NFC South: Lovie Smith

TAMPA, Fla. -- After Thursday night’s 56-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, coach Lovie Smith said there would be changes with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Smith was asked Monday to elaborate on what changes might be coming. He declined to go into any detail.

“I stay by what I said then," Smith said. “When you get beat that bad, you need to make changes. Maybe that’s personnel, maybe it’s not. You’re looking at all areas."

One major change obviously will be at quarterback. Josh McCown has a sprained thumb and is expected to miss at least one game. Backup Mike Glennon is expected to get the start Sunday at Pittsburgh.

Smith wouldn’t discuss McCown’s status Monday, other than to say, “He’s getting better."

Buccaneers trying to stay positive

September, 22, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- They are coming off a 56-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and are off to an 0-3 start. So where do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turn from here?

"We can’t see 0-4," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "I don’t want to see 0-4. This football team doesn’t want to see 0-4. It’s going to be a big challenge for us to go out there. Can we beat Pittsburgh? Yeah, we can, but it starts today."

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Coach Lovie Smith has taken some criticism for the bad start, but Dotson said that is not where the blame belongs.

"This ain’t on Lovie," Dotson said. "When you come out there on the field, the players have to play. The players didn’t play. It’s not on Lovie. He did everything he could to prepare us. It’s all on us. We didn’t play good enough."

The mood in the locker room was surprisingly upbeat as the Bucs got ready to practice after having the weekend off.

"Tough times don’t last," free safety Dashon Goldson said. "Tough people do. I’m a firm believer in that."

Defensive end Michael Johnson, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, might have been the most optimistic of the players that spoke to the media.

"Everybody has to stay positive, keep believing and just trust in the system and trust the guys around you and the work and effort we’re putting in," said Johnson, who said his ankle is improving. "It’s going to turn in our favor. You’ll see. We’ll get this going. When we get it rolling it will be like clockwork. I’m excited to get to that point, but it’s a process."

I wouldn’t expect to hear anything else out of the locker room. Players have pride and they want to stop the losing. But there also is a cold, hard fact that needs to be pointed out.

If history is any indicator, the Bucs have a 2.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, there have been 121 teams to start 0-3 since 1990. Of all those teams, only three have made the playoffs.
TAMPA, Fla. – A day after a 56-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith stood by quarterback Josh McCown.

“Josh is our starter,’’ Smith said. “We’re looking at one game right now. It would be simple if Josh was the only guy that played bad. It seems like that’s the only guy I’m asked that about is Josh. You could ask that about quite a few people, starting with me as the head coach based on that effort. But a little more goes into it than that.’’

That, of course, is assuming that McCown is healthy when the Bucs (0-3) return to action next week against Pittsburgh. McCown suffered a right thumb injury in the Atlanta loss. Smith said McCown was having an MRI on Friday and the results weren’t yet available. Second-year pro Mike Glennon stepped in and finished the game in McCown’s spot.

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After the game, Smith hinted there would be some changes. That’s still the case, but Smith said Friday that there wouldn’t be sweeping changes.

“Everything’s on the table,’’ Smith said. “It’s not just one thing. We have a few more days to evaluate what we’re doing. When that happens, changes have to be made on what we’re doing. At the same time, though, as I told the team, you have to draw on history a little bit, too. Our history in Tampa, our team that lost in the NFC championship Game lost 45-0 to Oakland and beat Green Bay the following week and ended up playing in that championship game. As coaches, we’ve had games like this. You can’t put too much into it having a lingering effect on your season. We just played bad this one night.’’

Although there could be some lineup changes, Smith said the Bucs aren’t going to suddenly change their schemes.

“I don’t think you tear it apart and start all over,’’ Smith said. “No. We had a bad performance. What we need to do individually is each one of those players needs to look at themselves in the mirror and see what he did play by play. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re critiquing every play and what happened. Sometimes when you do that you see that it’s not 20 million things that they did right. It’s just a few things that we did wrong. So we’re not tearing everything down or anything like that. I believe in what we’re trying to do. But, sometimes when you are new, it takes a little bit longer.’’
TAMPA, Fla. – Bucs All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy officially is listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.

McCoy has a broken hand, but there’s some reason for optimism after he took part in Wednesday’s practice on a limited basis. McCoy and coach Lovie Smith have said a game-day decision will be made.

Linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins have been declared out. Defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle) and running back Doug Martin (knee) are listed as questionable.

Bucs' offensive line improving

September, 16, 2014
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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.”

