NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster gave a ringing endorsement to the man who is likely to take his place in the starting lineup Thursday night.

Fletcher
Foster is expected to sit out with a dislocated shoulder. That means Dane Fletcher likely will get the start.

“Dane is a veteran,’’ Foster said. “He’s a proven player in this league. He had a great camp and he’s ready to go. He’s a great linebacker. He’s going to step in and make it happen.’’

Fletcher will call the defensive plays. That’s something he did when he stepped in for Foster during Sunday’s loss to St. Louis. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he has confidence in Fletcher.

“When Dane got in the ball game [Sunday], he did some good things,’’ Frazier said. “It’s tough when you’re not getting as many reps in practice on some of the things you have to do in the game. But, for the most part, we were pleased with his work. With this week being a short week, he still won’t get as many reps. But he’ll be able to get some film study and prepare and I think he’ll go out and play well Thursday night.’’

Josh McCown frustrated with start

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
2:22
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- On talk radio and message boards, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown has been taking a beating.

But it’s not any worse than what McCown is saying to himself.

“It’s awfully frustrating,’’ McCown said Tuesday. “I’m not going to shy away from that. I’m very disappointed. I’m disappointed in myself and just this start. It’s not what anybody wants.’’

The Bucs are 0-2 and McCown, who was signed in the offseason to provide a veteran presence, has thrown three interceptions -- all at crucial times. McCown was asked to evaluate his play and he didn’t give himself passing marks.

“At the end of the day, you hear about quarterbacks being measured by wins and we’re 0-2,’’ McCown said. “For me, that’s how I evaluate it. I say, 'What could I have done better to help us win the ballgame?’ In both games, I really felt like I did a lot of good things except the three turnovers in those games. Those have been critical.

“As I evaluate myself, that’s really what I focus on, not letting that happen. That will continue to be the focus as it is every week. The other part is that I’m pleased with how I’m playing, throwing the ball and those things. I feel like that part is good. But I’ve just gotten outside the pocket and made bad decisions with the ball and you can’t do those things.’’

The interceptions are surprising because McCown threw 13 touchdown passes and just one interception for the Chicago Bears last year.

“I look back on the tape last year and it’s not there,’’ McCown said. “It’s not something I was doing. It’s frustrating to me.’’

McCown admitted he might have been pressing at times.

“Not every play has to be made,’’ McCown said. “I’m pleased with my decisions in the passing game. When I get outside the pocket, I’m really frustrated with those. Those aren’t good. That’s what’s got to change.’’

Bucs' offensive line improving

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:00
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- On Monday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith realized it had been several days since he had fielded a media question about the offensive line.

“I think just about every time I’ve come in here someone has asked about the offensive line," Smith said. “I don’t hear any questions now, and that’s a good thing."

It seems as if the biggest question of the preseason has faded into a non-issue. An offensive line that hasn’t been together very long seems to be developing some chemistry. It helped running back Bobby Rainey rush for 144 yards in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis.

The line is in a much better spot than it was early in the preseason after former All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team. The Bucs experimented with a bunch of guards before trading with New England to bring in Logan Mankins.

The group still is developing chemistry, but you can see some tangible progress.

“It’s coming along," left tackle Anthony Collins said. “I’ve got my All-Pro [Mankins] next to me, and the center [Evan Dietrich-Smith], he’s getting it down. We’ve got a good right tackle [Demar Dotson]. [Right guard Patrick Omameh] is playing very, very well. I’ve just got to take care of my business. And the chemistry is going to be there with the tight ends. It’s coming.”

Bucs promote LB Brandon Magee

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
6:29
PM ET
Magee
TAMPA, Fla. -- In what could be a sign that middle linebacker Mason Foster may miss some playing time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a linebacker Monday afternoon.

Brandon Magee was promoted from the practice squad. Magee appeared in eight games for the Cleveland Browns last year. To make room for Magee, the Bucs waived cornerback Rashaan Melvin with an injury settlement. Melvin had been sidelined by an ankle injury since the preseason. The Bucs filled Magee's spot on the practice squad by signing linebacker Ka'Lial Glaud, who was with the team last year and this preseason.

Foster suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday's loss to St. Louis. Dane Fletcher is the primary backup to Foster, but adding Magee gives the Bucs more depth at the position.

Lovie Smith unhappy with defense

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
5:43
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- When a football team is losing, the easy scapegoats are the quarterback and the head coach. Josh McCown and Lovie Smith have been getting their share of the blame during Tampa Bay's 0-2 start.

Smith
But Smith pointed the finger in another direction Monday.

