on Bowden before hitting on a trio of selections in the seventh round (Grimm, Dekoda Watson and Erik Lorig).

That left a gap between Williams high in the fourth and Grimm in the seventh, but that gap is now filled by former fourth-rounders Al Woods and E.J. Wilson, former fifth-rounder Larry Asante and former sixth-rounders Dezmon Briscoe and Ted Larsen.  Larsen has already moved into the starting lineup for the Buccaneers at left guard and Woods has become a valuable member of the defensive tackle rotation in Price's absence.  The Bucs also have high hopes for Briscoe and are just getting their first up-close looks at Asante and Wilson.

General Manager Mark Dominik, who has conducted the Buccaneers' last two drafts, refers to the final weekend before the regular season, when teams make their cuts down to 53-man rosters and then scour the waiver wire for any talent they covet, as the "Second Draft."  It's an opportunity to put all the scouting the team assembled before April's draft to use one more time.  In the case of the 2010 season, the Buccaneers have managed to extend their second draft through much of the season, and the result is a depth of young talent that would be hard to equal around the NFL.

**

Injury Updates

The Buccaneers are operating with one of their slimmest injury reports of the season this week, but of course that's a bit misleading.  The team is actually coming off one of its most painful games of the season, but the injuries incurred by safety Cody Grimm and guard Davin Joseph were serious enough to send them directly to injured reserve.

Thus those two plus defensive end Kyle Moore, also claimed by I.R. this week, have no need to be on the injury report this week, though their absences clearly affect the team.  What's left is a list of four players, including two who were held out of practice on Thursday.

Running back Cadillac Williams (ribs) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) were the only players on the list when practice began on Wednesday, and Morris expressed little concern about the availability of either this weekend.  Williams returned to practice in a limited fashion on Thursday and Winslow wasn't restricted at all.

The report doubled on Thursday when linebackers Barrett Ruud and Dekoda Watson were held out of practice.  Ruud has a back injury and Watson a hamstring strain, but Morris referred to their conditions more generally as "soreness" and hopes that a day off will get both players back on the practice field on Friday.

The Falcons' injury report is a bit longer and included four players who did not practice on Wednesday: defensive end John Abraham (groin), wide receiver Roddy White (knee), running back Jason Snelling (hamstring) and running back Antone Smith (hamstring).  Abraham and White are starters and Snelling a significant part of the team's offensive attack, but none has missed a game yet this season.  On Thursday, both Abraham and White returned to full participation in practice, though the two backs were still held out.

On Wednesday, Atlanta also limited defensive end Kroy Biermann (ankle), wide receiver Michael Jenkins (quad), linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), safety Williams Moore (thigh) and WR Eric Weems (pectoral).  However, all five of those players returned to full practice on Thursday.

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