Lovie Smith unhappy with defense

September, 15, 2014
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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.

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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.

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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.

Bucs' Mankins, Martin questionable

September, 12, 2014
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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.

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014
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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.

Lovie Smith remains optimistic

September, 9, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Apparently, the film projectors at One Buccaneer Place have rose-colored lenses.

While acknowledging some mistakes, coach Lovie Smith was optimistic Monday as he discussed Sunday’s season-opening loss to Carolina.

“As I told our football team after the game, we can’t go undefeated, and we’re one game out of first place,’’ Smith said.

The Bucs lost, 20-14. They trailed 17-0 at one point but scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the game close.

“We’re going to build on some of the positive things that we saw late in the game,’’ Smith said. “I’m talking about scoring 14 points and having the ball in position to score more.’’

There’s nothing wrong with Smith’s positive attitude. In fact, it’s healthy. The Bucs started off badly, but it happened against a good Carolina team. What happened in the fourth quarter was encouraging.

And Smith is right that the Bucs are only a game out of first place. This was only one loss for a team with a new coaching staff and a lot of new players.

There still is a long season ahead.

Pass rush missing for Buccaneers

September, 7, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Some quick highlights from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room after Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
  • Much of the talk was about how dismal Tampa Bay was on offense through the first three quarters. The Bucs trailed by as much as 17-0 before they rallied for two late touchdowns. The Bucs said they were disappointed and frustrated by a running game that never really got on track.
  • Despite the loss, coach Lovie Smith said he was pleased with how his team fought back after falling so far behind.
  • Smith prides himself on generating a pass rush from the front four. The Bucs didn’t do a very good job getting pressure on backup Derek Anderson, who was playing for an injured Cam Newton. Tampa Bay finished with one sack.
  • There was no official word on injuries, but guard Logan Mankins and cornerback Mike Jenkins left the game with knee injuries. Mankins was brought in late in the preseason to solidify the offensive line. If he’s lost for an extended period of time, the offensive line could be in big trouble.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will be in the coaches’ box at Raymond James Stadium Sunday, but he won’t be calling the plays.

A team official said Tedford will serve as "an extra set of eyes" and the rest of the offensive staff will team up to fill his role. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo is expected to be the playcaller.

Tedford had an unspecified medical procedure nearly two weeks ago. Head coach Lovie Smith said Friday that Tedford had been cleared for light duty.
TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford took a step toward returning to full duty on Friday.

Tedford, who had an unspecified medical procedure last week, was on the field for Friday’s practice. Coach Lovie Smith said Tedford has been cleared to return to work on a limited basis.

But it still remains unclear if Tedford will be working at Sunday’s season opener against Carolina. Smith said the Bucs may make a game-time decision on Tedford’s status.

If Tedford can’t go Sunday, the rest of Tampa Bay’s offensive coaching staff will share his duties, with quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo calling the plays.
Cam Newton and Gerald McCoyDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton's sore ribs would prefer not to have any close encounters with Gerald McCoy.
If there's anything certain about the NFC South, it's uncertainty.

Since the division came into existence in 2002, no team has claimed the championship in back-to-back years. Worst-to-first finishes have been common, and no team has been able to consistently dominate.

That's why Sunday's season opener between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is so significant. The Panthers won the division last year, and the Bucs finished last at 4-12. But this is a new year, and history has shown that anything is possible in the NFC South.

Panthers reporter David Newton and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at the matchup.

Yasinskas: David, much has been made of the release of wide receiver Steve Smith, who I think was the best player in franchise history. I know Smith's age was a concern. But can any of the new wide receivers step up and match his production?

Newton: You think Smith was the best player in franchise history? I truly believe he is, although he probably would have a hard time believing me after what I'm about to say: The Panthers are better at wide receiver today than they were this time a year ago.

It's nothing against Smith, but he's 35 and admittedly not a true No. 1 receiver anymore. First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin is. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he is the big target quarterback Cam Newton hasn't had. Benjamin is deceptively fast, too. But the biggest thing is he makes plays, whether it's over the middle in traffic or on the outside. If teams double-cover him, that will open things up for tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson in the middle. It also will open coverage on Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, a pair of veterans I believe to be more dependable than Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. were last year. If the Bucs choose to single-cover Benjamin, Newton will look for him often. I know rookie receivers tend to struggle, but this one has a special feel.

The bigger worry for Carolina is its rebuilt offensive line. The Bucs added some talent around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. How big of a problem will that be for the Panthers?