"A lot's being said about our offense and what we're doing in certain situations," Smith said. "But where we're really not performing well enough is on the defensive side. From long drives to taking the ball away to third downs. Our first goal on the defensive side is to score. We haven't come close to any of those things right now at this stage of our season. But they will come."

Smith brought up a good point. In his system, strong defense is supposed to be the key. In losses to Carolina and St. Louis, the defense has been ordinary. The Bucs rank No. 14 in overall defense (tied for 19th against the run and 15th against the pass).

A lot of people just assumed that the return of Smith, who served as linebackers coach under Tony Dungy, would mean instant defensive success. Smith brought the Tampa 2 scheme back, but he hasn't been happy with the way the defensive backs have been executing it.

"To a man, we're not pleased with how we're playing," Smith said. "That's starting with breaking on the ball, stripping the ball, taking the ball away. Our entire game right now, we're not pleased with. Even tackling. It's all of the above right now. We have to see more improvement. If we can just do that, we're going to be in pretty good shape."

Smith also said he hasn't been happy with the play of the defensive front. The Bucs have lost to backup quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Austin Davis.

"We need to get more up front," Smith said. "We're not getting enough. We've had two quarterbacks come in and we haven't pressured them enough and gotten ourselves into a position where we felt like we had to blitz more just to be able to get some pressure."
TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the stranger quirks in the NFL is the injury report for a Thursday night game.

McCoy
McCoy
Teams are required to put out an injury report on Monday. But that report generally is hypothetical because teams usually don’t practice on Mondays. So the report is an estimate of players who would not have practiced if there was practice.

Tampa Bay’s hypothetical report contained three players that would not have practiced. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) suffered injuries during Sunday’s game. Rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle) did not play Sunday and also was on the injured list.

McCoy and Foster declined to talk to the media during Monday’s open locker room period. McCoy first was seen with nothing on his hand and it was visibly swollen. A few minutes later, McCoy was seen with wrapping on his hand.

Coach Lovie Smith said it’s possible McCoy could have his hand placed in a cast, but that’s not the first priority.

“That is an option,’’ Smith said. “Some positions, you can get by with that. On the defensive line, it’s a lot harder to do. You need to be able to grip and hold. Yes, that’s an option. But, hopefully, we won’t have to go that far down the road with it, but we’ll see.’’

If McCoy is unable to play Thursday against Atlanta, Smith said the Bucs would employ a three-man rotation that would include Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence and Da’Quan Bowers as the defensive tackles. If Foster can’t play, Dane Fletcher would be the likely starter.

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must fix:

Back in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about how the Buccaneers could use the size of their receiving crew to create all sorts of matchup advantages.

But that hasn’t materialized so far, and the Bucs have to fix that as they try to offset a high-powered Atlanta offense Thursday night.

Sunday's 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams revealed some telling numbers about the passing game. Although taking shots downfield is supposed to be a big part of the offense, Josh McCown's longest completion was a 29-yarder to Mike Evans. That was a desperation heave on the last play of the game. Other than that, the only pass of at least 20 yards was a 20-yarder to Vincent Jackson.

Evans and Jackson are big, physical receivers who should be able to use their size to get open downfield. The Bucs need to start taking advantage of their skills.

Buccaneers need to win on road

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
1:23
PM ET
Officially, the Buccaneers are 0-2. But you could make an argument that they already are 0-5.

That’s the very real possibility they’re staring at with three straight road games coming up. They travel to Atlanta for a Thursday night game. They follow that up with games at Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

So far, we’ve seen nothing out of the Bucs to create a real strong belief that they can win any of those three games. Start off 0-5 and the season is over.

That’s why it’s critical that the Bucs somehow find a way to win one (maybe two) of these road games. That’s not an easy task.

But this is the hole the Bucs have dug for themselves. They made a lot of noise about wanting to win all of their home games. So far, they’re 0-2 at Raymond James Stadium.

If they’re going to save their season, the Bucs have to start playing a lot better and show they can win on the road.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It was hard to find a bright spot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

Rainey
Difficult. But not impossible.

There was one very bright spot.

That was running back Bobby Rainey. He rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries and was Tampa Bay’s only consistent offensive weapon.

Rainey was filling in for starter Doug Martin, who sat out with a knee injury. But Rainey’s performance shouldn’t be a surprise. He did a nice job last season when Martin and Mike James were hurt.

Rainey had two 100-yard games last season. Sunday’s rushing total represents the second-best output of Rainey’s career. His high was 163 yards against Atlanta last season.

"Bobby was awesome," quarterback Josh McCown said. "I wasn’t here last year, but they told me about Bobby when he filled in and carried the ball well. He certainly was that today. He was a great spark."

But Rainey wasn’t joyous about his performance.

