NFL Nation: Dezmon Briscoe

Robert Griffin III practice report

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:46
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Here are some notes and observations after Robert Griffin III's practice Monday.
  • Griffin was rather honest about what he thought of the Redskins' plan, how he didn't always understand why they were taking it slower than he'd like and why, if he was feeling good, the Redskins couldn't deviate -- or alter -- the original plan. But Griffin is not a doctor, or a coach, and the team discovered last season it could not go by what he says he's feeling. Coach Mike Shanahan did not want to bring Griffin back too soon; any sort of setback in camp would have led to second guessing of, and by, Shanahan. So they've taken it slow. If Griffin plays in the opener, the Redskins would have taken it smart,too.
  • Griffin completed 15 of 17 passes in the 7-on-7 portion, though he did show more accuracy downfield, something he had not always done in previous sessions. He had his usual share of shorter passes, but Griffin had a couple excellent throws.
  • On his first throw, Griffin connected with tight end Fred Davis down the seam, a good hard delivery. Griffin followed that with a perfectly placed pass over the top of linebacker Brian Orakpo to receiver Pierre Garcon, about 15 yards out along the sideline. A nice touch. Griffin later hit Davis and Garcon in stride along the sideline.
  • Of his two incompletions, one was a crossing route that was a bit out in front of receiver Aldrick Robinson and the ball skipped off an outstretched hand. The other was a low ball to receiver Dezmon Briscoe. On that play, Griffin looked left and then threw back to the right where Briscoe was covered by DeAngelo Hall. Had Griffin not thrown it low, Hall would have had a pick-six, but the quarterback has a knack for delivering passes away from pressure and that's what he did here. It was a harmless incompletion.
  • Griffin said going through an ACL injury and subsequent return at Baylor prepared him for what he's going through now, with intense interest in his return. The Redskins limit access to him to once a week, which helps Griffin. But the stories persist with or without his comments. He's learned to tune out the endless stream of commentators and pundits who say what he should, or shouldn't, do. "Everyone will have a different opinion, but in the NFL that opinion gets heard more," Griffin said. "I don't listen to it."
  • Griffin also said at this point in his recovery in college he was already back practicing in full. "It's no difference now," he said. "It takes time to heal. It's been a lot of time healing, at least in my mind."
The Washington Redskins play their final preseason game of 2012 at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While most, if not all, of the Redskins' starters are expected to sit out the game, here's a look at what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: The secondary. It was rough out there in the first two games, and then Tanard Jackson put on a show in the third and made you think maybe they have something at safety. I imagine we'll see some of DeJon Gomes at safety and some of Richard Crawford at cornerback, especially now that he's being given a great role in the wake of the Kevin Barnes trade. Tonight could offer a look at some of the depth at these key positions.

On the other side of the ball: The fight for the final wide receiver spots on the roster gets interesting with final cuts looming Friday. It could be a big night for guys like Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson, Dezmon Briscoe and Anthony Armstrong. Lots of people ask about Banks, and it's hard to see what he could do at this point to get on the roster. But I guess you never know.

If I think of it: The young offensive linemen remain interesting as the Redskins look for some long-term answers along the line. ... Lots of eyes will be on new kicker Billy Cundiff, just signed Tuesday to replace Graham Gano. Based on the reaction I saw, some people liked Gano and some hated him. Both groups should be interested to see how Cundiff fares.

Observation deck: Colts-Redskins

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
7:20
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The story of the day in the preseason NFL was the game between the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts. The Redskins won the exhibition game 30-17, but that obviously wasn't what made it a story. This was the showdown between the top two picks in this year's draft -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Colts and Robert Griffin of the Redskins. And the pair put on a fun show.

Griffin was 11-for-17 for 74 yards and a touchdown. He missed on three deep throws down the field, but at least one appeared to be the fault of his wide receiver, and he showed quite a bit otherwise. On the four-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, Griffin moved out to the right side extremely quickly, showing his speed and preventing the Indianapolis defense from reacting in time to do anything about it. Griffin continues to show poise and confidence and doesn't get rattled when things don't go exactly as planned. Those are key qualities that, along with his talent and athleticism, bode well for his ability to handle NFL life in his rookie season and beyond.

Luck was 14-for-23 for 151 yards and a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. His test was tougher, since the Redskins' defense played better in this game than the Colts' defense did and he faced intense pressure on nearly every play, but he looked very good. Neither rookie quarterback showed anything to make his team feel any less excited about its future.

