Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, shown celebrating a touchdown against the Giants in 2015, will face New York again this fall in Week 4 in Tampa.
The Bucs finished so close to making the playoffs in 2016 -- literally flip-flop the last two results and have them beat the Saints and lose to the Panthers and they're in as a wild card with the same 9-7 record -- that it's difficult to say with any certainty what will happen in the 2017 season.
But if you can accept that Tampa Bay's most likely path to the playoffs is as a wild card, then there are four games against other likely NFC wild-card contenders -- the Vikings, Giants, Cardinals and Lions -- that will greatly shape how well the Bucs can fare in seeking their first playoff berth in 10 seasons.
Before we get into those, let's break down how the Bucs' wins and losses fell last season. Against lesser opponents who finished with six wins or less, the Bucs dominated as they should, going 5-1, the lone loss at home against the Rams. Against teams who finished with 10 or more wins, the Bucs did surprisingly well, going 3-3 with wins against the Chiefs, Falcons and Seahawks. Those two ends of the spectrum give them an 8-4 record, and the Bucs seem like a playoff team. …
Doug Martin was contrite but optimistic about returning to the form he demonstrated as the NFL's second leading rusher two years ago.
He would not talk about the drug he abused. He didn’t identify the rehab facility he entered last January or how long he was there.
“I was there long enough. I was there to point where I’m strong now,’’ Martin said Thursday. “Mentally strong and physically strong.’’
Speaking for the first time since being suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs last Jan., Martin was contrite but optimistic about returning to the form he demonstrated as the NFL's second leading rusher two years ago.
“It was a journey these past few months,’’ Martin said. “You know, with the statement and I had to get help. It was a journey of self-development. I learned a lot about myself. I’ve had the support of my family, my friends and teammates all around and I’m happy to be back here.’’
In fact, Martin said the hardest part was being away from friends, teammates and family during his rehab, where he was unable to take phone calls.\ …
The Bucs want Ryan Fitzpatrick to mentor Jameis Winston.
As the football world continues to question the Bucs’ motives for signing Ryan Fitzpatrick over Colin Kaepernick as Jameis Winston’s backup, veteran NFL writer Rick Gosselin weighs in with this post titled “The Bucs are playing a mind game.”
• Fizpatrick has seen it all: “.. He has thrown 3,876 career passes and squared off against the defenses of Bill Belichick, Wade Phillips and Dick LeBeau.”
• The ultimate backup?: He can play Earl Morrall to Jameis Winston’s Bob Griese or Don Strock to his Dan Marino. “More recently, Mark Sanchez served in that capacity for Dak Prescott with the Cowboys last season.”
• Football’s brightest QB mind: “His ability to process is matched by few quarterbacks who have ever played the game.”
• Path to the Super Bowl: “If Tampa Bay is to return to a Super Bowl, it will be Winston taking the snaps, not his backup.” …
This tweet from the Bucs, mocking the Falcons' 28-3 lead they lost in the Super Bowl against the Falcons, prompted a public apology from head coach Dirk Koetter, who called it "unprofessional and not smart."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter made a point to publicly apologize Thursday for a tweet sent out by the team's Twitter account three days earlier, mocking the Atlanta Falcons and the 28-3 lead they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"I want to make sure, on behalf of the Bucs organization, that I apologize to the Falcons," Koetter said (video here) after an OTA practice. "Whatever it was supposed to be that went out on social media, that's not what our organization is all about. That was totally unprofessional and not smart on our part, whoever was responsible for that. Heck, we want to be playing in the Super Bowl, and we were home sitting on our butt while they were playing. We have no room to be making fun of anybody that was in the Super Bowl, whether they won or not."
Bucs running back Charles Sims runs against the Jaguars in a preseason game last year. The two teams had joint practice last year and will again in August.
It's been reported for some time, but the Bucs announced Thursday that they'll hold two joint practices with the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Aug. 14-15.
It's the second straight year the two teams have practiced together -- Dirk Koetter and half his coaching staff are former Jaguars coaches -- and even with a new coaching staff in Jacksonville, the two teams had a mutual interest in working together before their preseason game on Thursday, Aug. 17. Times have not been announced yet, but last year's practices in Jacksonville were free and open to the public.
The Bucs also had joint practices with the Browns in Tampa last year, but Koetter said in the offseason that he had a sense that the second session of joint practices had diminishing returns.
Those joint practices are also prime fodder for HBO's "Hard Knocks," which will be featuring the Bucs in August -- the first joint practice would be the day before the show's second episode airs.
Wyoming linebacker Eric Nzeocha, 24, will be an 11th member of the Bucs' practice squad in 2017 as part of a program to bring more international players to the NFL. He was born in Germany but played in college at Wyoming.
The Bucs will be part of a new NFL program this fall that will grant an 11th practice squad slot to an overseas player, with German-born Eric Nzeocha, a linebacker who played at the University of Wyoming, slated to join Tampa Bay's roster for the 2017 season.
