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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs' Collins still inspired by late Bengals teammate Henry

Happy Thanksgiving to you, and Thursday's Times has a feature on Bucs tackle Anthony Collins, who has an emotional reunion Sunday with a Bengals team he played for in his first six NFL seasons. It's a reminder, too, of the impact that former Bengals receiver Chris Henry, who died at age 26 in 2009, continues to have on Collins. Here's the full story.

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Bucs are hamstrung with leg injuries

Hamstring injuries have hamstrung the Bucs this season, particularly on defense.

Nose tackle Clinton McDonald, the only starter on defense not to miss a game this year, has not practiced this week due to a hamstring injury. The same ailment forced linebacker Lavonte David to miss the first game of his career last Sunday at Chicago and he missed a second day of workouts Wednesday.

All told, at least a half dozen players have missed games or significant practice time with hamstring injuries since end of Oct., a list that includes cornerback Alterraun Verner.

“It’s pretty normal for us,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “We ask guys to run a lot more and Lavonte hadn’t missed a rep. These lower leg injuries pop up and hopefully it’s a short period of time and get them back in.

"(David) is definitely getting better and has a chance. We take our time with hamstrings. But he is doing some things on a limited basis. Not necessary practice, but just kind of getting back into it.’’

Bucs players and coaches decided to practice Tuesday and Wednesday so they could be off with families for Thanksgiving. …

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Lavonte David, Clinton McDonald still sidelined

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, did not practice for the second straight day this week, with defensive tackle Clinton McDonald also held out of Wednesday's practice at One Buc Place.

Rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was back practicing after sitting out Tuesday with back problems that took him out of much of Sunday's loss at Chicago. Two other tight ends -- Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker -- remained out, with new arrivals Cameron Brate and D.J. Williams taking their place in drills.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, who sat out Tuesday's drills, was not seen at Wednesday's practice, though his absence may be more illness-related than injury-related.

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David, TEs sidelined as Bucs practice at Trop

Afternoon rains sent the Bucs indoors to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg for Tuesday's practice, where linebacker Lavonte David did not practice as he continues to be sidelined by a hamstring injury.

David, who missed the first game of his three-year career Sunday, was the most notable name held out, but the team's top three tight ends were also sidelined -- rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) and Brandon Myers (calf) watched and Luke Stocker was not seen in attendance. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith, guard Logan Mankins and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald were also held out.

We'll have more on the Bucs and their injuries when Lovie Smith speaks to the media around 5 p.m. ...

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Fourth try: Bucs release returner Marcus Thigpen

The revolving door at return specialist continues to spin for the Bucs, who released Marcus Thigpen on Tuesday after he muffed a punt return for the second week in a row in Sunday's loss at Chicago.

Thigpen, who had handled punts and kickoffs for the past four games, had a 53-yard punt return against the Falcons, the team's longest since 2009, but muffed a punt that was recovered by the Redskins last week, then recovered his own muff on a kick Sunday. Of the 14 kickoffs he handled in four games, just one was brought out past the 21-yard line, and even that just to the 27.

The Bucs did not sign a returner in getting back to 53 players Tuesday, suggesting their next option could be in-house -- running back Bobby Rainey has been the backup for punt returns all season, while running back Mike James has been the No. 2 for kickoffs. Both would be in lesser roles offensively, with starter Doug Martin and rookie Charles Sims healthy and leading the rotation in the backfield.

Thigpen was the Bucs' third returner this season, after rookie Solomon Patton handled the first six games, then former Broncos star Trindon Holliday played one game before being released with a hamstring injury.

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Amid injuries, Bucs add tight ends Brate, Williams

With injuries to all three tight ends in Sunday's loss at Chicago, the Bucs have made a flurry of moves at the position, promoting rookie Cameron Brate from the practice squad, signing former Packers and Patriots tight end D.J. Williams and adding Evan Rodriguez and Taylor Sloat to the practice squad.

Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins said his back, which tightened up Sunday, limiting him to 20 snaps, is already improving, and Brandon Myers said the calf injury that limited him to 17 plays is feeling better as well. Myers was no longer wearing a walking boot Tuesday in the locker room.

To meet the newcomers: Brate is a Harvard grad who has been on the practice squad since final preseason cuts,

"You never know when your day is going to come as a practice-squad guy. You don't want to see the guys ahead of you go down," Brate said. "You have to be ready whenever that happens. I'm super-excited for this week and the opportunity."

Williams, a Packers fifth-round draft pick out of Arkansas in 2011, was with Bucs director of player personnel Jon Robinson in New England, and among the Patriots' final cuts this preseason. …

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Bucs Smith says re-tooling of the O-line has not worked

A priority in the off-season for the Bucs was re-tooling their offensive line as they said goodbye to mainstays such as left tackle Donald Penn, guard Davin Joseph and center Jeremy Zuttah in one fashion or another.