Here's what else I saw from the Redskins in this game:
  • The Redskins' defense is going to be about pressure up front. The defensive line and linebackers look very active and aggressive, even with Brian Orakpo out with an injury, and they did a very good job of disrupting things for Luck and for the Colts' run game in the backfield. When the Redskins drop a lot of guys into coverage, as they did on the Colts' final drive of the first half, their weaknesses are exposed. And when the quarterback avoids the rush, as Luck did on his touchdown throw, the Redskins could have problems downfield. On that play, safety Madieu Williams was in single coverage on the wide receiver, and it was a mismatch.
  • That said, safety Tanard Jackson looked excellent. Starting in place of an injured Brandon Meriweather at strong safety, Jackson looked good in run support, made some nice tackles and knocked away the Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. Jackson could beat out Williams for the starting free safety spot. He's a favorite of secondary coach Raheem Morris from their time together in Tampa Bay, and his issues have all been off-the-field, not on. A couple of secondary players made good plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, including cornerback Josh Wilson and safety DeJon Gomes. The issues are down the field, not up front.
  • Rob Jackson was the starting outside linebacker in place of Orakpo, but Chris Wilson quickly replaced him and had a great game that included a third-quarter sack of Chandler Harnish for a safety.
  • On offense, rookie Alfred Morris got the start at running back again and looked very good. He carried the ball 14 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. He's exactly the kind of runner Mike Shanahan likes -- he makes one cut and gets up the field -- but he's also got some nice moves once up the field and that forward body lean you've heard so much about that helps him pick up extra yards. He needs to improve in pass protection before the Redskins feel great about him, but he looked good throwing blocks in Saturday's game, and it's clear that's a matter of reps and not ability or willingness. Tim Hightower is still the coaches' preferred starter at running back, and he looked lively as he got 28 yards on five carries in his first game action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October. But they're bringing Hightower back slowly, and with Roy Helu and Evan Royster both nursing injuries, the chances are improving that Morris will be the starter for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener in New Orleans. I still expect each of those four to start at some point this year, assuming they all get/stay healthy.
  • Brandon Banks was returning kicks again in the second half, but it cannot be a good sign for Banks' roster chances that Niles Paul returned kickoffs and Moss returned punts in the first half. Banks was told he'd have to make the team as a wide receiver, not just a return man, and it does not appear as though he's done that, so they're probably looking at other return options to see what they have.
  • The Redskins' offensive line did a very good job in the run game, and we've seen it look worse in pass protection, though the Colts did have success early with an interior pass rush against Will Montgomery and backup left guard Maurice Hurt. That might get better once Kory Lichtensteiger is back healthy, but it's something to watch. For what it's worth, Griffin seems to handle the rush well. Doesn't get flustered when forced out of the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, etc.
  • Josh Morgan looked better than Leonard Hankerson, who had a bad drop and slowed down for some reason on a deep throw from Griffin that fell incomplete. I think the coaches would like to line up with Hankerson and Pierre Garcon as their starting wide receivers, but Morgan could surpass Hankerson if he stays healthy and keeps making plays.
  • You'll laugh, but Rex Grossman looked good, especially when he threw it to Dezmon Briscoe (who's making a late push for a roster spot himself). Grossman finished the game 8-for-8 for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the backup defense of one of the league's worst teams. Somebody asked me on Twitter if the Redskins might cut Grossman and just go with rookies Griffin and Kirk Cousins at quarterback, but why? Grossman knows the offense, can help the rookies learn it, and when he's not throwing interceptions he runs it quite well. He's the perfect backup for the 2012 Redskins.

Observation deck: Redskins-Bears

August, 19, 2012
8/19/12
12:48
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As much as everybody tries to read meaning into the on-field results of preseason games, the only thing that truly matters to the teams is getting through them healthy. For that reason, the Washington Redskins' 33-31 exhibition loss to the Bears in Chicago on Saturday night was a painful one. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather both left the game in the first quarter with injuries -- Meriweather to his knee, Orakpo to the same pectoral muscle he tore last year. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that both would have MRIs on Sunday, and obviously when you lose two defensive starters you have to be concerned. Inside linebacker London Fletcher also was a late scratch from the starting lineup Saturday, and Shanahan didn't say much about Fletcher when asked postgame.

So it was a troubling night for the Redskins because of what was happening on the trainer's table, not so much because of what was happening on the field. Remember, we absolutely cannot make long-term predictions based on these games. We don't know what we're watching. Some teams game-plan for opponents in preseason, other teams don't. Much of the decisive action comes against third-teamers that won't see the field all year. All we can do is evaluate one night's performance for what it is, and to that end ...

1. Robert Griffin III is still learning. And this is fine, of course. It is to be expected. The hype around the Redskins' rookie quarterback has been intense and exciting, but on occasion it can seem to ignore the important fact that Griffin is a rookie who must learn and get used to the challenges of the NFL game. In the preseason opener last week in Buffalo, the Redskins worked hard to protect Griffin, limiting his throws and his reads to the quickest possible, and he looked very good. He makes smart decisions and displays the kind of poise and leadership you want to see from your franchise quarterback. But the Bears' Cover 2 made things more challenging for Griffin on Saturday, as did Chicago's Julius Peppers-led pass rush, and Griffin looked shakier in Game 2. He was 5-for-8 for 49 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled on one of those sacks. Fred Davis missed a block on the fumble snap, and rookie running back Alfred Morris admitted to reporters after the game that he'd failed to pick up the blitz, but Griffin also needed to protect the ball better while running from the pressure. In general, he looked like a rookie who needs to show more composure against the rush. And again, at this stage in his career, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

