Logan Mankins has been to six Pro Bowls and has long been considered one of the best run-blocking guards in the NFL. Doug Martin made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns before missing much of his second season with a shoulder injury. With Mankins joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an 11th-hour trade and Martin coming back strong from his injury, the Bucs envisioned those two being key pieces in re-establishing a dominant rushing attack in Tampa.
It didn't work out that way in the season opener against Carolina, as Mankins left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury and Martin ran just nine times for nine yards before tweaking his own knee. The Bucs hope it won't be long before those two are working together again.
That could be as soon as this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, a possibility that got much stronger when both Martin and Mankins returned to practice on Thursday. Both had been held out of the week-opening workout on Wednesday but are progressing in the right direction.
"[Martin and Mankins] practiced on a limited basis…limited basis meaning we didn't have them do the full load, but both were able to get good work," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "We're in pads today so it was a pretty good look; if you practice on a limited basis, you're able to have contact and all that."
RB Doug Martin got only nine carries in the opener before suffering a knee injury, but he returned to practice Thursday in the hopes of producing a bigger game against the Rams in Week Two
Defensive end Michael Johnson did not practice due to the ankle injury he sustained against the Panthers, but Smith said Johnson was "getting better." He was joined on the sideline by cornerback Rashaan Melvin and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who are also recovering from ankle ailments. All three will need improvement in their status on Friday in order to be good bets to suit up for the Rams game.
"[I] don't know the availability of any of [those] guys this weekend," said Smith. "When you haven't practiced in two days, it's not looking good. But if guys come out tomorrow, if they're able – any of the three guys – if they're able to practice tomorrow, we'll still keep them available for the game. So we'll see how that plays out."
The team's health status wasn't the only topic discussed at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday. Below is a sampling of thoughts from players and coaches as preparations for the Rams continue.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"It's still summertime in Florida. Good practice, good Thursday practice. Able, of course, to work on our third down game plan, which is always good."
On offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford:
"He's still getting checked out. This is a part of the regular routine that he needed to go through before he gets full clearance, and that's where he is. As soon as he gets back, I'll let you know."
On if he expects Tedford to be back at work tomorrow:
"He's [at his appointment] right now and that's about all I can tell you. As we get information, we'll give it to you. Do we expect him to work this week? Yes we do."
On if he feels good about the communication during gameday between Tedford and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo:
"Very good. And just not he and Marcus; he and the staff. Jeff was a part of the staff with input, like all of the guys were. That could be the way we go this week. Again, our entire offensive staff working on the game plan, cooperating on game day."
On a report that suggested running back Doug Martin was benched, not injured, against Carolina:
"First off, that was a report. Whose report? Who is that guy? So do any of you guys know him? I don't either. So how would he know anything about what I did during the game? I don't know the guy, I haven't talked to him. No truth to that at all. Doug Martin hurt his knee and we took him out. He was able to come back a little bit to try to get himself ready to play the rest of the game. That's the only reason we took him out. Another guy is 'Sources said…' I need to meet that 'sources says' guy because I don't know anything about him. Put your name behind it. Don't know anything about this guy."
On how important it is to establish a run game early with Martin:
"It's very important. I've talked about how important Doug is to us. Just our running game in general, we were trying to get it going with all of our guys. Doug is our lead guy. We weren't able to for whatever reason this first game, but we'll stay committed to it. As soon as Doug is healthy and ready to go, he'll still be leading our troops."
On the importance of taking advantage of teams that use double and triple teams on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy:
"Rushing four guys, and they have as a base rule without using the running back or tight end, they have five – somebody's getting doubled. It'll be Gerald most of the time. That's just how it goes once you get into that elite class of pass rushers. So that's a compliment to him. When that happens though, the guys with the singles have to win; simple as that. We didn't win enough one-on-one battles the other day, and in order for us to do what we want to do, that has to change. And Gerald will tell you he had a couple of singles when he didn't beat his guy too. So we all have to do a lot better job. We have to beat that pass rush on the other side this week – they will be coming hard."
Quarterbacks Coach Marcus Arroyo
On offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's status:
"Right now he's getting some more things checked out and we're wishing him the best. We're moving forward very similar to last week."
On if they have communicated this week:
"We've talked on a regular basis all week. I haven't gone into detail about his specifics medically, but more than anything just supporting him and Donna [Jeff's wife] in the process."
