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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Lovie pumps brakes on Bell making quick return

Bucs coach Lovie Smith is very careful about hamstring injuries, as seen by safety Chris Conte sitting out three weeks of August practices and Mike Evans being held out of the final two preseason games.

It's no different with rookie WR Kenny Bell, who had expressed optimism before Tuesday's practice about testing his hamstring, recognizing that as a player on the bubble, he needs to play in Thursday's preseason finale in Miami. Not so fast, his coach said, after Bell was limited in the opening portion of practice open to the media.

"Kenny hurt his hamstring when? Friday? He wants to test it now. Not going to happen," Smith said. "You don't come back from hamstring injuries that quick. It's good he wants to do that. I'm sure the pain is gone, but he's not quite ready yet."

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Bears CB Jennings could be reunited with Smith and Frazier

Tim Jennings, 31, was released Sunday by the Bears, where he had played under Lovie Smith.

John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/MCT

Tim Jennings, 31, was released Sunday by the Bears, where he had played under Lovie Smith.

Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings visited One Buc Place Tuesday and could be reunited with head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Jennings watched practice with Smith on Tuesday as the Bucs tried to hammer out a contract agreement with his agent.

Jennings, 31, was released Sunday by the Bears, where he had played under Smith. He entered the league as a second-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, playing for Frazier who served as the team's defensive backs/assistant head coach. Despite enjoying his first four seasons with the Colts, Jennings blossomed as a player with the Bears, recording 16 of his 20 career interceptions in five seasons with Chicago.

The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Jennings had a league-high nine interceptions in 2012, earning a spot on his first of two consecutive Pro Bowl teams. …

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Bucs rookie Kenny Bell ready to test hamstring

Bucs rookie wide receiver Kenny Bell (with ball) knows he might need a strong showing in Thursday's preseason finale to stick on the team's final roster.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Bucs rookie wide receiver Kenny Bell (with ball) knows he might need a strong showing in Thursday's preseason finale to stick on the team's final roster.

Bucs rookie receiver Kenny Bell, caught in a deep battle for jobs at his position, said he'll test his injured hamstring at Tuesday's practice, knowing he might need a strong showing in Thursday's preseason finale to stick on the team's final roster.

"My body's feeling pretty good. A little sore, but I'm going to head out and try to practice today and see how it goes," said Bell, the team's fifth-round draft pick out of Nebraska. "Obviously I want to be careful and smart about my body, but then again, I'm a rookie and I need to play this Thursday."

Veteran Louis Murphy has played well in preseason, leading the team with eight catches and 91 yards, and Bell is competing with fellow draft pick Kaelin Clay, as well as three undrafted rookies in Rannell Hall, Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye. Bell had two penalties in the second preseason game and has yet to catch a pass, though he did make a strong play on special teams to allow a punt to be downed inside the 5.

The Bucs cut second-year receiver Robert Herron on Tuesday, but there are still 10 receivers competing for likely six spots, so Bell is hopeful he'll be physically able to show something in Thursday's game. …

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Bucs cut DB Johnson, WR Herron, C Allen

Leonard Johnson (29) had been the Bucs' primary nickel defensive back last year, but was on the roster bubble behind starter Sterling Moore before he injured his left foot.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Leonard Johnson (29) had been the Bucs' primary nickel defensive back last year, but was on the roster bubble behind starter Sterling Moore before he injured his left foot.

To get to the NFL's roster cutdown limit of 75 players, the Bucs on Tuesday waived three injured players -- nickel Leonard Johnson, receiver Robert Herron and center Josh Allen -- and placed injured defensive tackle Akeem Spence on the reserve-physically unable to perform list.

Spence, who had back surgery in July and is targeting an October return, cannot practice or play until after the sixth week of the regular season, when he can return from the PUP list.