2. The secondary looked like a mess. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a field day from the start. He found big Brandon Marshall up the right sideline for 41 yards after Marshall blew past Cedric Griffin. It looked as though cornerback DeAngelo Hall was playing free safety on that play, perhaps as part of this weird plan to convince Hall he can be used the way Green Bay uses Charles Woodson. It didn't work. Later, Marshall caught a 20-yarder on Josh Wilson. This time, Meriweather was providing the safety help but overshot the tackle. Orakpo got hurt in coverage on Devin Hester, and I still can't figure out what he was doing so deep. Alshon Jeffery had a big catch a little bit later on, and it looked like he had linebackers in coverage as well. I understand the safeties are new and they're moving the cornerbacks around a lot, but the Redskins' coverages Saturday did not look cohesive while the first-teamers were on the field. I thought Madieu Williams showed some good things, including an open-field tackle of Earl Bennett.

3. Brandon Banks showed something as a returner, with a 91-yard punt return, and Aldrick Robinson flashed his incredible speed as a receiver, bursting into another gear on his 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Weird thing is, Robinson doesn't show much as a returner and Banks hasn't shown enough as a receiver. If you could combine them, you'd have something. But the Redskins might not be able to keep both.

4. Morris got the start at running back over Evan Royster with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu hurt. Early on, Morris showed why Shanahan likes him. He makes one cut and then gets upfield quickly, which is essential for success in Shanahan's zone-blocking run game. He also has that good forward body lean, which helps him pick up yards after contact. The sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic had 34 yards on 10 carries. Royster was the third-down back even when Morris was in the game, and he had 20 yards on two carries. Tristan Davis had 10 carries late but did little with them and isn't likely to be a factor when this running back mess gets sorted out. Morris is a factor, right now.

5. Kirk Cousins. Yes, he looked great. He was a stunning 18-for-23 for 264 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one to newly converted tight end Niles Paul, the one to Robinson and one to Dezmon Briscoe. The Redskins like Cousins a lot. But no, as anyone who's really paying attention knows, there's no quarterback controversy in Washington and there's not about to be one. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to get Griffin. They did not do that for Cousins. Their plan for Cousins is to develop him as a backup and, ideally, trade him for something of value down the road the way Andy Reid and the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb. Preseason performances like this one can only help with that latter goal. But remember, the performance was against backup defensive players. Cousins never saw Peppers.
Just about everywhere you look or listen there is speculation the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in hot pursuit of wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

It makes sense on many levels, starting with the facts that the Bucs need a true No. 1 receiver and Jackson probably is the best available in free agency. There’s likely to be competition from Chicago and Washington and perhaps some other teams. The San Diego Chargers are also holding out a bit of hope that they can re-sign Jackson.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREVincent Jackson, a proven No. 1 receiver, could help the Bucs win more games in the NFC South.
But the Chargers will only do that if his price tag is somewhere around $11 million a season. If it gets higher than that, he likely will walk and Tampa Bay’s a very logical place for one of the top members of this free-agent class.

The Bucs have about $43 million in salary-cap space and it’s become increasingly clear the Bucs want to do everything possible to put quarterback Josh Freeman in position to succeed. Jackson certainly would help in that regard.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson may not sound like the deep threat so many think the Bucs need. But Jackson is a bit of a freak of nature when it comes to his speed, plus he uses his strength to get separation.

Just look at his numbers when it comes to yards per catch. Last season, Jackson averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That’s the second-highest total of his career and the highest (19.7) came in his rookie season when he was used as a third receiver.

That shows Jackson isn’t losing a step, which is a concern for a receiver who just turned 29. It looks like Jackson has several good years left and the Bucs shouldn’t let their infamous history of bringing in receivers scare them off. Jackson’s not Alvin Harper or Bert Emanuel, guys that were No. 2 receivers elsewhere that the Bucs thought could emerge as No. 1 guys. Jackson also isn’t Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway or Antonio Bryant, guys who produced in the short term, but, for various reasons, didn’t last in the long term.

Jackson is a proven No. 1 receiver. Although he had some off-field problems, those appear to be behind him and teammates and media members who have covered him say Jackson doesn’t have the “diva’’ personality so many receivers do. He’s described as very quiet and always has been liked by his coaches.

If the Bucs are going to get Jackson, it likely will cost them around $12-$13 million a year. That’s a lot, but the Bucs have indicated they’re ready to spend money after going lightly in free agency in recent years.

Jackson is the one guy out there that seems like a sure thing. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent and I don’t think the Bucs are looking to give up draft picks. New Orleans Marques Colston isn’t a speed guy and he’s been banged up at times in the past.

If the Bucs don’t get Jackson, then they need to look in a different direction.

Robert Meachem (Saints), Mario Manningham (Giants) and Laurent Robinson (Cowboys) are guys that can stretch the field, but none of them is a true No. 1 receiver, although they'd come at a much lower price tag than Jackson. But even adding a speed guy could make it easier for Tampa Bay’s current group of receivers – Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter — to get open.