"It doesn’t matter when we lose," Rainey said. "You can have all the yards that you want. You still have the team come up with a loss. It means nothing."

Injuries taking toll on Buccaneers

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:47
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- A few locker-room observations after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
  • Evans
    No one was putting blame on rookie receiver Mike Evans. He caught a deep pass and took a huge hit in the final seconds. Evans was shaken up. Although tight end Brandon Myers was trying to get Evans on his feet, the officials declared him an injured player and, by rule when a team has no timeouts, ran off the final seconds of the clock.
  • Coach Lovie Smith's honeymoon period might be over. He took some tough questions about playing the game conservatively.
  • Injuries are going to be a big story as the Bucs get ready for Thursday night's game at Atlanta. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) highlighted a list of Tampa Bay players who had to leave the game due to injuries.

W2W4: Buccaneers-Rams

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
7:00
AM ET
Three things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams:

The offensive line. The Rams sacked Mike Glennon seven times when the two teams played last season. New starter Josh McCown is more mobile than Glennon, but the St. Louis pass rush still has the potential to do lots of damage. The fact Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been completely overhauled might only help the Rams. This offensive line hasn’t had much time together to develop chemistry and the Rams may be able to exploit that.

Doug Martin. The “bell cow’’ of Tampa Bay’s offense gained just 9 yards on nine carries in the season-opening loss to Carolina. The lack of anything close to a productive running game threw the entire offense out of kilter. The Bucs need to get Martin on track. If they do, that might force the Rams to not devote so much energy to the pass rush.

The vertical passing game. There was a lot of noise in the preseason about Tampa Bay’s plus-sized receiving corps of Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But that trio was pretty quiet in the opener. The Bucs have a tremendous size advantage over any secondary and they need to start taking advantage of it.

Bucs' Mankins, Martin questionable

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
3:54
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. – The news on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ injury front for Sunday is mixed.

Let’s start with the good news: Running back Doug Martin and guard Logan Mankins each practiced for the second straight day. They’re listed as questionable, but coach Lovie Smith sounded optimistic about their chances of playing against St. Louis. Defensive end William Gholston also practiced fully after being limited Thursday and is listed as questionable. Defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers participated fully and is listed as probable.

But the bad news is that defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins have been declared as out for Sunday.

Clayborn's future with Bucs in doubt

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
12:37
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. – Friday’s news that Adrian Clayborn was placed on injured reserve might signal the end of his star-crossed career with the Buccaneers.

Clayborn
Clayborn
Clayborn was a first-round pick in 2011. The Bucs already had decided not to pick up the 2015 option. That meant 2014 was supposed to be a “prove-it’’ season for Clayborn.

But, now, Clayborn won’t be able to prove anything. He’ll become a free agent after the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Bucs offering him a lot of money to stay.

Through four seasons, Clayborn didn’t prove a lot. He had a somewhat promising rookie season in which he recorded 7.5 sacks, but Clayborn has trended downward from there. He missed 13 games and did not record a sack in 2012. In 2013, Clayborn stayed healthy, but produced only 5.5 sacks.

The bottom line here is Clayborn will get signed somewhere next year, but it won’t be for a large contract. There still is some untapped potential, and Clayborn could be worth a one-year contract at a reasonable salary. But that might not happen with the Bucs.

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

It's tough to call the second game of the season a "must-win" situation. But that might not be far off what the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing this week.

Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses that could set the tone for disastrous seasons. But a victory in Week 2 could save a season -- at least for the moment.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at this matchup:

Yasinskas: Nick, let's cut right to the chase. Are the Rams as bad as they looked against the Vikings in the opener?

Wagoner: I don't think the Rams are as bad as they were in Week 1, but I can understand why some might view it that way. That isn't to say this team just had an off-day and is about to string 15 wins together. The issue in Week 1 boiled down to the Rams failing to do the things they believe they will do well this year. Namely, this is a team built to run the ball to set up play-action on offense and dominate defensively, but they didn't control the line of scrimmage well enough on either side of the ball to do that. On paper, this looked like an offensive line that could be really good if everyone is healthy -- but even healthy, it looked like an aging group unable to block basic four-man rushes.

Still, I expect the Rams to be more competitive this week, so long as they have veteran quarterback Shaun Hill back from a quad injury.

I suppose the best option now is to redirect back at you: The Bucs disappointed in Week 1 against a backup quarterback, and either way, they're going to see another this week against the Rams. Are they as bad as they showed against the Panthers? How do they bounce back?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were horrible offensively for more than three quarters. Their defense, which is supposed to be a strong point, wasn't much better against Carolina backup Derek Anderson. There weren't a lot of good things to come out of the opener, and I'm not trying to make it out to be more than it was. But the Bucs did score 14 points in the fourth quarter, and they made it a game. It took a long time, but their offense finally showed some rhythm in the fourth and they had a chance to win at the end. Maybe this offense isn't that good, or maybe it just took some time to get things going in the right direction.