Johnson had been the team's primary nickel defensive back last year, but was on the roster bubble behind starter Sterling Moore before he injured his left foot, which was in a cast as he watched Monday's practice. Herron, the team's sixth-round pick last year, tweaked a hamstring in pregame warmup Saturday, but didn't catch a pass in the final 10 games of his rookie year and had only two catches in preseason. Allen opened camp as the Bucs' No. 2 center, but hasn't practiced since Aug. 6 with an ankle injury.

Those four moves, combined with the release of veteran Michael Koenen, have the Bucs at 75 players, with another 22 cuts to be made before Saturday at 4 p.m. …

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Bucs release veteran punter Michael Koenen

Michael Koenen was due to make $3.25-million this season as one of  the NFL's highest-paid punters, but ranked 32nd in the NFL in average punting and 29th in net average last season.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Michael Koenen was due to make $3.25-million this season as one of the NFL's highest-paid punters, but ranked 32nd in the NFL in average punting and 29th in net average last season.

The Bucs have released veteran punter Michael Koenen, continuing what has been a busy week of changes to the team's kicking specialists.

Koenen was due to make $3.25-million this season as one of  the NFL's highest-paid punters, but ranked 32nd in the NFL in average punting and 29th in net average last season. The Bucs could still add another punter waived by another team this week, but for now, the job belongs to Jake Schum, who was signed last week and averaged 51.3 yards on four punts in Saturday's game. His preseason average is the second-highest in the NFL.

Koenen, 33, has been the team's punter for the past four seasons -- among current players, only tackle Demar Dotson had more games with the team (70) than his 64. The Bucs hinted at the move Saturday, when Koenen played only one snap -- as holder on a missed field goal -- and Schum and Karl Schmitz each had four punts. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon had gotten a look as holder as well, and the Bucs on Monday traded for Lions rookie kicker Kyle Brindza, who could handle kickoffs if he wins the place-kicking job. …

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Bucs LB Josh Keyes eager for last shot Thursday

Josh Keyes, right, grabs onto linebacker Jason Williams during training camp earlier this month at One Buc Place.

SCOTTY SCHENCK | Times

Josh Keyes, right, grabs onto linebacker Jason Williams during training camp earlier this month at One Buc Place.

As one of eight undrafted rookies left on roster as the Bucs continue to make cuts, linebacker Josh Keyes is hopeful that a strong showing in Thursday's final preseason game at Miami can help his chances of beating the odds.

"I think Thursday's game is very important. It's my last chance to make my mark, to go out and show what I can do," said Keyes, a Boston College graduate whose last name rhymes with "size." "I'm just going to try to make as many plays as I can and we'll see what happens from there. It's really exciting."

Keyes, one of four linebackers fighting for one or two spots behind the Bucs' top four at the position, has been active on special teams -- he's playing on all four units, on punt and kickoff coverage and as blockers on both return teams. His two tackles there are tied for second behind only Russell Shepard. Other more experienced linebackers have had more tackles on defense -- Khaseem Greene has nine and Jason Williams six -- but Keyes has gotten three tackles in limited play on defense, including a tackle for loss. …

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Lane hopeful there's still a place for fullback

Jorvorskie Lane was limited by injuries and suspension to nine games with the Bucs last season.

AP photo

Jorvorskie Lane was limited by injuries and suspension to nine games with the Bucs last season.

Jorvorskie Lane is the only fullback remaining on the Bucs roster, but he understands in today's NFL that's not the same thing as being assured of a roster spot when final cuts are made.

"I don't take anything for granted," said Lane, limited by injuries and suspension to nine games with the Bucs last season. "I look at it as my job is always up. Everybody is kind of wishy-washing away from the fullback. I treat every day like it could be me."

Lane has had an extra motivation in camp, knowing the Bucs had used a seventh-round draft pick at his position, taking Hawaii's Joey Iosefa. The Bucs waived Iosefa as part of their first round of cuts Sunday, and Lane said the draft pick was something that drove him since April.