Benn, Trueblood out for Bucs

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
3:11
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ATLANTA -- As expected, the Buccaneers will be without injured receiver Arrelious Benn and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood in Sunday’s game with the Falcons.

Both players have been declared inactive. Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe will get more playing time with Benn out. James Lee is expected to start in Trueblood’s place.

Also inactive for the Bucs are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and offensive tackle Derek Hardman.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
7:11
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, Tampa Bay receiver Arrelious Benn (concussion) is inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Dallas Cowboys.

That likely means more playing time for Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker.

The other inactives for the Buccaneers are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Myron Lewis, offensive lineman Derek Hardman and offensive tackle James Lee.
Chris Harris is 29 years old. Last season, the Associated Press named him a second-team All-Pro. So how could it be that Harris made it through only seven games for the Chicago Bears this season before his surprise release Thursday morning?

A couple of factors are in play here, not the least of which is the Bears' pathological compulsion to swap out players at the safety position. Since taking over as coach in 2004, Lovie Smith has made 29 changes to his lineup at safety. When the Bears return from their bye next week, they'll be looking for a new starter to pair next to the sudden anchor of the position, rookie Chris Conte, who has started two games in his NFL career.

It's fair to say that Harris struggled some in coverage this season, most recently when receiver Dezmon Briscoe beat him for a touchdown in last Sundays' 24-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But I think even Harris would admit he is best used near the line of scrimmage as a run enforcer. A starting safety must be able to function in pass coverage, but the Bears could have protected Harris more if they had a better option to play alongside him. Wright, Conte and newcomer Brandon Meriweather -- who has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks -- all have similar run-first styles.

Finally, I think it's impossible to ignore the systematic breakup the Bears are engineering of their long-held core of veterans. Since the end of last season, they have bid farewell to defensive tackle Tommie Harris, center Olin Kreutz, tight end Desmond Clark and now Harris. (You wonder if linebacker Lance Briggs, who requested a trade last summer, will be the next to go.)

The Bears had justifiable football reasons for parting ways with each of those veterans. If Smith was ready to bench Harris permanently, there was no sense keeping him as a backup/special-teams player. NFL teams routinely make harsh decisions about key players, but the Bears have made a number of them in short order. So it goes.

LeGarrette BlountMatt Stamey/US PresswireIt wasn't pretty, but LeGarrette Blount and the Bucs managed to get the win against the Colts.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Before we pick this one apart, and there’s a ton to work with on that end, let’s be clear on one thing: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a football game before a prime time audience on Monday night.

They defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 24-17, at Raymond James Stadium, put together their first three-game winning streak since Raheem Morris took over as coach in 2009, sold out a home game for the first time in a long time, and also kept pace with the New Orleans Saints (3-1) atop the NFC South.

Let’s pause with the positives right there, because the way things transpired Monday night left lots of room to wonder if the Bucs really are ready for prime time and if they really can hang with the Saints for the long haul. Let’s turn it over to rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who capsulized his fourth NFL game accurately.

“Things were very ugly,’’ said Clayborn, who was credited with a sack, two quarterback hurries and a tackle for a loss. “We battled through it. It was sloppy. But it’s about whoever comes out with a win and we did.’’

With time, the ugliness Clayborn talked about might fade. If the Bucs keep winning, this one will look a lot better in the standings come playoff time.

“We’ve got a goal,’’ said second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who finished with a team-high six tackles, one sack, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hurries. “We want to win our division.’’

That’s a great goal, but the Bucs aren’t going to win against the Saints -- and maybe not even against the Atlanta Falcons or the Carolina Panthers -- if they continue to play the way they did most of the night against the Colts. Let the record show that Indianapolis was not quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Or even Kerry Collins.

They started Curtis Painter at quarterback. They were forced to play third-stringer Mike Tepper, signed off the practice squad a few days ago, at left tackle in the second half after injuries took their toll. The Colts also lost defensive tackle Eric Foster to an ankle injury that looked even more gruesome than most of the ugliness on the field.

Despite all that, the Colts (0-4) outplayed the Bucs much of the night. The Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead and led 17-10 midway through the third quarter when Painter hit Pierre Garcon with a 59-yard touchdown pass. Tampa Bay’s tackling ability looked like that of a youth-league team on that play.

The Buccaneers were penalized 14 times for 106 yards. For the longest time the highlight of their offense seemed to be a short dump play to running back/fullback Earnest Graham. They ran that play a number of times and amassed 27 yards on three completions, although there were several passes to Graham that were called back because of penalties.

Speaking of penalties, there was a strange one in the final seconds of the first half. With the Colts leading 10-7, the Bucs tried to get a quick field goal as the clock ran down. Kicker Connor Barth actually got on the field and put the ball through the uprights.

But the field goal didn’t count because the Bucs were penalized for having 12 men on the field as they tried to get the offense off the field and the field-goal unit on it. That call led to a rather strange halftime scene. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik, normally a pretty calm guy, came into the press box to talk to replay officials.