"It is overwhelming, one of the greatest moments of my life," Nzeocha told NFLUK.com. "It has been my dream since I started playing football at the age of 14. When they told me this was happening, I was overwhelmed. I am looking forward to it so much. It's unreal."
All four NFC South teams will be granted the slot for an 11th practice squad player -- the Falcons have a former rugby player from England while the Saints and Panthers have players who played American college football, like the Bucs. The Bucs' announcement noted that Nzeocha is ineligible to be promoted to the 53-man roster during the upcoming season. …
Bucs video director Dave Levy, shown during the 2003 season, worked under nine different head coaches in 29 seasons working for Tampa Bay.
When the Bucs took to the practice field this week to start OTA practices, they did so with a new video director for the first time in 29 years.
Dave Levy, who started with the Bucs in 1988 and worked under nine different head coaches, is no longer with the team, nor is Chris Bryan, his top assistant for the last 17 seasons. The video department is tasked with recording, editing and producing all video as the team evaluates practice and game footage in preparing for games, as well as video for evaluating draft prospects.
Taking over is Brett Greene, who spent the last six years as the University of Georgia football team's director of video operations. Before that, he spent nine years working in video with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he overlapped with Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, defensive coordinator Mike Smith, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and other current Tampa Bay assistant coaches.
The nine head coaches Levy worked under in his 29 seasons: Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson, Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter.
Roberto Aguayo went 1-for-4 in field goal tries from 35-40 yards Tuesday on a set of narrow uprights.
The goal posts still seem to be moving for Roberto Aguayo.
The Bucs woebegone place-kicker, who is in a battle with veteran Nick Folk, went 1-for-4 in field goal tries from 35-40 yards Tuesday on a set of narrow uprights, the first day of full squad Organized Team Activities.
If that weren’t bad enough for Aguayo, by contrast, Folk was 4-for-4 from the same distance. It’s important to note that the uprights are 8 ½ feet in width instead of the regulation 18 ½ feet and at least two of Aguayo’s kicks would’ve been good in a game.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht and coached Dirk Koetter have vowed to move on from Aguayo, the team’s second-round pick from Florida State in 2016, if Folk is better. They also hedged their bets by guaranteeing Folk $750,000 of his $1.75-million salary.
Aguayo was last in the NFL by making only 71 percent of his field goal tries (22 of 31) as a rookie last season . More strikingly, his longest made kick was 43 yards. In fact, he was 4-of-11 from 40 yards or longer.
Folk, 32, is a career 81.3 percent field goal kicker and 23 of 39 from 50 yards or longer.
Koetter was quick to say that the Bucs won’t be making a decision based on one practice.
“Well, I guess that’s the fallacy of having the media at practice every day, isn’t it?’’ Koetter said. “I don’t think we should probably decide any competition based on four kicks. Nick got the best of it today and they’ll be out there going at it again tomorrow.”
Assuming Koetter and Licht have the stomach for it, this kicking competition could go until the final preseason game and will almost certainly catch the camera eye of Hard Knocks.
The Bucs are hoping Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide the solution to their puzzle at backup quarterback behind starter Jameis Winston.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to leave One Buc Place following Thursday’s off-season workout and fly home to New Jersey in time to teach a class of 10 second and third grade students how to solve the Rubiks Cube.
“It’s a hobby of mine that I have a lot of fun with and there’s a ton of interest in my son’s school,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “I think right now, we’re up to six of the 10 who can do it. None of them can beat me yet but there’s one girl who is awfully close. So Sabrina, I hope you’re not practicing.’’
The Bucs are hoping Fitzpatrick can provide the solution to their puzzle at backup quarterback behind starter Jameis Winston.
Fitzpatrick, 34, signed a one-year, $3-million contract with the Bucs, which will be the seventh team NFL team he’s played for since entering the league as a seventh-round pick from Harvard by the St. Louis Rams in 2005.
That kind of experience is what the Bucs are hoping to tap into for Winston. The other quarterbacks on the Bucs roster are Ryan Griffin, who has never thrown and NFL pass in two seasons with Tampa Bay, and Colorado rookie Sefo Liufao. …
Tampa and Raymond James Stadium last hosted a Super Bowl in 2009, when the Pittsburgh Steelers edged the Arizona Cardinals.
Construction delays on the NFL's new stadium in Los Angeles mean the Rams and Chargers won't be playing there until 2020, a year later than expected, and the ripple effect could give Tampa another chance at landing a Super Bowl in February 2021.
That Super Bowl was awarded to Los Angeles, but NFL rules don't allow a venue to host a Super Bowl in its first season. Los Angeles would seek a waiver to allow the game to stay there as scheduled, but if that waiver wasn't granted, Tampa was a finalist for the last group of Super Bowls awarded this time last year.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports owners are expected to meet this afternoon on the possibility of moving the Super Bowl from Los Angeles to Tampa.
Bucs quarterback Jameis WInston and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, shown in the 2016 season finale against the Panthers, have both been named to the NFL Network's top 100 players for 2017.