On if he's been working this week:
"He's been here this week. We've had a very similar collaborative effort to last week, a little bit more time last week given that you have 10 days to get ready for Carolina and now it's a few days, but he's been collaborative with us in the early parts of this week."
On what is was like working with Tedford this past Sunday:
"It's similar to the two years at the [University of California-Berkley]. He was the head coach and I was calling the plays. As far as his ability to chime in and talk, I don't think that was very foreign to me at all with him being there, which is good. I think that's part of the relationship we have, which I'm fortunate to have."
On if they anticipate having a similar situation this week:
"We're playing it by ear. I think he'll be here tomorrow, I think that's the plan. To what extent we control, I don't know, but we'll be prepared to do it the same way if need be and that's I think we as an offensive staff communicated that we need to make sure that we're prepared."
On the offensive staff had to come together in Tedford's absence:
"It was really nice for all of the guys to pull together and put our heads together and collaborate on most of what we had a chance to talk to Jeff before Carolina about and continually until he was able to be with us and keep that together. I thought the staff did a great job. We worked hard together in getting things done and collaborated on the game plan and went forward in that degree."
On if Tedford's absence compromised the offense against Carolina:
"I think when you're down a coach, you're down a member of the team, the unit, and I think more than anything there's a lot to that. Having him be gone for a day or having anyone on any side would be advantageous to all of us to have an extra brain, an extra thought, an extra guy, let alone the offensive coordinator who's been doing it since we've got here, he's definitely missed. I think the staff has done a great job of supporting him and what he needs and our team and our unit and really puling ourselves together and putting together a plan that best suits us."
On the biggest disappoint with the first half last week:
"The turnovers, just the turnovers and I think Josh [McCown] has communicated that. That's the number one key to victory and the simple rules are just take care of the football and I think we all know that, that's not a secret. Everyone knows that's the thing we're coaching the hardest and I think that's probably thing that's most disappointing. We're learning about all of the other intricacies, just as far as schematically and who we are, on each play, but those are the things that make it hard. You have to overcome those and learn from them."
On what he saw in the running game last week:
"[Carolina has] a really good front seven, obviously. I think our scheme was to go in and run the football and to see exactly where that's at and it's still a work in progress. I think a few of those [offensive lineman] who played last week got there in seven days or close to it, maybe a little bit over a week between Logan [Mankins] and [Garrett] Gilkey. I think that unit just gelling together every day is another piece. Now having Logan had to go out then and now he's coming back in just makes it kind of – getting that gel is going to be a piece of putting this run game together, but I'm optimistic that we're going to have a plan for that and continue to get better in that phase."
On if teams will use Carolina's formula of stopping the run and forcing this offense to pass as the key to winning:
"I don't know if I can honestly answer that without – I don't think so. I don't see that defense as being a defense that changes for you. I believe that as we looked at that group, they're going to do what they're going to do. They're a good defensive group, they've proved that, there's no need as of yet for them to cater to us I don't think. That's a guess, I don't know, there's a better person to ask, but I think they went in that saying we're going to play our defense and sort it out. There wasn't a lot on us too, it's hard to figure out what we're going to be. With that I don't think that group would do that."
On his message to McCown for this week:
"Take care of the football. Take care of the football, get better and don't make the same mistakes. Nothing he hasn't heard in the 12-years of his career – little details that I can finally coach in a regular season game as far as mechanically and taking care of the football, putting the ball away in the pocket that we can coach, that we've been on and he knows. That's the biggest message. If we take care of the football, we're in good game."
On having to adjust to the speed of an NFL defense for the first time in his career:
"Fortunately I didn't have to have a helmet on. To speak to the speed from the sideline, I think adjusting to the speed of the defense is more of what you do prior to seeing them. I think the scheme has to deal with speed prior to going out there. It's hard to adjust offensively, I don't think we believed we had to change or felt like I had to change because of the speed. I think that we planned for that."
On adjusting how quickly adjustments have to be made:
"I didn't feel a unique pressure there, I don't think I felt that pressure."
On what changed for McCown in the fourth quarter that allowed for him to put together two touchdown drives:
"I think he just calmed down and played within the plan, played within the scheme. I think early on he tried to press a little bit, he tried to play outside of the play as we like to say 'play the play.' With that is running around trying to make a throw when you're under duress and doubling it. I think you play within the play and he proved in those seven minutes and that 19-play stretch that we can move the ball and he was effective in that regard. I think it got better as the game went on and hopefully that will carry over into next week."