Without ever truly losing his temper or fully raising his voice, Dominik questioned the call. He argued that receiver Dezmon Briscoe was jumping off the field before the ball was snapped.

“It was as clear as day,’’ Dominik said loud enough to be overheard by a large portion of the media contingent. He also suggested the Colts had 12 men on the field as well. He later came back at the start of the third quarter and had a quieter and more diplomatic conversation with the officials.

But all the murkiness didn’t really clear up until running back LeGarrette Blount broke free on a 35-yard run for a touchdown up the middle with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in the game. That’s when Tampa Bay scored the final points and took the lead for the first time.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesDespite sharing a lead with the Saints in the NFC South, it's unclear whether Tampa Bay is for real.
“It wasn’t pretty at all times, but that’s kind of us,’’ said quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 25 of 39 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown. “Whatever the adversity, we continue to play through the fourth quarter and persevere.’’

That’s been the story of Tampa Bay’s three victories and even their opening loss to Detroit. The Bucs start slowly, but they hang around and, more often than not, they’ve found a way to win it at the end.

That formula works against struggling teams like the Colts. But here’s the thing to keep in mind: Although the nation got to see the Bucs on Monday night, we still really don’t know what they’re all about.

We’re going to find out very soon. The Bucs travel to San Francisco on Sunday to play a 49ers team that’s started better than a lot of people expected. They then get to fly back across the country for a home game with the Saints, who are every bit as good as people expected. After that, the Bucs fly out of the country to take on the Chicago Bears in a “home game’’ in London on Oct. 23.

After that, they get a bye week before facing the Saints again -- in New Orleans.

Between now and then, we’ll find out what we didn’t find out Monday night. We’ll discover if the Bucs are any good.

This is the NFL’s youngest team and there have been some positive signs. McCoy, Clayborn and a very young defensive line continue to show promise. Second-year receiver Preston Parker is becoming a playmaker. Blount can wear down a defense and Freeman usually seems to have a steady hand when it matters most.

“A win is a win,’’ center Jeff Faine said. “As long as we keep stacking them up, we’re headed in a positive direction.’’

Faine’s absolutely right. But the wins aren’t going to be so easy to stack up in the coming weeks unless the Bucs take lots more steps in a positive direction. The wins aren’t going to come unless the Bucs do a lot of cleaning up quickly.

Even with Week 3 games nearly upon us, many of us in the NFC North are still exchanging pleasantries about a series of Week 2 officiating calls. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has a nice review of a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty against Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop, and I'll take another look at two other calls that piqued my interest.

The first: An end zone pass ruled incomplete during the Packers' 30-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers. I'm guessing you've seen the play.

The Packers were facing third down from the Panthers' 19-yard line with 10 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers lofted a high pass down the left sideline to tight end Jermichael Finley, who had lined up as an outside receiver. At about the 2-yard line, Finley jumped in front of Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Finley got two hands on the ball, tucked it in his right arm and braced for impact with the ground.

[+] EnlargeJermichael Finley
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe pass to Jermichael Finley was ruled incomplete after the tight end lost the ball when he hit the ground.
The photograph accompanying this post shows Finley had possession with two feet in the end zone. But a moment later, the ball squirted free when his right arm hit the ground. Referee Alberto Riveron ruled the play incomplete, and Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby booted a 37-yard field goal on the next play without a challenge from coach Mike McCarthy.

As we Black and Bluers learned in Week 1 last season, the call was correct based on a rule the NFL considered changing during the offseason but ultimately left intact. It's the same rule that forced officials to call an apparent touchdown catch by the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson incomplete against the Chicago Bears.

A reminder of how the rule is worded, straight from the NFL's official 2011 rulebook: "It is a catch if in the process of attempting to catch the ball, a player secures control of the ball prior to the ball touching the ground and that control is maintained after the ball has touched the ground."

The Johnson play generated controversy because he lost "possession" by intentionally placing the ball on the ground after what he thought was a legal catch. Hence, our education on the "process" of securing possession.

The Finley play was more straightforward. He unintentionally lost possession when his right arm touched the ground. During his weekly radio show at ESPN 540, Rodgers said: "It's an incompletion by the rules." But he also added that the rule "is a little bit ridiculous."

I agree. My view on this play remains the same as it was last year. It makes sense to me, at least, for the NFL to acknowledge the fact that possession standards in the end zone should be different than they are in the field of play.

If a running back carries the ball into the end zone, it's a touchdown no matter what happens thereafter. If a defender knocks the ball out of his hands after it crosses the plane, it's still a touchdown. So why are the standards higher for a receiver on a pass play? Once the receiver establishes possession, as Finley clearly did based on the photograph, why isn't the play over at that point? Why does he have the additional burden of maintaining possession until the end of an arbitrarily-determined process? Beats me.