"Me being me, I took it real personal," Lane said. "I made sure I put myself in shape, got my injury straight. I took it personal. …

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Bucs' Koetter says Winston's ankle sprain is affecting him

Jameis Winston should be close to 100 percent for the regular-season opener against Tennessee after having about two weeks to recover.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Jameis Winston should be close to 100 percent for the regular-season opener against Tennessee after having about two weeks to recover.

The sprained right ankle Bucs QB Jameis Winston suffered Aug. 24 against Cincinnati is affecting his ability to take drops and plant his back foot, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter confirmed.

But Winston should be close to 100 percent for the regular-season opener against Tennessee after having about two weeks to recover. Winston is not expected to play in Thursday's final preseason game at Miami.

“It’s affecting him a little bit but he’ll be ready to go,'' Koetter siad. "He’ll be full speed by Tennessee. It’s not anything he can’t play on. With Jameis even in practice, you can’t keep him out. (Quarterbacks coach) Mike (Bajakian) is trying to slow the drills down on the side field and Jameis won’t come out. We’ll get him healthy. But he’s got a sprained ankle. If you’ve ever had one, you have to move around and cut and plant, it can be painful but he’s getting through all that.''

Winston struggled in Saturday's 31-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns, completing 6-of-15 passes for 90 yards and an interception. He was under duress most of the game and sacked four times. Winston's seven sacks are the most by any quarterback in the NFL after three preseason games.

 …

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Bucs trade TE Tim Wright to Lions for rookie kicker Kyle Brindza

Tight end Tim Wright during minicamp at One Buc Place in June.

[EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

Tight end Tim Wright during minicamp at One Buc Place in June.

The Bucs had added another name to their kicking competition, acquiring rookie kicker Kyle Brindza from the Lions in exchange for tight end Tim Wright.

Brindza, 22, wasn't drafted out of Notre Dame but has been impressive in preseason for Detroit. He's 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting from 41, 49 and 51 yards; he's 2-for-2 on extra points, he's averaged 49.3 yards on four punts (three downed inside the 20), and seven of his eight kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. He'll now join a close competition between last year's kicker, Pat Murray, and former Bucs kicker Connor Barth, who was signed last week to challenge Murray.

The Bucs are a combined 2-for-6 on field goals in preseason, with both Murray and Barth missing field goals in Saturday's loss. Murray also missed an extra point and two field goals in the first two games.

It's the second year in a row the Bucs have traded Wright on the eve of final roster cuts. The Bucs got Wright for nothing this spring, claiming him off waivers when he was cut by the Patriots. Last year, the Bucs dealt Wright and a draft pick to acquire Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. …

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Sorry, no crab: Publix unveils 'signature' Bucs sub

As photos showing Jameis Winston on Publix-branded Bucs roadside signs are making the rounds with national sports blogs, we can report more tasteful news of another Bucs-Publix pairing that, no, does not  involve crab legs.

As an extension of the grocery store's sponsorship with the Bucs, Publix is offering fans a "signature sub" for Tampa Bay fans, with similar items on the menu for the Jaguars, Dolphins and Falcons.

For a limited time, the Bucs sub -- $8 for a whole -- has spicy jerk turkey, chiptole gouda cheese, guacamole and mango peach salsa, with a nice local flavor by including "lightly crushed plantain chips." The appetite for Publix subs in general is a strong one, and the Bucs selection seems more appetizing than the other three, as uncovered by the Florida Times-Union:

-- Jaguars: chicken tenders, bacon, cheddar cheese, sweet cole slaw and barbecue mayonaisse

-- Dolphins: chipotle chicken, mayo, lettuce, mango peach salsa and fried plantains

-- Falcons: maple-flavored chicken tenders, bacon, mango peach preserves, sriracha mayonnaise

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FB Iosefa, RB Brown among Bucs' first 10 cuts

The Bucs made their first wave of preseason cuts on Sunday, with seventh-round draft pick Joey Iosefa and undrafted rookie Dominique Brown among the most notable names.

