Positions on special-teams units aren't as well known as "quarterback" and "linebacker," but the last two Bucs games have shown how much of a game-changing difference can come from gunners battling jammers in punt coverage.
In football parlance, the "gunners" are two players who line up wide like receivers on a punting team -- they're the only players allowed to cross the line of scrimmage before the punt, taking off with the hopes of minimizing the returner's ability to get up field. The receiving team will line up "jammers" -- and sometimes more than one -- to guard the gunner like a defensive back, trying to reroute him from a direct path to the returner.
Aggressive play by the gunners can limit or often eliminate the threat of an opposing punt return, forcing a fair catch or better still, downing a punt deep in the opponent's territory. The Bucs use two players as their primary gunners -- receiver Russell Shepard, their special-teams captain, and cornerback Josh Robinson, who hasn't played a single snap on defense but is a key player on coverage units. …Full Story
The Bucs' turnaround from a 14-0 deficit to a 34-17 victory over the 49ers on Sunday coincided with QB Jameis Winston clicking on third down and moving the chains with passes to Mike Evans and Russell Shepard.
Third down wasn't a strong point early for the Bucs -- they came up short on third-and-2 on the first drive, Winston threw an interception that set up a touchdown for a 14-0 49ers lead, and they came up a yard short again on third-and-4, with Winston frustrated enough to draw a 15-yard penalty. But after going 0-for-4 on third down to start the game, the Bucs would convert six of their next nine in taking the game over.
At the end of the first half, Winston hit Shepard to convert a third-and-3, then converted a third-and-9 with his 19-yard touchdown pass to Shepard to take the lead with 48 seconds before halftime. In the third quarter, Winston connected with Evansto convert a third-and-9, then found him in the end zone on third-and-3 for a 5-yard score, converting a red-zone and third-down opportunity to give the Bucs a 27-14 lead. Late, as the Bucs tried to salt away the clock, Winston found Evans to convert a third-and-6 as well. …Full Story
Two weeks ago, Jacquizz Rodgers had never had a 100-yard game in six seasons in the NFL, nor more than 18 carries in any game.
For the second game in a row, he's reset his career high in yards, grinding out 154 on 26 carries in the Bucs' 34-17 win against the 49ers in Sunday. In two weeks, he's had 56 carries, the second-most two-game total in the last 20 years for a Bucs runner.
"When you've got guys up front, blocking like they are, finishing through the whistle, it makes my job a lot easier," said Rodgers, who was signed in Week 2 as a No. 3 back and has stepped up in two games as a starter. "I've been waiting on this moment, so my job is to take full advantage of it. I try to get better and better every week. I try to top my performance from the previous week. That's my goal." …Full Story
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cecil Shorts, 28, who previously played for the Texans before signing with the Buccaneers.
The Bucs will start veteran Cecil Shorts at receiver on Sunday against the 49ers in place of the injured Vincent Jackson, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said on Sirius XM NFL radio Saturday morning.
Shorts, 28, has missed the past four weeks with a hamstring injury suffered on his first and only catch of the season in Week 2 at Arizona. He's practiced all week and should be healthy for Sunday's game, allowing the Bucs to keep receiver Adam Humphries in the slot, where he's played alongside starter Mike Evans.
The Bucs signed Shorts after he was released by the Texans in preseason -- he had 42 catches for 484 yards last season, and averaged 58 catches for 771 yards in the three previous seasons while with the Jaguars. He overlapped with Koetter in Jacksonville during his rookie year in 2011.
The Bucs lost Jackson to an ACL injury that will sideline him at least eight weeks and likely the rest of the season. The Bucs would have Evans, Humphries, Shorts and Russell Shepard as their top four receivers Sunday, with Louis Murphy unlikely to play as he's still in his first week of practice as he returns from ACL surgery in November. …Full Story
The Bucs will face the 49ers on Sunday without starting DT Clinton McDonald, who was ruled out Friday after returning to practice for two days in a limited capacity as he recovers from a hamstring injury.Full Story
Also ruled out were RB Doug Martin (hamstring) and DE Robert Ayers (ankle), who will both miss their fourth straight game due to injuries suffered in Week 2. Neither has practiced all week. McDonald misses his second straight game, which pushes backup Akeem Spence into a starting role as he had in last week's win against Carolina.
The Bucs listed five players as questionable, but all have had consistent participation in practice and should be able to play Sunday: DT Gerald McCoy (calf), TE Luke Stocker (ankle), WR Cecil Shorts (ankle), C Joe Hawley (knee) and CB Jude Adjei-Barimah (knee).