Meanwhile, the second play came in the fourth quarter of the Minnesota Vikings' 24-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Referee Jeff Triplette's crew called Vikings defensive end Jared Allen for roughing the passer with six minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the game. The play added 15 yards to a 19-yard pass and put the Buccaneers in position for the first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

When you watch the replay, you see Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman scramble to the right sideline and fire a pass to receiver Dezmon Briscoe. A moment after release, Allen hit Freeman in the chest with his right shoulder. In announcing the call, Triplette said Allen "turned and lowered his shoulder into the quarterback."

"That's a new one," Allen said after the game. For what it's worth, I couldn't find anything in the rule book that specifically addresses a defensive player lowering his shoulder into a quarterback. There are references to hitting a quarterback's helmet or neck, to clubbing his arm and to driving him into the ground at the end of a hit, but nothing that addresses the use of a shoulder in any way.

The closest applicable language was this:
"A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as 'stuffing' a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (1) above. When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender's weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player's arms."

Allen didn't stuff Freeman or wrestle him to the ground, but those are only examples of the NFL's definition. Officials have some discretion to determine what an "intimidating and punishing" act is. In this case, Triplett ruled that Allen intentionally lowered his shoulder in an attempt to elevate the force he hit Freeman with. It was a subjective judgment call that apparently doesn't have to be spelled out in the rulebook.

On to our updated penalty tracker:

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 24, Vikings 20

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
4:12
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Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' victory against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Bucs were on their way to seeing their season slip away when their offense failed to show up in the first half. The Bucs were down 17-0 at halftime and had only three first downs in the first two quarters. Then, the second half started and Josh Freeman and the offense suddenly started clicking. When’s the last time the Bucs had a quarterback who could fall that far behind and bring them back? They never have.

What I liked: Coach Raheem Morris, who must have given one heck of a halftime speech, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson didn’t give up on the running game after falling behind, like they did in the opener. They kept using LeGarrette Blount and he ended up scoring two second-half touchdowns.

What else I liked: The defensive performance in the second half was pretty remarkable. The defense spent way too much time on the field in the first half. When that happens against Adrian Peterson, it’s usually a formula for disaster. But this young defense stepped up and held the Vikings to a field goal in the second half. Of course, it helped a bit that the offense was doing its job in the second half.

Wide receivers step up: The Bucs have been searching for a No. 2 receiver to complement Mike Williams. It looks like they’re making some progress in this area. Arrelious Benn, who is coming off a serious knee injury, had a touchdown catch and Dezmon Briscoe had four catches for 42 yards.

What’s next: The Bucs host the Falcons next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sit down with Mark Dominik even for just a few minutes and you’ll quickly hear his theory on why the term “youth movement’’ shouldn’t come with negative connotations.

“Don’t confuse youth with immaturity,’’ the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said. “There’s a big difference between those two things. I’m sure we’ve all met 23-year-olds that act like they’re 28 and we’ve met people that are 28 but act like they’re 23. I feel like we’re a mature, young football team, which is important.’’

Yes, the Bucs, who were the NFL’s youngest team last season, are going to be young again. They have only three players 30 or older and they’re counting on big things from a lot of rookies and second-year players.

But this is a team that won 10 games last season with a lot of young players in key roles, and all of them should be a year better. That experience only encouraged the Bucs to continue with their youth movement and steer clear of making any dramatic moves in free agency. Instead of worrying about regressing, like a lot of fans and media are predicting, the Bucs fully expect to take another step forward.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,’’ quarterback Josh Freeman said. “It matters how well you’re playing and if you have the ability to step up in big situations.’’

Freeman epitomizes what Dominik was talking about. The quarterback is 23, but spend a few minutes with him or think about how he led his teammates through workouts during the lockout and you’d swear he was 28. Or 38.

“It’s about the type of player we’re looking for,’’ Dominik said. “Certainly, the skill level has a lot to do with it. But it’s also very much about the type of player we’re looking for in terms of their demeanor. Plus, I have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff as far as getting guys prepared.’’

The Bucs hit it big when they drafted Freeman, and pickups such as receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount have made quick impacts. That’s part of the reason why they plan to plug rookie Adrian Clayborn in as an immediate starter at defensive end and why they’re willing to put rookie Mason Foster at the all-important middle linebacker position.

“When we talked to Adrian Clayborn and Mason Foster in the draft process, we felt that sense of someone who was wise beyond his years,’’ Dominik said. “It gives you confidence to be able to see a young man who takes his game and his craft seriously and puts time into it and it’s important to him. That's the kind of thing that's important to us. We have a young team that we like very much and we look forward to it growing older together.''

THREE HOT TOPICS

[+] EnlargeGerald McCoy
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Buccaneers have invested several high draft picks in their defensive line, including the No. 3 overall pick in 2010 on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
1. Where will the pass rush come from? The Bucs were among the worst in the league at pressuring quarterbacks last season. That’s why they drafted Clayborn in the first round and fellow defensive end Da'Quan Bowers in the second in April. A year ago, the Bucs used their top two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.