Iosefa, a fullback from Hawaii, played just one offensive snap in Saturday's preseason loss to the Browns. Smith, from Louisville, struggled as a short-yardage option, failing to score on four straight carries from inside the 2-yard line in Monday's win against the Bengals.

The other eight players waived by the Bucs: DT George Uko, DT Quayshawne Buckley, DE Jamal Young, CB Al-Hajj Shabazz, S Kimario McFadden, P Karl Schmitz, LS Brandon Hartson and OG Antoine Everett. The Bucs must cut five more players by Tuesday afternoon to get to the next roster limit of 75 players, with final cuts to 53 players due by Saturday.

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Bucs pleased with Will Gholston's transition to DT

TAMPA -- Third-year pro Will Gholston, moved from primarily playing defensive end to lining up inside at defensive tackle, has handled the transition well, leading the Bucs with three tackles for losses in the preseason.

"I think he's handled it very well, and wherever we've put him, he's handled it well," coach Lovie Smith said after Saturday's loss to the Browns, which saw Gholston get another four tackles. "He's gotten our attention quite a bit in practice, and in every game he's done something to make us take notice. ... Will Gholston is a player I can stand here and definitely say has gotten better, and that's from the moment we got here."

Gholston went into the preseason battling for a roster spot, with four fairly entrenched defensive tackles on roster in starters Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald and backups Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel. His flexibility to help at defensive end should help his chances to stick on the final 53-man roster -- he's second on the team with 11 total tackles, while another converted end now playing at tackle, Da'Quan Bowers, has just one tackle in three games. …

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Smith calls offensive line play 'unacceptable' vs Browns

Having watched his mostly young offensive line lead the NFL in sacks this preseason, Bucs coach Lovie Smtih called the effort against the Cleveland Browns Sunday 'unacceptable.'

Quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked four times and pressured into throwing an interception in the Bucs 31-7 loss to the Browns. With rookies at left tackle in Donovan Smith and right guard with Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay has allowed 13 sacks in three preseason, the most in the NFL.

Winston has been sacked seven times, the most of any quarterback in the league.

“We had some bad plays last night, yes, along our offensive line,'' Lovie Smith said. "It’s like that most games, though. You have some plays you’d like to have back. Good plays on their part. Looking at the overall picture, just like before when we played a lot better, you take everything in, which we will do. But that play last night, for the most part, was unacceptable for us and we’ll fix it.''

Winston alluded to making some mistakes in calling the protections against the 3-4 scheme of the Browns. But Lovie Smith laid most of the blame on the offensive linemen who were physically dominated on some plays Sunday night.

 …

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Bucs Winston continues an up and down preseason

If his preseason is any indication, quarterback Jameis Winston is going to take the Bucs on a carnival ride as a rookie in the NFL.

Five days after a mostly flawless performance in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bucs No. 1 overall pick was sacked four times, threw and interception, blew some protection calls against the blitz and failed to see the field well in a 31-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium. Winston finished 6-of-15 passing for 90 yards and the INT.

“You’d like to maintain a certain level each week, but normally it doesn’t happen like that,’’ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “That’s why you can’t get too high after last Monday night’s game and you can’t get too low. We’re somewhere in the middle, that’s where we are right now. To become a good football team, you have to know you’re going to have days like this.

“It’s not all bad to have this bad feeling in our stomach right now.’’ …

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Bucs to face Browns without safety Major Wright

The family matter that kept Bucs safety Major Wright from attending Friday's practice will also keep him from playing in Saturday night's preseason game against the Browns, leaving the Bucs a little thin in the secondary.

With Wright not playing, D.J. Swearinger will get the start, having made a strong impression in training camp after being claimed off waivers from the Texans. Veteran Chris Conte, who missed three weeks with a hamstring injury, will make his preseason debut tonight.

Several key players remain out with injuries and will not play Saturday: WRs Mike Evans and Kenny Bell, DE Jacquies Smith, OT Kevin Pamphile, C Josh Allen, CB Leonard Johnson and OT Demar Dotson.

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