WR Yamon Figurs is used to catching passes from new Bucs teammate Josh Freeman
When Yamon Figurs arrived for his tryout at One Buccaneer Place, he found he had one small advantage: A quarterback that really wanted him to succeed.
Figurs and Freeman only played together in 2006, when the latter was a freshman who would take over as the starter five games into the campaign. The speedy Figurs caught 28 passes that season, making his largest impact as an all-conference return specialist. Still, he grinned widely on Wednesday when relating the story of his tryout and Freeman's presence. Figurs wasn't sure how strong of an impression he had made on the coaching staff, though his subsequent signing surely gave him an idea.
"I was running routes and doing different things," he said. "I really didn't know [if I did well]. I just went out there and did my best and let them decide if they liked it or not."
Though he joins a unit with five other receivers, Figurs may get an opportunity on a team that is looking for a spark at that position. He participated in his first Buccaneer practice on Wednesday, doing his best to absorb Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson's system.
"Basically, offense is universal," said Figurs. "It's just getting used to the terminology, putting it into words that I know how to use. I'm in the playbook now and I'm trying to be in there the whole time."
Also getting his first opportunity to impress Buccaneers coaches was rookie defensive lineman Michael Bennett, a Monday waiver claim from the Seattle Seahawks. Tampa Bay has obviously been looking for quality depth for that unit as well, as evidenced by the in-season additions of Maurice Evans, Tim Crowder and now Bennett. Crowder has seized his opportunity, working into the game-day rotation at defensive end; Bennett hopes to have a chance to do the same.
"It's a really good opportunity," said Bennett, who had an impressive preseason with the Seahawks but had not gotten on the field during the regular season. "They're looking for pass-rushers and I'm glad they took me and gave me a chance to go out there and play."
The Seahawks saw the potential for an interior pass-rusher in Bennett, who had played on the edge during his college days at Texas A&M. He quickly developed into a versatile swingman prospect in Seattle, and the Bucs intend to try him in a similar role.
"I'm getting used to learning how to play both end and tackle," he said. "When you play tackle, it's really physical and then you take that out there with you to end. You have to face a lot of double-teams when you're inside, and then come out and play end and you can take on whatever blockers they send at you."
Bucs Add LB to Practice Squad
As a defensive end at the University of San Diego, Eric Bakhtiari used to engage in some pretty vigorous trash-talking with Toreros quarterback Josh Johnson on the practice field. Now the two will have a chance to rekindle their friendly across-the-line-of-scrimmage rivalry in the Buccaneers' backyard.
The Buccaneers signed Bakhtiari to their practice squad on Wednesday, filling a spot left open after the team waived Patrick Carter and Rashaad Duncan from that eight-man unit on Tuesday. Now a first-year NFL linebacker, Bakhtiari makes the move across the states to join Johnson after spending his first season exclusively in his home state.
The 6-3, 255-pound defender first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers in 2008, the same year that Johnson was drafted in the fifth round by the Buccaneers. He split his rookie season between the practice squads for the Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers, then went to camp with the Chargers again in 2009.
Given that Johnson posted a ridiculous 43-1 touchdown-interception ratio and an NCAA-record 176.68 passer rating as a senior in 2007, it might seem like Johnson would have all the ammunition in any practice-field war of words. However, Bakhtiari backed his talk up quite nicely as well, to the tune of 20 sacks during the same campaign.
Bakhtiari won all-conference honors in each of his last three seasons, was the Pioneer League Defensive Player of the year in the last two and was an AP All-America selection as a senior to cap his run. In all, he finished his collegiate career with 236 tackles, 35 sacks, 67 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles.
Handling the Blitz
Last Wednesday, before the Buccaneers took on the Eagles in Philadelphia, Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris was asked about the play of left tackle Donald Penn for the second week in a row. Morris praised the play of the fourth-year lineman and noted that Penn's name had barely been mentioned after any of the Buccaneers' games this season.
That anonymity, said Morris, is a good sign when talking about offensive linemen, who draw the most attention when they do something wrong.
So, lo and behold, Penn goes to Philadelphia and does something that has all the highlight shows repeating his name.
This time, as it turns out, the attention was a good thing, if sure to be somewhat fleeting. Late in the first half, with the Buccaneers trying to push a promising two-minute drill into the end zone, Penn grabbed a deflected pass out of the air and shot through the defense for a 15-yard gain down to the Eagles' eight-yard line. The 305-pounder looked surprisingly nimble with the football in his hand.
Penn was a popular target in the Buccaneers' media session on Wednesday, too, and the recipient of numerous jokes about a possible move to wide receiver.
"I'm going to stick with left tackle," he responded with a smile. "That will probably never happen again. I always dreamed about that happening; I wish I would have scored. But I'm just trying to be a left tackle."
This week, that means taking on pass-rushing dynamo Julius Peppers and the rest of the Panthers' aggressive defense. If the Buccaneers' last two games are any indication, it might also mean another heavy round of blitzing. Since Johnson took over under center, Tampa Bay's opponents have responded by sending all manners of extra pass-rushers towards the backfield. Obviously, the intent is to confuse the young and inexperienced quarterback, but Johnson has handled the blitzing with poise, hitting several big plays in the process.
Some of the blitzes have worked, however. Penn believes the Buccaneers can do better against that tactic and make their opponents back off or risk paying a heavy price.
"I think aren't going to be able to blitz as much because we're learning and building on all the other stuff that we've got the last couple weeks," he said. "When we see something similar, we'll be ready to pick it up, so I think it's going to help us. That's going to open up a couple holes."