They essentially were replaced by three veterans -- tackle Anthony Collins, guard Logan Mankins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

But following a 21-13 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday, coach Lovie Smith said that the changes on the offensive line haven't worked as well as they planned.

"I think that's safe to say. We haven't played as well on the offensive line as we hoped,'' Smith said. "We thought we needed to re-tool it starting off and we had a few injuries. But we haven't played as well as we need to. Everything starts up front, as we talk about what we're doing offensively, I'll always start of talking about what we can do with our offensive line.''

The Bucs have only rushed for at least 100 yards just once in their last nine games after accompishing the feat in each of the first two games. On Sunday, the Bucs rushed for only 66 yards on 22 carries and their longest run from scrimmage was 10 yards. …

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Notes: Smith not pleased with Thigpen, return game

After return specialist Marcus Thigpen muffed a punt return for the second week in a row -- recovering the loose ball himself this time -- Lovie Smith stopped short of saying he would continue as the team's returner.

"It's been a quick turnaround. Each week we analyze what gives us the best opportunity to win," Smith said. "We haven't been pleased ... I think three games now we've put balls on the ground. It's not a good thing. We haven't been able to get much production from our punting return game or our kickoff return game and we need to do that."

Thigpen had a 53-yard punt return earlier this season, but in four games of kickoff returns, he's only once brought a kickoff out farther than the 21-yard line, and that was only the 27. The Bucs are already on their third returner of the season, having waived rookie Solomon Patton, then cut Trindon Holliday after only one game due to a hamstring injury. …

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Bucs coach Smith says re-tooling of O-line hasn't worked

A priority in the off-season for the Bucs was re-tooling their offensive line as they said goodbye to mainstays such as left tackle Donald Penn, guard Davin Joseph and center Jeremy Zuttah in one fashion or another.

They essentially were replaced by three veterans -- tackle Anthony Collins, guard Logan Mankins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

But following a 21-13 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday, coach Lovie Smith said that the changes on the offensive line haven't worked as well as they planned.

"I think that's safe to say. We haven't played as well on the offensive line as we hoped,'' Smith said. "We thought we needed to re-tool it starting off and we had a few injuries. But we haven't played as well as we need to. Everything starts up front, as we talk about what we're doing offensively, I'll always start of talking about what we can do with our offensive line.''

The Bucs have only rushed for at least 100 yards just once in their last nine games after accompishing the feat in each of the first two games. On Sunday, the Bucs rushed for only 66 yards on 22 carries and their longest run from scrimmage was 10 yards. …

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Fullback Jorvorskie Lane done for season with broken leg

Jorvorskie Lane, who will undergo surgery Tuesday, is the only fullback on the Bucs' roster. [AP photo]

Jorvorskie Lane, who will undergo surgery Tuesday, is the only fullback on the Bucs' roster. [AP photo]

Bucs fullback Jorvorskie Lane, carted off the field early in Sunday's loss at Chicago, broke a bone in his lower right leg and is done for the season, his manager Mike Brand said Monday afternoon.

Lane, who will undergo surgery Tuesday, is the only fullback on the Bucs' roster. Tight end Luke Stocker filled in as a blocking back for much of Sunday's game, but all three Bucs tight ends went down with injuries at different points Sunday, so the team is likely needing to bring in another player this week.

Tampa Bay has two tight ends on the practice squad in rookies Cameron Brate and Ted Bolser, and former FSU fullback Lonnie Pryor, who was on the team's practice squad last month during Lane's two-game suspension, could also return.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith acknowledged that losing Lane and the tight ends played a role in the team running the ball less in the second half -- the Bucs rushed for just 66 yards while rotating starter Doug Martin, rookie Charles Sims and backup Bobby Rainey in the backfield. …

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Even on short fields, Bucs defense needed to make stops

Matt Forte scores on a 13-yard run in the third quarter.

Getty Images

Matt Forte scores on a 13-yard run in the third quarter.

CHICAGO -- The Bucs defense could point to the length of the Bears' three touchdown drives -- just 47, 13 and 15 yards -- but Sunday's 21-13 loss was a reminder that they need to respond no matter where the opposing offense gets the ball.

"Like our coach said: Those three touchdowns, if we would have made them kick field goals all three times, it's 10-9. That's something we've got to fix," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "I think everything's showing improvement. It's not enough to get improvement. You want to get wins."

Coaches call it "sudden change" -- a defense must respond to adversity in a hurry, or else you see Matt Forte get his longest run of the game, 13 yards, for a 13-yard touchdown after Josh McCown lost a fumble Chicago recovered deep in Bucs territory.

"We can't control what happens on the other side of the ball, but we have to ball out in any situation and hold their offense," linebacker Danny Lansanah said. …

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With Evans covered, Bucs' Jackson, Murphy took over

Louis Murphy had totaled just 36 yards in the previous four games before finishing with six catches for 113 yards Sunday, his first 100-yard game with the Bucs.