As expected, the 49ers will be without their top running back, Carlos Hyde, who was ruled out Friday with a shoulder injury suffered Friday. Their backups have had only limited playing time this season, a major advantage for the Bucs.
As the Bucs seek help to offset the loss of veteran receiver Vincent Jackson to a knee injury this week, they may need replacements for the replacements.
After the team's final practice in Tampa on Friday morning, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said that second-year pro Donteea Dye, signed to the practice squad Monday and promoted to the active roster Wednesday, is "not ready" physically, suggesting he won't be playing Sunday when the Bucs face the 49ers.
"Not ready, that's what I'd say," Koetter said of Dye's progress this week. "And I don't mean any disrespect. I'd say he's not quite ready."
Dye was in position to make the Bucs' roster in preseason, but suffered a hamstring injury and was waived-injured, missing about a month before he was healthy enough to work out for other teams. With Jackson on injured reserve, he could have given the Bucs another option in the passing game, familiar with the offense from having played as a rookie last season. Koetter said Dye had some "rust" in his first few practices.
"He's familiar. He knows what he's doing," Koetter said. "You've got to remember now, DD, he was rehabbing an injury while he was out. He wasn't just at home lying on his couch." …Full Story
The Bucs make the second of three long trips out west, hoping they'll fare better than in their 40-7 loss at Arizona in Week 2. They opened as a road favorite, no common feat for Tampa Bay, and here are five things to watch for as the Bucs take on the 49ers in Santa Clara on Sunday:
1. Can Jacquizz Rodgers exploit the NFL's worst run defense in 31 years? San Francisco is giving up 174 yards per game on the ground, worst in the NFL by 27 yards and on pace to be the NFL's worst run defense since the 1985 Houston Oilers. They gave up 312 rushing yards in last week's loss to Buffalo -- the most against a 49ers team since 1958, five years before Chip Kelly was born -- and they've given up a 100-yard rusher five weeks in a row.
Granted, that's included some really good backs, like Buffalo's LeSean McCoy, Arizona's David Johnson and Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott. One of the players who could see more snaps as the 49ers try to fix their run defense is LB Shayne Skov, who was cut from the Bucs' practice squad in 2014.
Can Rodgers match or even somehow improve on his 101 yards on 30 carries in the win against Carolina? Expect the Bucs to run early and often to find out. …Full Story
It has been seven years since Jacquies Smith went up against Colin Kaepernick in college, but his memory is vivid.
"The fastest QB I ever played in college," said Smith, who's on injured reserve with a knee injury and won't get to chase him Sunday as the Bucs play at the 49ers. "It's not so much the speed, it's the strides. Once he gets going, it's really unbelievable the speed he can build up. I remember him running the Pistol offense in college. One of the toughest outs I had that whole year."
Smith's Missouri teams beat Kaepernick and Nevada in 2008 (69-17) and in 2009 (31-21), but Smith remembers well how dangerous Kaepernick's dual-threat ability was, both in preparing for the games and in trying to contain him on the field. The Bucs have the same urgency this week as they prepare to face him in his second start of the season.
"You want to keep him in the pocket, don't let him roll out to his throwing hand for sure," Smith said. "You don't want him out in open space, to be able to make those creative plays. I call them 'video game plays,' honestly." …Full Story
Forecasters say a cold front is approaching Tampa Bay that should bring cooler temperatures this weekend, but not soon enough for the Bucs, who practiced in 88-degree heat on Thursday.
For a team that has been hit hard by a series of soft tissue injuries to some of their biggest stars, how much is dehydration factoring into all those muscle pulls and strains?
Running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and receiver Donteea Dye, who was waived injured in Aug. before re-signing this week, all have suffered hamstring pulls. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy missed the Oct. 10 game at Carolina with a calf injury.
In the Bucs 37-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Raymond James Stadium Sept. 25, about two dozen Bucs players needed to take intravenous fluids at some point during the game. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says the team is trying to determine whether there is any common cause to the soft tissue injuries. …Full Story
As the Bucs go to San Francisco this weekend, head coach Dirk Koetter returns to the place where he got his first college coaching job, as offensive coordinator at Division II San Francisco State for a single season in 1985.
"What a unique experience, coming from a small town in Idaho," Koetter said. "We sold hot dogs on the quad every Thursday to raise money for our trips. A big recruiting trip was us deciding if we were going to pay for a guy's lunch when he came on campus."
The Golden Gators had only three full-time coaches -- current Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, amazingly, was the offensive line coach -- and Koetter had a $24,000 salary and was asked to teach five classes, including advanced tennis, advanced volleyball and weightlifting.
It was the 1980s and San Francisco, so even the political activism of the day was something new to Koetter, who was just 26 after being a high school head coach back in Idaho after college. …Full Story
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith know Colin Kaepernick, pictured, well.
