Roster cut-down day is a difficult one for players who find their NFL dreams, at the least, deferred. To a lesser but still significant extent, it's a tough day for coaches, too, as they part with players who have spent months working hard to improve themselves and the team.
If Friday was a tough day for Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith, at least he had a pleasant view from his office window to distract him. It wasn't just the bright green swath of the three practice fields behind One Buccaneer Place that caught his eye, it was the lone player working out on them. Three days after he was acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots and one day after he was introduced to the local media at an in-stadium press conference, Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins was deep in the process of learning the Buccaneers' offense.
It's a crash course, to be sure. After nine years and one extra training camp with the New England Patriots – a stretch during which he earned six Pro Bowl invites and five All-Pro awards – Mankins has approximately nine days to get ready for a presumptive start for the Buccaneers against the Carolina Panthers on September 7. That's going to take time in the classroom, time on the practice field with Offensive Line Coach George Warhop, time back in his hotel room with the playbook and as much time on the practice field with his teammates that the Bucs can fit in.
Smith said he isn't worried about Mankins' cram session failing to get him ready for an opening-day start.
"It won't be an issue," said Smith. "Logan will tell you won't be an issue. That won't stop him from playing a great game, or learning our offense, our terminology and things like that. Again, you can change the names, but he's seen a lot of different looks, just about all of the different looks and different blitzes. He played Carolina [in his] last game as a Patriot. He was playing against Carolina, so he should be okay.
"He knows how to get himself ready, he'll have to change a little bit of the terminology, but not as much as you would assume. He'll fit right in right away and I don't think that will be as big of an issue. Some of our other offensive lineman haven't played a lot together, but these three preseason games they've come together and just kind of based on the last time they played together we liked where we were going into the Carolina game."
Mankins' abbreviated study time wasn't the only topic Smith discussed on Friday in the midst of his team's round of roster moves. Below are additional thoughts from his afternoon press conference.
"This day every year is of course a day you look forward to on a couple of different fronts. The good part of it is that preseason is over and the regular season is right around the corner. A lot of the questions you had going into training camp you've gotten answered. On the other side, it's also the day where, as a head football coach, it's one of my hardest days. One of our hardest days, when you've been around a lot of guys and you have to give them bad news, as much as anything. And that's what's kind of going on right now. Of course, you got the list of some of the players that we've released so far. Some good football players – all good football players. There were reasons why we kept them, why they were part of the 75 that we kept. But we do have to get down. The process is ongoing right now. It's takes a little bit of time. I had a chance to meet with our team – we have a couple different things going on – I met with the team to kind of let them know what's going to happen this weekend and of course next week. We have injury checks for guys to see exactly where they are injury-wise. So a lot of moving parts are going on while we're going through this process. Anyway, I talked about some of the guys that we did release today. Some of the players too that we're going to release, we'll ask to come back on our practice squad. Getting those additional two players of course will also help quite a bit. Beyond that, again, as I said last night, we finished up. I feel like we're a good football team and the players that we line up with next week, we feel good about our chances."
On offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's recovery progress:
"[He] continues to get better each day. Exactly when he'll be back, I can't really say that. But he's made the normal type of progress that we wanted him to make and things are looking good."
On when he expects to make the final roster cuts:
"We'll end up doing some tomorrow also. We'll probably go right up to about 3 p.m. tomorrow. But the process started this morning. After I get through, we'll make some more today and just let it play out."
On if he has decided who will start at right guard:
"We feel good about who will start. Have we settled on it? Yes, for the most part we have. With all our positions, we're not going into next week auditioning and seeing who can do what. Yes, we know who our starters will be at all positions and feel real good about it."
On if he would name the starter at right guard:
"Of course not. I can't. There's only so much information that I will be giving next week. We have a game that's coming up right now. We don't want to make Carolina know any more than we have to. They'll be doing the same thing. But all the information that we're required to give you, I will give it right away."
On if it is strategy or uncertainty that he would not name the starter at right guard:
"It's just how we want to do it. We're not going to tell you the starter at right guard right now."
On how he felt the team performed in the final preseason game:
"There was a lot of disappointment. It's pretty hard for me to hide my feelings. With the fourth preseason game, I wanted it to play out. A lot of the players got the chance to run out of the tunnel [and] start. I wanted to see a little bit better effort. Washington played a lot better than we did. We were never really in the game. We scored one touchdown. Both sides of the ball, special teams-wise, we just didn't play as well. We didn't put an awful lot into the game, but they didn't either. We tried to stay as vanilla as possible, similar to how we handled the first preseason game. Didn't want them to think an awful lot, weren't going to use a whole lot of defenses, a whole lot of plays, and just wanted to see how we matched up man-on-man, and we didn't. So not many players really helped themselves last night that got an opportunity to play that last time."