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Louis Murphy had totaled just 36 yards in the previous four games before finishing with six catches for 113 yards Sunday, his first 100-yard game with the Bucs.

CHICAGO -- For weeks, rookie Mike Evans has thrived as the Bucs' go-to receiver, and as the Bears made it a priority to limit him Sunday, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy took advantage of the opportunity.

"All you want to do is stay ready. I can only do so much as a receiver. You just try to do your job, stay available and help your quarterback," said Jackson, who had five catches for 117 yards, his first 100-yard game in six games.

Murphy had totaled just 36 yards in the previous four games before providing a spark Sunday -- he broke through two tackles for a 54-yard gain, finishing with six catches for 113 yards, his first 100-yard game with the Bucs. Evans had a 19-yard touchdown grab early, though he was limited to three catches out of 11 balls targeted his way.

"Our receiver group, we work hard -- our motto is make plays, so when I get an opportunity, I try to make a play," Murphy said.

Jackson had a costly fumble after catching a pass and getting inside the Bears' 10-yard line -- he said he thought his elbow was down before the fumble, but said he must do a better job securing the ball so the officials can't come into play. …

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After 3 sacks early, Bucs' pass rush disappeared

Gerald McCoy sacks Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the first half.

AP photo

Gerald McCoy sacks Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the first half.

CHICAGO -- It looked like a promising day for the Bucs defensive line early on, with three sacks on one drive in the first quarter, the last with Gerald McCoy forcing a Jay Cutler fumble recovered in Bears territory.

Then the rest of the day: 42 more plays for the Bears, but zero sacks and only one play were the Bucs dropped anyone for a loss.

"They weren't favorable conditions," coach Lovie Smith of the dropoff in the pass rush. "I felt, for the most part, the guys kept rushing throughout most of the day. (Chicago) got in a situation where they didn't have to put themselves in a tough passing situation."

McCoy, who now has a team-best 7.5 sacks, said the defensive line needs to bring pressure on the opposing quarterback from the start to the finish.

"We have to be more consistent throughout the whole game," he said. "We were getting to the QB and forcing some bad throws, but they started changing it up on us a little bit, running the ball, getting the ball out on quick screens, trying to neutralize our rush. I think we adjusted well, but we just need to be better." …

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Despite RB depth, Bucs' run game limited to 66 yards

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said there wasn't a set rotation for the backs, even though Doug Martin, pictured, and Charles Sims alternated on the first five series of the game.

Getty Images

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said there wasn't a set rotation for the backs, even though Doug Martin, pictured, and Charles Sims alternated on the first five series of the game.

CHICAGO -- Given their top three running backs together for the first time this season, the Bucs steadily rotated starter Doug Martin and rookie Charles Sims, with Bobby Rainey here and there, but the net result was only 66 rushing yards in a 21-13 loss to the Bears.

"We have a crowded backfield and every guy brings something to the table," Martin said after rushing for 27 yards on 11 carries in his first game after missing three with an ankle injury. "That's how we're going to do it."

The Bucs rushed for more than 100 yards in their first two games this season, but have done so just once in the last nine games. After falling behind 21-10 late in the third quarter, the Bucs threw the ball on 19 of the next 20 plays, getting only a field goal to cut the Chicago lead to 21-13.

Sims, the team's leading rusher last week, had just one second-half touch until there was 3:04 left in the game, when he caught a 9-yard pass from Josh McCown. Given the ball on third-and-1, he was stopped for no gain, and the Bucs were stopped again on fourth down on a McCown keeper. …

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Next man up: Bucs LBs stepped in with David out

Much of the burden of replacing Lavonte David fell to Danny Lansanah, left (with Mason Foster), who had been coming off the field in the nickel defense but stayed on the field Sunday, playing David's weakside position.

AP photo

Much of the burden of replacing Lavonte David fell to Danny Lansanah, left (with Mason Foster), who had been coming off the field in the nickel defense but stayed on the field Sunday, playing David's weakside position.

CHICAGO -- Playing winning defense without a linebacker like Lavonte David isn't easy, but the Bucs held their own Sunday, holding the Bears to 204 yards of total offense despite playing without their All-Pro and leading tackler.

"He's a great player. I don't think anybody would be able to go in and replace him, but it's next man up," said Orie Lemon, a special-teams player who stepped in as the strongside linebacker in the Bucs' defense, getting a tackle for loss on the Bears' second drive.

Much of the burden of replacing David fell to Danny Lansanah, who had been coming off the field in the nickel defense but stayed on the field Sunday, playing David's weakside position and finishing with seven tackles, the second-best total of his career.

"I think we did a solid job. Missing a guy like Lavonte, it's a big deal for our defense," Lansanah said. "We did what we were coached to do all week."

Middle linebacker Mason Foster had a team-high eight tackles, and even had to leave the game briefly with a hand/wrist injury, which brought another special-teams player, Dane Fletcher, onto the field with Lansanah.  …

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