The Bucs have only faced 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick once, back in 2013, but head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith know him well -- in 2012, they were coaching in Atlanta when the Falcons got within 10 yards of a trip to the Super Bowl, only to see the 49ers go instead.
The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012, Koetter's first year as Smith's offensive coordinator in Atlanta, and they had 17-0 lead on the 49ers in the Georgia Dome in the NFC title game, only to see Kaepernick lead an impressive comeback. The Falcons still led 24-14 in the third quarter, but the 49ers took the lead with 8:23 to go on a Frank Gore touchdown. Atlanta's offense, trailing 28-24, would get painfully close to a winning touchdown -- Matt Ryan drove the Falcons to a first down at the 49ers' 16 with 2:23 left, and after a Jacquizz Rodgers run and a short pass, Atlanta was at the 10-yard line. But Ryan would miss twice on throws to Roddy White, and San Francisco went on to play in the Super Bowl, losing to the Ravens. …Full Story
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring two weeks ago.
The Bucs got encouraging news on one injury front Thursday, as starting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald practiced for the first time since injuring his hamstring two weeks ago, joining Gerald McCoy as possible additions for Sunday's game against the 49ers.
At the same time, receiver Louis Murphy, who had returned to practice this week for the first time since ACL surgery in November, was not at Thursday's practice, though his absence may or may not be injury-related. The Bucs are still without defensive end Robert Ayers, who did not practice and is now in position to miss a fourth straight game with his ankle injury.
Getting McDonald back would put the Bucs at full strength at defensive tackle, getting back two starters who were sidelined from last week's win against Carolina.Full Story
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Jacquizz Rodgers again will be the primary ballcarrier when the Bucs play the 49ers on Sunday.
The Bucs will go to California this weekend without their top two running backs, but as they prepare for another week with Jacquizz Rodgers as the primary ballcarrier, they'll do so Sunday against a 49ers run defense that is the worst in the NFL, and in quite some time.
The 49ers are giving up 174.5 rushing yards per game -- that's 27 yards more per game than any other NFL team, and to find an NFL team that gave up more yards per game over a full season, you have to go back to the 1985 Houston Oilers. The most allowed by a 49ers defense was 160 yards per game, set back in 1962.
That average got a bump Sunday when the Bills rushed for 312 yards on San Francisco in a 45-16 win -- that's the most allowed by a 49ers team since 1958, and more than any NFL team rushed for in any game last season. Since the start of the 2011 season, there have been just five teams to rush for 300 yards, so less than once per NFL season. …Full Story
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Doug Martin was not at practice as the Bucs started preparations for Sunday's game at San Francisco.
Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, sidelined four weeks with a hamstring injury and once with hopes of returning this week, has had a setback in his recovery, coach Dirk Koetter said Wednesday.
Martin was not at practice as the team started its preparations for Sunday's game at San Francisco, so the Bucs will have to go with Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 101 yards on 30 carries in their win against Carolina last week.
"Doug unfortunately did suffer a setback a week ago Sunday," Koetter said. "We'll just have to see when he can make it back. There's no timetable on that right now."
Martin, signed to a five-year, $36-million extension in the offseason, hasn't played or practiced since Week 2, and his top backup, Charles Sims, is on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered two weeks later, pressing Rodgers into a starting role. The Bucs on Monday added veteran Antone Smith, who was out of the league but played for Koetter in Atlanta from 2012-14 as a more experiened backup.
"No one feels worse about it than the player," Koetter said. "Injuries make it tough on our team, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to keep going."Full Story
DIRK SHADD | Times (2015)
Gerald McCoy, who was sidelined from the Bucs' win against Carolina with a calf injury, would be a major boost for the Bucs' defensive line.
The Bucs got defensive tackle Gerald McCoy back at practice Wednesday, but are still without three key players -- RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers and DT Clinton McDonald -- as they prepare for Sunday's game at the 49ers.
McCoy, who was sidelined from the Bucs' win against Carolina with a calf injury, would be a major boost for the Bucs' defensive line, which could still be without two starters in McDonald (hamstring) and Ayers (ankle). Martin hasn't played since Week 2, when he injured his hamstring in a loss at Arizona, and his absence would leave the Bucs again without their Pro Bowl running back while facing a 49ers defense that gave up 312 rushing yards in a loss to Buffalo on Sunday.
WRs Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and Louis Murphy (knee) both practiced again Wednesday as they recover from injuries -- Shorts has been out since the Arizona game, and Murphy returned to practice this week for the first time since ACL surgery in November. …Full Story