Helping fans pass time through the offseason each summer, NFL Network has been unveiling its top 100 players for 2017 as chosen by the players, and the Bucs' Gerald McCoy and Jameis Winston are the first Tampa Bay players revealed, coming in at No. 52 and 57, respectively.
For McCoy, it's the fifth straight year he's made the top 100 -- he's up 11 spots from last year's ranking of No. 63, but still down from his high of No. 28 in 2014 and 2015. He is joined by Winston, who went from being unranked a year ago to No. 57 after becoming the first quarterback to pass for 4,000-plus yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. Here's the two-minute video for McCoy, playing up his love of comic-book superheroes, and here's the video for Winston. …
Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft pick OJ Howard throws the ceremonial first pitch of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard is known for his athleticism at 6-foot-6, 251-pounds. As an outfielder, he took his Autuaga Academy High School baseball team to the state tournament in Alabama as a junior.
On Monday, after a little instruction from Steven Souza, Jr., the left-handed hitting Howard started making good contact in the batting cage before throwing out the first pitch in the Rays-Angels game at Tropicana Field.
There was a time, before enrolling early at Alabama and forgoing his senior seaosn in baseball, when Howard dreamed of a career on the diamond.
"It could've been, it's cool to be around it again, definitely I loved it when I played it back in high school, and since I got to college I haven't played it, so I'm having withdrawals a little bit,'' Howard said. "It's a fun game. I'd probably play right, rightfield or leftfield.''
Howard's decision to concentrate on football already is paying off. On Monday, the Bucs' first-round pick signed a four-year contract. Terms of the deal were not released but it is projected to be worth more than $11-million with a signing bonus of more than $6.2-million.
"It feels great, that's something that you look forward to doing, and to finally get it out of the way and sign on the dotted line is definitely very exciting and very encouraging,'' Howard said. "So I was excited it happened today.
"Its exciting because sometimes you see a lot of guys who hold out for a while before they get signed, we had good parties on both ends that were very cooperative and that's the reason it happened so fast.''
Howard said he is anxious to begin full squad acitivities in OTA's which begin Tuesday.
"We got to do a little bit of that last week so now we have OTAs tomorrow and thats very exciting to finally just to finally put everybody on the field together at the same time and work on communiucation,'' Howard said.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is happy about all the weapons on Tampa Bay’s offense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s experience playing for six other NFL teams is what made him attractive to the Bucs as a backup to starter Jameis Winston. But if he has to play, the former Jets quarterback is happy about all the weapons on Tampa Bay’s offense.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come to a team that's really on the rise, with a great young quarterback in Jameis, just to come and try to provide some of my experiences," Fitzpatrick told the team’s website Monday. "I just met him for the first time today. He seems like a great kid, though, lots of energy. I'm very excited to work with him and I think he's excited to have me here. We'll get to work pretty soon.
"This is also a place where, if need be, I've got to be ready to step up and play with a pretty explosive offense. So there are a lot of good things about this decision." Fitzpatrick, 34, started 27 games in the last two seasons for the Jets. But he will be a quick study learning a new offense and won’t require as many reps after 12 NFL seasons.
"I think both sides were excited because there are a lot of good pieces here," Fitzpatrick said. "I just wanted to be a part of it and I'm happy they have me here. …
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has signed a four-year contract with a fifth-year club option with the Bucs.
The Bucs have begun the process of signing their rookie draft picks and they started at the top.
Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, the team’s first round pick (19th overall), has signed a four-year contract with a fifth-year club option.
Terms of the deal were not released but it is projected to be worth $11.2-million with about $6.2-million to sign.
Howard is the first member of the Bucs’ rookie class to sign with the Bucs. He was projected to be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft last April. But a run on quarterbacks, running backs and receivers unexpectedly pushed him down to the Bucs. They had not even included Howard in their 30 player visits to the team’s training facility prior to the draft.
At 6-foot-6, 251-pounds with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Howard is a rare talent, equally adept as a dominating blocker and receiver. …
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is ranking much higher in fantasy football rankings entering his third NFL season.
We're still probably three months away from most fantasy football drafts, but it's not too early to appreciate that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has taken a major step up in the rankings entering his third NFL season.
Winston is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, and much of the buzzz surrounding him is the upgrades made around him in the offseason -- the Bucs signed veteran receiver DeSean Jackson and drafted Alabama's O.J. Howard in the first round. As a result, Winston is being seen as a top-10 fantasy quarterback.
A year ago, Winston was ranking about 20th among QBs in average draft position -- in a 12-team league, that means he wasn't perceived as being in the top half of the backup options going into 2016. But now, it's much more than a sleeper pick to draft Winston -- SI.com released its early top 100 rankings, and Winston ranked eighth among QBs, though amazingly, still fourth in his own division. If you could have made the case a year ago that the NFC South was the NFL's best division for QBs, it's an easier argument now, with three QBs who have led their teams to Super Bowls and Winston as the fourth. …
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