Yasinskas: That should be a big concern for the Panthers. McCoy might be the best defensive tackle in the game, and the Bucs have worked hard to improve his supporting cast. They went out and signed tackle Clinton McDonald and end Michael Johnson to surround McCoy with some other players who can get after the quarterback. The guy who isn't getting a lot of attention but is worth keeping an eye on is Adrian Clayborn. He's a 2011 first-round draft pick who hasn't shown a lot so far, but the Bucs believe the new scheme will help them get more out of Clayborn.

Jordan Gross' retirement had to hurt Carolina. How good is this offensive line without him?

Newton: Athletically, it might be better. And in time, it might be better in terms of productivity. What it lacks is time together -- and Gross' leadership.

Byron Bell was considered average to perhaps slightly better than average at right tackle, but the Panthers believe because he is naturally left-handed he's better off on the left side. He's still susceptible to the bull rush from what I saw in the preseason, but he's every bit as strong and athletic as Gross. Amini Silatolu began last season as the starting left guard before suffering a season-ending knee injury. So he's solid.

It's the right side the Bucs -- particularly McCoy -- might be able to take advantage of. As good as rookie Trai Turner has looked at right guard, he just turned 21 and he missed the last two preseason games with a groin injury. The good news is he has Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil next to him. Nate Chandler, a former defensive lineman who wound up the starter at right guard last season, has moved out to right tackle after losing the left tackle battle. Again, he has great athleticism. He just needs time at the position.

How much different will the Bucs look under Lovie Smith than they did a year ago?

Yasinskas: The Bucs will look dramatically different -- and that's a good thing from their perspective. Many players were miserable under former coach Greg Schiano, and they tired of his rigid ways. Smith brings a fresh start, and the players are delighted with him and his schemes. The Bucs are going back to the Tampa 2 defense that was famous in the Tony Dungy years, and their offense will have a faster tempo. More importantly, Smith has brought a new culture to the Bucs. Players are having fun again.

Everyone in Tampa is curious about Newton's rib injury. Is he healthy enough to be the athletic quarterback we've all come to know?

Newton: The ribs are sore, and that isn't likely to change by Sunday. But Newton has thrown the ball well in practice, and his range of motion is good. He's tougher than most give him credit for being. To never have missed a start despite being hit twice as many times as any other quarterback over the past three seasons really is remarkable.

Coach Ron Rivera says he doesn't plan to change the game plan because of the injury, and that includes the read-option. But do I expect Newton to run 11 times, as he did at Tampa last season? I'd be stunned. The Panthers don't need Newton taking unnecessary hits. Having said that, if there is a play to be made, Newton won't hesitate to use his legs. He insists that he'll continue to dive headfirst instead of sliding, too. But I expect Newton to stay in the pocket as much as possible and throw the ball to Benjamin as often as he's open. Those two have quickly developed a bond.

What about Josh McCown, who spent two years on the Carolina bench? Is he really the answer at quarterback to make the Bucs a playoff contender?

Yasinskas: McCown is a great story. He has spent most of his career as a backup, but the Bucs are giving him the chance to be a starter. McCown played extremely well last season when Bears starter Jay Cutler was hurt, and he has history with Smith from their time together in Chicago. But is McCown capable of leading a team to the playoffs? I honestly don't know. I think he needs a lot of help from the defense and the running game. If he gets that, McCown could be effective as a passer.
TAMPA, Fla. – Although he missed nearly a month with an injured hamstring, Mike Jenkins still is listed as a starting cornerback on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ depth chart.

That’s not just a courtesy for a veteran. The Bucs are serious about Jenkins playing in Sunday’s season opener with Carolina. Jenkins returned to practice this week, but the Bucs think he’s ready to contribute.

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“It’s not an ideal world for him to miss all that time," coach Lovie Smith said. “But, conditioning-wise, Mike has been conditioning. We took our time with him. We made sure he was pretty much 100 percent before we put him out there. He’s been running. As Mike said, ‘Hey, I’ve lived in Florida for a long time.’ He’s looked good in practice. I don’t think there are any issues. It’s not like we’re going to play him 60 reps this week. We’ll ease him into the mix."

That probably means Jenkins will split time with second-year pro Johnthan Banks at the cornerback spot opposite Alterraun Verner.

The Bucs also issued their first injury report of the season Wednesday. Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, defensive end William Gholston, safety Bradley McDougald, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and receiver Louis Murphy were held out of Wednesday’s practice.

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