I know hopes were high with Sam Bradford, and that all changed with his injury. How much of a difference will it make if Hill is able to play?

Wagoner: Let's be honest here: It's not like the Rams are choosing from a quarterback trio of Elway, Marino and Montana. But of the three they have on the roster, it's pretty clear Hill gives them the best chance to win at this point. He's a steady hand and actually got off to a pretty good start against the Vikings last week before a dropped screen pass and a bad throw that resulted in an interception just before the half. For what it's worth, Jeff Fisher said Hill was trying to throw that ball away but couldn't get it out of bounds because of the quad.

Either way, the Rams need Hill under center because the options behind him -- Austin Davis and Case Keenum -- simply aren't going to get the job done. Of course, it won't matter who is under center if the offensive line doesn't perform better than it did the past week. That group has to give Hill time to throw and open some holes in the run game for this offense to have any chance of success against that Tampa defense.

Speaking of that defense, Lovie Smith once coordinated the group in St. Louis, and we all have a pretty good idea of what he likes to do. But now that he's back with the Bucs as the head coach, what are some wrinkles he's bringing to the table, and how good can that group be with guys such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in the system?

Yasinskas: McCoy and David are two excellent cornerstones around which to build the defense. But as we found out against Carolina, the Bucs need more than that. The key to a Smith defense is getting pressure from the front four, and the Bucs didn't do that against the Panthers. They came up with one sack (by McCoy) and got no pressure on the outside. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson have talent, but they have to be more productive for Smith's defense to really work. If the defense gets pressure, the turnovers will flow. If it doesn't get pressure, the defense will be nothing more than ordinary. McCoy and David are the stars of the defense, but the Bucs need Clayborn and Johnson to really make things click.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a huge question, and the Bucs might be without injured guard Logan Mankins. Like any quarterback, Josh McCown is going to struggle if he's pressured. Are the Rams capable of putting a lot of pressure on McCown? If so, that will stall Tampa Bay's offense.

Wagoner: The strength of the Rams' defense is certainly found in the front four and the pass rush in general. Of course, that wasn't all that evident this past week against Minnesota. The Vikings only allowed one sack, and that came because of a botched snap. But Minnesota had a good game plan and made it a point to get the ball out quickly, which negated the Rams' pass rush. In fact, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1.

The Bucs know exactly what the Rams' pass rush can do after Robert Quinn gave them all kinds of headaches in the past year's meeting. But the Rams have to be better in coverage on underneath stuff if they want their pass rush to take off as it should.

McCown had some success throwing against the Rams last year when he was with the Bears, and the Bucs have a couple big, physical receivers on the outside. If things are going how the Bucs want, what type of challenges do they present to the Rams' defense?

Yasinskas: Let's assume for a second the offensive line plays a decent game. If that's the case, McCown will have time to throw, and he has some nice targets to work with. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all at least 6-foot-5. That creates all sorts of matchup problems for a secondary. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins are only rookies, but they can be impact players. Jackson is a proven receiver who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

But like I said, the offensive line will be the key. If McCown has time to throw, he can be an efficient quarterback. If he doesn't have time, he'll show why he's been a backup most of his career.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier wasn’t giving away any secrets Wednesday as he talked about Sunday’s loss to Carolina.

Frazier
The world already knew that the Bucs didn’t have much of a pass rush and didn’t come up with any takeaways. Frazier is painfully aware of both issues and talked at length about improving the pass rush and the turnover ratio.

In Tampa Bay’s system it’s crucial for the defense to produce turnovers. The fact that the Bucs didn’t have any against the Panthers was costly.

“Not being able to balance takeaways, the fact that they had three and we had no takeaways, is probably the difference in the game,’’ Frazier said. “They get 17 points off turnovers and we didn’t come up with one. From a defensive standpoint, we’ve got to be able to get those turnovers, those takeaways. No matter how the game is going, it really gives you a chance to be successful. We know historically that if you get three-plus, you’ve got a 95 percent chance of winning the game and we came up with zero.’’

Frazier said takeaways and pressure on the quarterback go hand in hand. The Bucs sacked Carolina quarterback Derek Anderson just once and seldom pressured him. Frazier said it’s critical for the Bucs to generate more of a pass rush in Sunday’s home game with St. Louis.

“There’s some things we’re going to try to improve our pass rush,’’ Frazier said. “In order for us to be successful, we need to be able to get that rush out of our down four without having a lot of other things. We saw some things we think will be able to help us this week.’’

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider