The Buccaneers practiced for a little over two hours on Tuesday, with their attention somewhat split between preparing for Thursday's preseason finale against Washington and continuing the training camp approach of preparing the starting units for the regular season. Since the Bucs will give the vast majority of Thursday's snaps to reserves (as will the Redskins, almost certainly), there was some scout-team game-planning accomplished but also some drills that pitted first-teamers against first-teamers for the benefit of Week One readiness.
The Bucs will practice again on Wednesday, and it will also be unlike the usual day-before-game workout.
"Depending on who is playing and who's not, Wednesday will be more of a traditional practice for some guys than it will be for others," said Schiano.
- The Buccaneers' tight end crew is preparing for a significant amount of action on Thursday night, and that will likely include everybody on the depth chart. With the regular season now just 12 days away, the team is still sorting out the position between Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham, Danny Noble and Tim Wright, determining how many of them to retain and how they will be deployed on game day.
"We have a real competitive group and we don't really know what's going to happen, how many tight ends we're going to keep," said Byham. "Everyone is fighting for a job somewhere or another on the depth chart, so this is going to be very important for us.
"This is probably one of the most competitive position groups right now, the tight end position, and I think right now we're doing a really good job of being the tight end-by-committee. We're all rolling in there, we're all playing together, we're all helping each other out with weaknesses and strengths. I think this is a big game for us. The majority of us will be playing in this game and we're not going to be taking it lightly."
Schiano recently used the "tight end by committee" phrase, as well, but as the coach also pointed out, that approach can be a bit of a double-edged sword. While the team can mix-and-match the various talents of its tight ends to get what it needs out of the position, it can also make the play-calling more predictable if certain players are always called upon to do the same thing. The more versatile any of those tight end candidates can prove to be, the more likely they'll find a roster spot and significant time waiting for them in the regular season.
- The running back race is nearing the finish line, too, but it's still a little too close to call. Brian Leonard, Mike James and Peyton Hillis are all battling to be Doug Martin's primary backup, which may overlap significantly or completely with the role of third-down back. It's possible that all three will make the team and that several will be asked to help out with lead-blocking and on special teams.
Martin didn't play in Saturday night's game at Miami, when most of his fellow starters got an extended look, so it seems quite unlikely that he would suit up for Washington on Thursday night. Thus, once again there will be plenty of carries to spread among the aforementioned trio.
"One of the questions [I've been] asked is, 'What are you going to do at running back? Are you going to keep three? Are you going to keep four? What are you going to do?'" said Schiano. "That's something that is a real decision for us as well. It's got to come from somewhere, you know. That 53 is a non-negotiable number. So, it's a hard decision to make.
"I don't know how many of them and how much [will play Thursday], but we're going to get, certainly, a lot of touches in this game to make a determination."
Leonard started Saturday's game in Miami and scored his second touchdown of the preseason. He and Hillis have nearly identical numbers through the first three games – 28 carries for 113 yards for Leonard and 29 for 114 for Hillis – but Thursday night is a finally chance for one of the competitors to separate himself from the pack.
"It's just another opportunity," said Leonard. "We've got a great competition going in the backfield right now for the second spot and it's important to all the opportunities I can have. There's always competition in the NFL, at every position. That's what makes you a better player. I came in this year knowing there was going to be a lot of work for that second spot, and I've been putting it in. Hopefully we'll see what happens this week."
- Fullback Erik Lorig returned to the practice field on Tuesday, which could impact the backfield competition as well.
Schiano said that Lorig participated in the practice in a limited fashion, and that the team will ease him back into action gradually after an earlier attempt to return from his calf injury resulted in a setback. The Buccaneers released Spencer Larsen on Monday, leaving Lorig as the only name listed on the depth chart at fullback, but it's possible the team could turn to Leonard, Hillis or James for help at that position. The Bucs have also pressed their tight ends into lead-blocking service during Lorig's absence, with Crabtree starting at that position on Saturday in Miami.
Leonard has some experience playing fullback, though most of it was in his college days at Rutgers.
"I played fullback a little bit in college," he said. "I haven't played much in the league yet, but whatever role they ask me to do I'm going to do my best at it. I'm a little undersized right now for fullback but I can still bring it a little bit. It depends on when Erik gets healthy and what happens there."
- Cornerback Danny Gorrer did not return to practice, as he has undergone surgery to correct a groin injury that has kept him out of action since the first week of the preseason. Schiano said he did not believe the injury to be season-ending. Schiano said cornerback Darrelle Revis remains on track to play in the regular-season opener on September 8, and safety Dashon Goldson's light practice day on Tuesday was the result of a previously heavy workload in training camp and not an injury.
- With Carl Nicks a serious question mark for the that Sept. 8 opener, the team is trying out different options at left guard. Gabe Carimi, the former 2011 first-round pick acquired from the Chicago Bears in a trade in June, started the Miami game at that spot and is expected to get another long look there on Thursday night. Schiano said the team wasn't yet looking at the option of once again moving Jeremy Zuttah from center to guard, but that it could enact that plan on relatively short notice if necessary.
The extremely versatile Zuttah, who has helped the Buccaneers weather injuries on the offensive line for much of the past five years, will hopefully get a chance to concentrate on the center position in 2013.
"I'll deal with it if comes," said Zuttah of the possibility of another position switch. "Until then I'm just working on getting better at center."