There’s a lot invested in those young defensive linemen and the Bucs expect immediate results. Sure, they wouldn’t mind getting some sacks from blitzes by their linebackers or defensive backs, but it’s not like the Bucs have some other pass-rushing defensive end hidden up their sleeves.

Throughout camp, Clayborn’s looked even better than the Bucs thought he was when they drafted him. Bowers, coming off knee surgery in January, hasn’t been quite at Clayborn’s level. But he has looked better than the Bucs expected him to be at this point. At worst, Clayborn will start right away and Bowers will be used as a situational rusher. At best, Bowers might get on the field more than that and show every team that let him slide to the second round that his knee is fine.

2. Can Blount be a complete running back? That’s the hope and the plan, but Blount is a work in progress. We learned quickly last season that he can run between the tackles. He didn’t take the starting job from Cadillac Williams until midseason, but he still managed to rush for 1,007 yards.

Williams thrived as a third-down back last season, but he left via free agency, creating a void. When Blount was on the field last season, it was pretty obvious the Bucs were going to hand the ball to him. He only caught five passes and the team was hesitant to rely on Blount to pick up on blitzes on pass plays.

Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin can do some of those things, but the Bucs have been working hard to make Blount a more balanced player. The coaching staff said he’s now up to speed on pass blocking and he has worked a lot on catching the ball out of the backfield in camp. If Blount can do everything this season, Tampa Bay’s offensive intentions no longer will be telegraphed.

3. Was Freeman’s first full season as a starter misleading? Not at all. He threw for 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions and pretty much carried an offense that had to do a lot of shuffling through a series of injuries.

Freeman took over as leader of the team last season, and he only reinforced that with the way he kept the Bucs together during the lockout. Those workouts only increased his chemistry with Williams, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter and tight end Kellen Winslow. Freeman is capable of throwing for 30-plus TDs and passing for more than 4,000 yards.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeDezmon Briscoe
Kim Klement/US PresswireTampa Bay is counting on a big contribution from receiver Dezmon Briscoe this season.
The Bucs had a pretty strong feeling about receiver Dezmon Briscoe when they made the unconventional move of signing him to the practice squad, but paying him like he was a member of the regular roster at the start of last season. Briscoe later earned his way onto the regular roster and has made the Bucs look like geniuses throughout camp and in the first preseason game. The team believes Benn is coming along well after suffering a torn ACL late last season. But the Bucs don’t want to rush Benn. That's why Briscoe could end up starting at the “Z’’ position opposite Williams early in the season. The long-range promise of Briscoe is off the charts because he can play all three receiver spots.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

It’s not so much that the Bucs have been disappointed with what they’ve seen from McCoy and Price when they’ve been on the field. The problem is the two second-year defensive tackles simply haven’t been on the field a lot. The hopes are still high for these two, but Price is coming off a rare surgery on his pelvis and is being brought along slowly. McCoy, who had his rookie season end with a triceps injury just when he was starting to blossom, has missed some of camp with a shoulder injury. Roy Miller is a consistent player and the Bucs don’t mind starting him. But they need McCoy and Price to be on the field and making big plays.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The arrival of Clayborn and Bowers also helps the offensive line. In the old days, left tackle Donald Penn rarely had to break a sweat in practice because he worked against Stylez G. White.
  • There’s concern on the outside about depth in the secondary. A lot of that concern stems from the uncertain situations of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson. Talib could face suspension by the league for an offseason incident in which he was charged with aggravated assault, and Jackson is out until at least late September as he finishes a one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The Bucs have no idea what’s going to happen with Talib. If Jackson returns to them, they view it as a bonus. But the team isn’t nearly as concerned with the depth situation as fans are. Coaches are comfortable with Sean Jones and Cody Grimm as starting safeties and think they’ve found quality backups in Larry Asante and Corey Lynch. At cornerback, the Bucs believe E.J. Biggers could step into a starting role if anything happens to Talib, and there’s hope that second-year pro Myron Lewis could succeed as a nickel back.
  • The Bucs like what they’ve seen from Lumpkin during camp and think he might be a reliable backup for Blount. But Graham is a nice fall-back option. He’s been playing fullback, but played tailback earlier in his career. With Erik Lorig getting time at fullback last season, the Bucs have flexibility to move Graham around.
  • Although Foster is expected to start in the middle, the Bucs aren’t going to overload the rookie. At least in the short term, outside linebacker Quincy Black will wear the radio helmet and call the defensive plays. Part of that is because Black will be on the field all the time, and Foster will come out when the Bucs go to the nickel package.
  • Attention, fantasy football players: Consider drafting Winslow. He was good last season, despite missing a lot of practice time with an achy knee. Winslow said the knee feels better than it has in years. He spent most of the offseason working out with Freeman in Tampa and their chemistry should be even better than last season.
One of the bigger stories of Tampa Bay’s training camp so far has been rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster. Now that the preseason is here, the story just keeps getting bigger.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannBucs rookie linebacker Mason Foster recovered a fumble on Friday against Kansas City.
After letting Barrett Ruud leave as a free agent, the Bucs seemed poise to put their defense in the hands of their third-round draft pick. Although Tyrone McKenzie got some first-team work early in camp, Foster has been getting most of the reps lately.

