Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday, September 21st.
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2015, did not record a sack when the Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers met in St. Louis last December. That doesn't mean that Donald was held completely in check; he did record five stops, including two tackles for loss, and he was credited with three hits on Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.
Donald, who had a total of 20 sacks in his first two NFL seasons after being drafted 13th overall in 2014, hasn't notched a QB takedown yet this season. The Buccaneers would like to keep that drought going for one more week but understand that it won't be easy.
"Even as much as you prepare and watch film and go against him, he's just a special talent," said Tampa Bay center Joe Hawley. "You'll feel like you have him locked down and he'll be by you in the blink of an eye. You can't let up against him; you've got to finish every play."
Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet, a 2015 second-round pick, stepped right into the starting lineup and had a very promising rookie campaign. He missed three games in the second half of the season due to injury but returned in time to play against Donald and the Rams in that December 17 matchup. Though that proved to be one of his most challenging matchups of the season – as it is for every Rams opponent – Marpet is glad he was able to suit up for that game because it served as a test run for this week's challenge.
"Experience is huge," said Marpet. "When you see a guy on tape – when you see yourself go against him – it's helpful, I think, because you see things that you can clean up."
Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter lumped Donald and the Buccaneers' Gerald McCoy together as perhaps the two best three-technique defensive tackles in the NFL at the moment. As the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator from 2012-14, Koetter remembers making an effort to keep McCoy double-teamed on every snap. That would seem like a good strategy against Donald, as well, but the Rams don't always make that easy to do.
"You try to do the same thing with Donald, but sometimes what the Rams do on defense makes it difficult," said Koetter. "They play some fronts where they cover all three of your inside guys so it makes it difficult to get that double-team unless you're bringing it from the outside or somewhere else other than the guy right next to him."
Obviously, the Rams know that opposing teams are going to try to get extra blockers on Donald, even with a talented D-Line that also includes outstanding edge rusher Robert Quinn. That's the chess match that Koetter and L.A. Head Coach Jeff Fisher will be engaged in on Sunday.
"He's got tremendous strength, quickness, leverage," said Fisher of his star defender. "He's a quiet player, he's very, very smart. He understands stances and protections and all of that stuff. He's very, very difficult to block one-on-one, so it's our job to try and create those one-on-one matchups and it's the opposing offense's job to create the two-on-ones and so we understand that. Someone else has to win when Aaron gets the double, but he's a special player, he's a great teammate, he's just a really special player."
- The Buccaneers'official injury reportexpanded quite a bit in Week Three after two relatively light weeks to start the season.
There are now eight players on the report, with the Week Three additions of defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), running back Doug Martin (hamstring), wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring), tackle Donovan Smith (hip) and tight end Luke Stocker (ankle). None of those five participated in practice on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, the only roster move that appears to be motivated by those new injuries is the promotion of wide receiver Freddie Martino from the practice squad. The injury report will not include game-status designations (i.e. questionable, etc.) until Friday, and Koetter doesn't plan to be specific about potential contingency plans.
"Everybody that's up on game day is going to play, and they did last week, too," said the coach. "We'll have plenty of backs up, we'll have three running backs up ready to go, so that's what it's going to be. Everybody that's active, their roles are changing based on who's healthy and who's not healthy.
When you have an injury, whether it's Doug Martin or X-Y-Z, guys are stacked on the depth chart for some kind of reason. Doug Martin's an elite player in this league. The next guys up, they're not Doug Martin or they'd be paid like Doug Martin. But those are the guys that we have and they're going to go in there and do a great job."
Linebackers Devante Bond (hamstring) and Lavonte David (shoulder) remain on the injury report but both were full participants in practice on Wednesday. The release of linebacker Josh Keyes on Wednesday is an indication that those two are expected to be ready on Sunday. Rookie safety Ryan Smith rounds out the report, but he was also a full participant in practice and he has recently had the cast removed from his injured hand.
*When the Rams sent fourth and sixth-round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft to the Buccaneers for Mark Barron, they gave him a new NFL home. They eventually gave him a brand new spot on the depth chart, too.
The former Alabama standout was drafted seventh overall by the Buccaneers in 2012, the highest pick the franchise had ever used on a safety. Barron played in and started 30 games in two seasons under Head Coach Greg Schiano but was dealt at the trade deadline in 2014 after seven games under new Head Coach Lovie Smith.
Barron continued to play safety for the Rams for the rest of 2014 and early in 2015, emphasizing his physical play in the box, but an injury to linebacker Alec Ogletree prompted the coaching staff to move the 6-2, 213-pound defender closer to the line of scrimmage on a permanent basis. When that experiment produced good results, the Rams put Barron on their depth chart under the heading of "WS" for Will Safety. "Will" is generally a term used to mean weakside linebacker. On the roster, Barron is listed as linebacker-slash-safety.
Barron doesn't consider the position move to be a drastic switch.
"It's really not much different, to be honest, for me," he said on Wednesday. "In my opinion, I'm just closer to the ball, so I can get to everything faster. You have to see things a little quicker because you're keying different things and you're involved in different things, as far as dealing with the offensive line and run fronts and things of that nature."
Barron stresses that he still has plenty of coverage duties, suggesting that he was in man-to-man coverage for about half of the team's plays against Seattle in Week Two.
I wouldn't say [the new position] fits me better," he said. "I like doing it, I feel like it's good because like I said earlier, I'm closer to the ball. I feel like I was always a guy that was always around the ball, even from a safety position. So now I'm just closer to it and I can get to everything faster, which allows me to make more plays."
The Buccaneers used the fourth-round pick they gained in the Barron trade to trade up and secure Marpet, a Division III prospect out of Hobart who has been a hit on the offensive line. The Rams feel like the trade has worked out nicely for them, as well.
"Any time you do a deal like that, it's a good deal for both sides, so we welcomed Mark with open arms," said Fisher. "We put a couple packages together early when we had him and then once 'Tree' [Ogletree] went down last year early in the season, Mark got an opportunity, so we took advantage of it. He loves the defense, he understands the defense and he's just been outstanding. Again, great teammate…I was really glad that we were able to get him re-signed during free agency."