On if he learned what the offense could be during in the fourth quarter:
"I think we got a little more tell-tell of what we're capable of doing on the perimeter, which was good. Putting a little bit more space between the defense, maybe the tempo was also a little closer to maybe what we feel we can't and what we can do, which is good because we were on it, we were no-huddle and now we worked that. I think that was probably a good tell-tell of maybe some of the advantages we can move forward with in that regard. That will be determined this week."
On running back Doug Martin:
"Doug has done a great job for us. I think over the course of the offseason and going into this, I think that we all took our parts last week. I wouldn't say that Doug is a disadvantage to us in the blocking at all. He's not proved that. We all had our chances in that game, coaches included – and I should say me included – to make a better play in one instance. I don't think that we're going to go back to the drawing board and say that in a certain situation that Doug can't get it done, I don't think we'll do that at all."
On why they weren't able to take any shots downfield:
"We go into each plan with those opportunities because you have to have them, particularly when you go to run the ball is having your shots and your dialups. I think when those things present themselves you need to be on them. They didn't really present themselves in times where we thought – we had a couple of plays where they were either called and checked out of – there's instances where the defense dictates where we go with that and there's times when you need to go with it and you do it, but you need to be able to have an outlet. I think we learned in a couple of those things where if it's not there we need to be able to look at another outlet. They played us and didn't give us those shots, they weren't going to give us those shots down the field very often. I think you play within whatever they are giving you, I think that's the smart thing to do. We believe that's the right thing to do and it kind of worked towards at the end of the game. We weren't going to just start firing down the field, we moved it down and played within the scheme."
On how McCown has responded to the loss:
"Josh is a very mature, educated, NFL pro and knows he can look at tape and there's not a lot of fluff. I think he looks at the tape he's disappointed in his performance and that's how he's been. He's been very motivated to fix the things that he saw on tape and will have a very detailed approach. There's some bullet points on our things this week that we're going to get done and we've worked on every day and talked about every day and we'll continue to do those things because we feel those few details are going to make a difference in his game. If that answers your question, those finer points have been worked on every week and we'll continue to on Sunday."
On if there is an emphasis on controlling the clock better this week:
"There hasn't been just an all-out change of plan as far as the clock. I think being able to possess the football and move the football is more important, but then having the actual number itself – you would like to say that when we did have the least amount of time we moved the ball the best. It's kind of how you look at it."
On keeping the defense off of the field:
"When it comes to keeping the defense off of the field, you have to be able to make first downs and stay in conversions. I think the times where – for instance when we were huddling up, you think you're going to use the clock and spend more time in the early stages of the game. Unfortunately we didn't get the first downs and we were three-and-out. When we put the drives together in no-huddle, we actually moved it and they were actually on the bench longer in no-huddle. It's how you look at it. You have to be effective and efficient either way you do it, so that you're three-and-out in the huddle and three-and-out in tempo and those guys aren't back on the field, that's an absolute. That's the only thing that is an absolute on both sides."
LB Lavonte David
On if not knowing which quarterback is going to play has affected the way they have been preparing:
"We just have to worry about what we do. For whoever is up at quarterback, we just have to be prepared for them."
On the challenges they face in stopping running back Zac Stacy and St. Louis' run game:
"It's a big challenge. It's not only him – and they have another guy too. They're a group of hard runners, tough to bring down and they're guys you have to gang-tackle. Last year they were some tough guys to bring down and we're expecting the same thing this year, so we have to bring our big-boy pants."
On wide receiver Tavon Austin:
"He's real dangerous. He's an elusive guy and he's one of their playmakers. They try to find areas to get him the football for him to do what he does and that's something that we have to be aware of."
WR Mike Evans
On what he learned in his first regular season game:
"The hits hurt more than I thought. The game is much faster and whoever executes the game plan better, that's the team that's going to win. We didn't execute as well as we should have."
WR Vincent Jackson
On how important it is to sustain drives this week:
"It's important. It's the same drives that get you down in the red zone and get us some points usually. We're excited about it. Coach has done a good job of preparing a good game plan this week, we just have to go out there and execute and put up some points."