On if there were any positive takeaways from the final preseason game:
"Positive-wise, just right off the top to be truthful – and my glass is half full most of the time – it's not like we critiqued and really studied that last preseason game an awful lot, but I got a pretty good look at it then. Again, I can't talk an awful lot about positive things that really came about. Whenever you get a couple of takeaways, so you can talk about those. There weren't a whole lot of highlights. Solomon [Patton]'s touchdown run was a highlight. Beyond that, at best, a few guys played about how they should."
On how concerned he is about the lack of pressure the defensive line showed during the preseason:
"Very concerned about it. It's disappointing on how some of the pressure we weren't able to get from them. It's been documented on how we want to play football. It will be a big challenge for our group. As we look at it, the challenge for our defensive line this week will be to outplay Carolina's defensive line. Carolina, what did they have, 60 sacks? Something like that last year. They have an excellent front seven. We need to play better than them up front and part of that just isn't the four guys that are starting, and even five. But a couple of other players will have to step up. We'll normally dress seven defensive linemen. All of them will play and we'll need production from all of them."
On if wide receiver Louis Murphy's injury will affect his position on the roster:
"All of those injuries come into play. We don't think it's anything serious, but saying that though, he could be out – we don't know exactly how long. He is sore today. That's why also right after the end of the game you can't make all of the decisions you need to, you've got to see how the injuries play into it and they will play a big part of it. Of course next week, we talk a lot about getting some of players back and I talked last night about Mike Jenkins, it's looking good for him. We realized how much he's missed, but I'm anxious to get him out on the football field and Monday's practice will be pretty big for us."
On how much concern there is with secondary not playing together very much in the preseason:
"I'm concerned, but we just want healthy guys now. We know who we feel comfortable playing and we have to catch everybody up, but they stayed in the game mentally. Mike Jenkins for instance, he's missed a lot of time, but there's a group of players we're saying 'He's fresh, he's ready to go, so we'll get the best of him.' He should be able to last through the season a lot longer now because the wear and tear he didn't go through with the grueling training camp. That's how we're looking at it for the guys that haven't played a lot. Alterraun Verner missed a lot of time, but came back and we were kind of pleased with what he was able to do."
On wide receiver Solomon Patton:
"He's done some good things – it's kind of documented on how far he has come. Yes, you can say he's made big strides in our mind for what that will do. Are you trying to ask me if he'll be on the team? Is that what you're getting at too? He's made strides, but it can go either way. I know what you're doing, so my answer that I will give you is be careful."
On if he knows what he's getting from the offensive when the season starts:
"We don't know what we're going to get. It's our first year, it's my first year in the head coaching position and all of us are starting that way, so we don't know. You just have to go with the best possible group, feel good about your staff going in. Aa player like Logan Mankins, you're right, he hasn't played here. It's been talked a lot about the offensive line, they have to play together. I don't buy that completely, not completely, but at all. I think you get the best possible guys when you can and you make moves when you have to. To us, when you get an opportunity to improve your line the way we did with a veteran player – Logan is one of the guys that worked out."
On picking up players who were cut from other teams:
"I just think in general there will be players throughout the league. That's why we make cuts – right up until [the deadline], first off with our practice squad, maybe some of the players we've had a chance to look at, but we have a great personnel department that's looking at the entire league even as we talk right now, that could be players from other teams that come to practice squad and we will continue to evaluate right up until [the deadline]. There are players that may end up on our 53-man active roster that aren't here right now and I'll say every year there have been a few guys that it has turned out that way."
On what Buc Ball means:
"The last time we played we had a half of football that everyone got a chance to evaluate. The defense set the tone, but that's what they were supposed to do at the time, but our offense got some production going at the end. Our version of Buc Ball to me involves the offense being able to capitalize when the defense takes the ball away and if the defense isn't playing their best ball with us being productive enough to do and win football games on the offensive side. To a man on our starting lineup, we like what we're going into the game with and we've come a long way in setting this roster up. Jason and his crew have done a great job, where again we're going into this Carolina game feeling like – first off we're going to be playing very good football and I always pointed in this way."