After a weekend devoted to paring the roster down to 53 players and then tweaking the edges of the depth chart via the waiver wire, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned to the field on Monday afternoon for the first practice of the regular season. It was the Buccaneers' first practice since the previous Wednesday, but it was actually the sort of work the team had been waiting eight months to resume.
With a regular-season opponent on which to focus and the first concentrated game-planning of the year on the docket, Monday's practice was infused with a fresh sense of purpose.
"There's definitely renewed energy," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. You go through training camp and it's a, 'Bang, bang, time to make the donuts type' of mentality. The guys keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and then, all of a sudden, you've got a game soon. It's here. These 16 one-game seasons will determine 2013, so it counts."
For a handful of players, such as defensive end Adrian Clayborn, guard Davin Joseph and cornerback Darrelle Revis, this week marks their first real game-preparation in, essentially, an entire year. Those three missed most or all of the 2012 campaign with injuries and are ready to get back into the flow of a regular season.
"It's very exciting to be finally back in game week and getting prepared for an opponent," said Clayborn, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week Three a year ago. "We just got a little bit of game-planning today, so it's all bringing back memories, and I'm excited for it. That's what the preseason's for, to kind of knock those jitters out. Now I'm just ready to play in a real game that counts."
Schiano appreciated the shift in focus from the teaching-intensive work of training camp, with up to 90 men on the practice field, to the much more strategic work of the regular-season, with closer to 60 players involved.
"It's totally different when you're really locked in to an opponent that you're preparing for because now you're fitting everything that you do, schematically, to a particular team," he said. "And that's the thing that's neat about coaching and playing football; you pour everything into this preparation for those three hours on Sunday. That's why it's so disappointing when you're not successful and so gratifying when you are, because so much work went into it and you get about 32 minutes to enjoy it or be [upset] and then you got to go do it again."
* The Buccaneers filled the last spot on their practice squad – the first iteration of that constantly-evolving crew, at least – by signing rookie cornerback Marc Anthony, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. That evens the current practice squad at four rookies and four first or second-year players, though Anthony is the only one on that list that just arrived from a new team. The first seven players signed to the practice squad – cornerback Deveron Carr, offensive lineman Jace Daniels, linebacker Ka'lial Glaud, defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo, tight end Danny Noble, wide receiver Chris Owusu and tackle Mike Remmers – were all players Tampa Bay had waived on Saturday when getting the roster down to 53.
The Ravens acquired Anthony with a seventh-round pick (#247 overall) in the 2013 draft, and the former Cal standout played in three preseason games for Baltimore, recording three tackles and four passes defensed. The 5-11, 196-pound Anthony finished his collegiate career with 137 tackles, five interceptions and 21 passes defensed. He gives the Buccaneers some needed depth at cornerback, at least during the practice week. The Bucs started the week with six corners on the 53-man roster, but with Danny Gorrer not expected back soon they were really running with five.
As for the active roster, Schiano described it on Monday as a "fluid situation," and said that was particularly true in the week leading up to the season opener. That suggests that further moves are possible in the coming days as the team continues to address depth concerns and work on finding the right mix of 53 players.
- Peyton Hillis got a new jersey number on Monday, after the weekend's moves freed up many additional options. Hillis wasn't likely to get the number he wore in Cleveland and Dallas – 40 – given the attachment Buccaneer fans have with Mike Alstott. He got close, however, with #44, a number that looks more natural on the 250-pound back than did #33, which he wore throughout the preseason.
There was something else different about Hillis's practice jersey on Monday: It was red. Throughout training camp, the offense always wore white jerseys while the defense wore red during practice. The switch this week wasn't a random whim, however. Rather, it's the same approach Schiano's Buccaneers took last year in regard to the colors that will be worn on game day. The offense always practices in the color that matches what the whole team will wear that Sunday, and in this case the Bucs will be sporting red jerseys this weekend in New York.
- With the roster pared to 53, the Buccaneers were able to remove the temporary additional lockers from the middle of their locker room over the weekend. Any remaining players who had been using those extra lockers in the middle of the room were relocated, and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks found himself in a particularly fortuitous spot.
Banks's locker is now located directly between those of cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson, the two All-Pro veteran defensive backs Tampa Bay acquired during the offseason. The Bucs can only hope that the experience and wisdom of those two players, who have a combined six Pro Bowl selections and are also considered on-field leaders, will rub off on their second-round rookie.
For now, Revis's expected presence next to Banks on the field should have a significant impact, as well, as opposing quarterbacks may fear throwing in the All-Pro cornerback's direction. Banks is looking forward to finally seeing his veteran mentor in action, as Revis' methodical return from a 2012 knee injury did not include any preseason game action.
"The spotlight is always on him," said Banks. "[I'll] just go out and play my role. He is a pro, he knows how to handle that stuff, I haven't seen anything faze him yet. I'm pretty excited just to watch him go out and compete and do what he [does]."
Banks isn't certain yet if he will be the one joining Revis in the starting lineup. With Revis expected to lock down the left cornerback spot, the start on the right side will likely go to either Banks or second-year man Leonard Johnson.
"I'm just going to play my role, whatever Coach wants me to do that's going to be my role," said Banks. "I just want to help this team win, that's it. Whatever I can do to help this team win that's what I'm willing to do.
"I'm a rookie, and I've got Revis on the other side, so me or L.J. will have our work cut out for us, whoever the other corner beside Revis is, but we are all prepared. We get paid to do this, we've just got to go out there and hold up."
- The Buccaneers' pass rush failed to gather much momentum during the preseason, and Clayborn says that needs to change in a hurry. The Bucs are determined not to let opposing quarterbacks get comfortable this year.
"That's not really an option," said Clayborn. "We have to get the pass rush going. The coaches expect it of us, and we expect it of ourselves, so we're ready to go."
The Bucs notched only five sacks during the four-game preseason, three of them on one night in Miami by new addition Trevor Scott. Besides Scott, rookie defensive end Steven Means was the only down lineman to record a sack, with linebacker Lavonte David collecting the other one. Of course, the Buccaneers, like most teams, didn't show much of their defensive playbook, going light on stunts and blitzes and the like, so the low sack total isn't necessarily indicative of what they are capable of producing during the regular season.
The Bucs kept six defensive ends on the 53-man roster, with Scott coming on strong in his short audition time to win a spot. Two of those ends are 2013 draft picks – Means and William Gholston, and two others are recent high-round picks – Clayborn (first round, 2011) and Da'Quan Bowers (second round, 2011). The team has invested a lot of time and assets in trying to rekindle the pass rush – the Bucs' last 40-sack season came in 2004 – and there are high hopes that this is the year it comes together.
- Monday was something of a "bonus" day of practice in preparation for the Jets, and the Bucs don't have to submit an official injury report until Wednesday. Before Monday's workout, Schiano said it was "too early to tell" if guard Carl Nicks would be able to return this week. Schiano also did not specify who would play left guard in New York if Nicks is not ready, with all three of the reserve linemen on the depth chart – Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith – capable of filling in.
"We have guys on our roster, we'll just choose one of them," said Schiano. "They all can play guard, and one of them will end up being the starting guard if Carl can't play."
The Bucs' other Pro Bowl guard, Davin Joseph, returned to game action in Week Three of the preseason and should be in his usual spot on Sunday.
"I feel very strongly about Davin; I think Davin's going to come out and play Davin-like," said Schiano. "I feel uncertain about Nicks because that's what it is, it's uncertain. And the rest of the guy's I have confidence that they're going to play well. The guys that practiced the whole camp, they're going to play well."