Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, November 25th, at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers racked up 521 yards of offense last Sunday in Philadelphia, the second-highest single-game total in franchise history. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson accounted for 56 of it, or about 11% of the total. That was a little more than Adam Humphries, a little less than Mike Evans and a lot less than Doug Martin. Jackson scored a touchdown, but so did five other players, including one defender.
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Jackson's impact on the Bucs' offense went far beyond those numbers, however. It is no coincidence that a Tampa Bay offense that had been showing some encouraging signs of life in previous weeks, completely exploded on the day its veteran receiver returned from a three-game injury absence. Martin's 235 rushing yards and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston's five touchdown passes rightfully drew the most press, but Jackson's presence couldn't be ignored.
"Basically getting that team feeling back that we had in OTAs, that chemistry that we did develop that we kind of lost early in the season when we lost Austin [Seferian-Jenkins] and eventually Vince, but having him back is just having one of your best guys back," said Winston. "It's like having another Logan Mankins on the field. That's always going to help you out because Vince is definitely one of our leaders and he's one of our veterans that as young players we go to especially during the battle of the game to seek for any wisdom or, 'what is he doing in this situation,' so we can build off him."
Winston could feel the difference in the huddle, but there are even more concrete reasons that Jackson's return made such a big difference. Specifically, what helped the Bucs was having both Jackson and Evans in the lineup at the same time, something that has been a bit too rare this season given the former's recent knee injury and the latter's struggles with a balky hamstring in the early weeks. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter explained on Wednesday how much deeper he can get into the playbook when Jackson and Evans are both on the field.
"When you have your two bookend guys out there – one of them is playing X, one of them is playing Z and then we flip them over sometimes – we can call it how we want to call it," said Koetter, who also referred to the groundwork the team put in during OTAs. "They both know both positions. We [don't] have to worry about moving our guys around.
"It's a game plan nightmare when you're trying to say, 'On this play we have to get Mike here, we got to get this guy over here.' It's way easier on the game plan, it's way easier on our calls. Our huddle calls are less wordy. Everything has to have another tag, another word in it, to move Mike over here, to move Vince over here. We can run our base concepts and go clear back to when we started OTAs."
With 375 yards on 25 receptions and six games to go, Jackson will have to average a little over 100 yards a game if he's going to post a fifth-straight 1,000-yard campaign and his fourth in as many years as a Buccaneer. There's a good chance that particular milestone won't be reached, but that's the farthest thing from the Buccaneers' minds right now. With the team suddenly relevant again in the playoff race, Koetter and company are just happy to have their captain back in the mix.
"I think Vincent is not only a steady influence on Mike, but on pretty much everybody on offense," said Koetter. "It's just a good feeling seeing 83 out there and knowing we have another playmaker on the field. He's proven he can do it over many years, so not only for Mike, for Adam, for [Donteea Dye], for Jameis, for Dirk, for everybody else. It's nice to have that guy out there."
- Linebacker Lavonte David won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his two-interception efforts in the Bucs' win at Philly.
It's the second such award for David in his four-year career and the second for Tampa Bay in the last month, as rookie LB Kwon Alexander was the choice in Week Eight. David unsurprisingly chose to share the credit for the honor on Wednesday.
"Obviously, it's a team honor," he said. "You've got to take your hat off to all 11 guys out there for allowing me to play the way I play, and the coaches for putting me in position to make plays. That's what happened last Sunday and I'm grateful for it."
David returned his second pick 20 yards for a touchdown. Given all he has accomplished in his relatively brief career, it's a bit surprising that it was his first NFL TD (he did score on a safety in 2013), and he called that trip to the end zone both a "blessing" and a "relief." Both David and the Buccaneers are relieved that their star linebacker is starting to put up the types of big plays that marked his first three seasons in the league.
In the Bucs' two wins since a disappointing 32-18 loss to the Giants, David has 18 tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, two interceptions, three passes defensed and that long-awaited touchdown. He said it was after that loss to New York that he decided to stop trying to do too much and just let the game come to him.
"I had to take it upon myself to trust my teammates, trust that everybody was going to do what they're supposed to do," he said. "That's what's been happening so far, and I think that's where the success has come from, not for just me but everybody trusting their teammates and knowing that guys are going to be in the right spot."
Now that he's comfortable again and making the type of impact he and the Bucs knew would come, David thinks the defense can only get better down the stretch. That could make the difference in the team's efforts to break a seven-year playoff drought.
"I just think everybody's trusting each other, everybody's working together and playing hard. These last couple of weeks have been good but now we just need to keep it going. We set a standard out there and now we've got to get better. All the guys have something to play for, but right now it's just added a little flavor to it. We're trying to get to where we want to go. We have to keep working the way we've been working week-in and week-out. We're just going to start today, take it one day at a time and when Sunday comes do our best."
- Three Buccaneers were unable to practice when the team started its week of preparation for the Colts on Wednesday: DE George Johnson, center Evan Smith and safety Keith Tandy.
Johnson missed the last game with a calf injury but Smith was able to play through his knee ailment. Tandy suffered a concussion in Philadelphia and is now in the midst of the league-mandated concussion protocol. There are a total of six players on the Bucs' official injury report.
Lovie Smith also said that tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has missed eight games with a shoulder injury but has been participating in practice in recent weeks, has still not been cleared for contact. Rookie guard Ali Marpet, out the last two games due to an ankle injury, has made progress and was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice.
The Colts submitted an injury report on Wednesday that is twice as long as the Buccaneers and included 10 players who did not take part in the week's first practice. Quarterback Andrew Luck is expected to miss the game due to abdomen and kidney injuries, but now the team is possibly facing the temporary loss of starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo left Sunday's game in Atlanta with an ankle injury and did not take part in Wednesday's workout.
"He's a great player for us," said Matt Hasselbeck, who is expected to start in Luck's place. "He's a leader in our locker room, a smart guy, very talented guy. I don't know how many good things I can say about him. He's one of the best players on our team, so if we didn't have him, that would be tough."
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S Mike Adams, the NFL's co-leader with five interceptions, missed the Atlanta game with an ankle injury of his own and was not ready to return to action on Wednesday. The other Colts who were held out to start the week were cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring), wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (ankle), linebacker Jerrell Freeman (ribs), running back Frank Gore (ankle), wide receiver Andre Johnson (not injury related), linebacker Robert Mathis (not injury related) and linebacker Erik Walden (foot). All but Dorsett are listed as starters on the Colts' depth chart.