He got the start in Friday night’s preseason opener, a 25-0 victory against Kansas City. Here’s what coach Raheem Morris had to say about Foster after the game.

“We talked about wanting to see him in pads, and he was able to go out there and really put his pads on people,’’ Morris said. “Obviously, I’ve got to go grade the tape to see all the plays and see what he was able to do. But, I did see him recover a fumble, I did see him get a big third-down stop, and those are the things we want to see him do. I was so excited about what he did in that first quarter; in that first half, I took all his nickel reps away. I didn’t even want to play him in the second half. Hopefully, next game we’re going to get him out there in nickel and see some other things out of him. (We) put him on special teams a little bit, let him play a little bit. If he is going to be a two-down backer, he’ll have to give us a little bit on special teams.

One of the other big stories of Tampa Bay’s preseason has been Dezmon Briscoe. The Bucs stashed him on the practice squad for much of last season. But Briscoe’s had a great training camp and, with Arrelious Benn still recovering from a major knee injury, has a chance to start opposite Mike Williams.

Briscoe had four catches for 60 yards against the Chiefs.

“I was fired up about Dez,’’ Morris said. “I remember talking about him a while ago, saying how he might be one of our better receivers. He’s done nothing but show me and prove to us that he can play this game, and we’re fired up to have him. We were fired up when we got him last year at the time we did. And to incorporate him in our offense like he’s been able to do, I think it’s been special for him.”

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 12, 2011
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It looked a little bit like Josh Freeman turned into Drew Brees on Friday night.

Playing just a little more than a quarter, Freeman completed passes to seven different players as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their preseason with a 25-0 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Freeman completed nine of 13 passes for 73 yards and also ran for a touchdown before leaving with the Bucs holding a 13-0 lead.

Some other observations on the Buccaneers.
  • Tampa Bay’s defense had as much to do with the fast start as the offense. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster, who appears to be headed for a starting job, recovered a fumble to set up Freeman’s touchdown. On Kansas City’s next possession, safety Sean Jones recovered a fumble and the Bucs followed that up with a field goal. Tampa Bay’s second-team defense even recorded a safety late in the second quarter.
  • Nice to see the Bucs throw a pass to running back LeGarrette Blount. They’ve talked about getting him more involved in the passing game. Looks like the Bucs are serious about that.
  • Second-year receiver Dezmon Briscoe had four catches for 60 yards. The coaches have been high on Briscoe since late last season and he has a chance to open the season as the starter opposite Mike Williams. Arrelious Benn is coming off major knee surgery. Benn is progressing well, but the Bucs don’t want to rush him. With Briscoe, they might be able to buy Benn some more recovery time.
  • Not a bad outing by backup quarterback Josh Johnson. His agent might want to copy the tape and ship it around the league because Johnson can become a free agent next season.
  • The Bucs used their first two draft picks on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers in hopes of improving the pass rush. The rookies have yet to make an impact, but third-year defensive end Kyle Moore had two sacks and reserve linebacker Dekoda Watson had 1.5.

Scouting NFC South WR groups

July, 1, 2011
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In this Insider item, Matt Williamson takes an in-depth look at the wide receiver corps in the NFC South.

He ranks Atlanta’s receivers as the best, followed by New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Carolina. I can’t really argue with that because I think Williamson’s on target.

The only thing I will say is that Williamson seems to be going on the assumption the rookie Julio Jones is going to be very good right away. A lot of us are making that same assumption, including myself. But I will throw out the old cautionary line that rookie wide receivers can take some time to develop. But, like Williamson says, Jones is in a great situation. He should be playing opposite Roddy White and catching passes from Matt Ryan. Throw in running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez and defenses won’t be able to devote too much attention to Jones.

New Orleans doesn’t have a true superstar at wide receiver, but that’s mainly because the Saints spread the ball around so much. Marques Colston could put up bigger numbers in a system where he was the featured receiver. Lance Moore is very underrated and the Saints don’t want to lose him in free agency. Robert Meachem, a former first-round pick, started his career very slowly but has started to come on.

Tampa Bay has an incredibly young group of receivers. Mike Williams came in last year as a rookie and instantly became the No. 1 receiver. He should only get better. If classmate Arrelious Benn can come back from a knee injury and start grasping things the way Williams has, the Bucs could have a dynamic duo. Sammie Stroughter could be a good third receiver. But don’t rule out playing time for Dezmon Briscoe. He spent part of last season on the practice squad, but the coaching staff is very high on Briscoe.

Carolina ranks last and that may be due to the uncertainty of the future of Steve Smith. If he stays, he should help rookie quarterback Cam Newton. If Smith goes, the Panthers aren’t desperate at wide receiver. They like Brandon LaFell and David Gettis and hope Armanti Edwards can get on the field this year. They’d like to throw those guys out there with Newton and let them all grow up together.

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