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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

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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Kicker Barth's battle with Murray: 'almost like deja vu'

Connor Barth, 29, signed a two-year, $2.75-million contract with the Bucs and will have two preseason games to convince the team to give him his old job back.

GREG AUMAN | Times

Connor Barth, 29, signed a two-year, $2.75-million contract with the Bucs and will have two preseason games to convince the team to give him his old job back.

Connor Barth is so confident in his abilities, the 33-yard extra point doesn’t bother him. In fact, he’s never missed a field goal from that distance or closer.

If Barth had his way, the NFL would make the target smaller.

“I wanted to just narrow the uprights,’’ Barth said Friday. “That would be cool. It’d make play-calling different, it would make guys who are a little bit more accurate than they are big legs to really thrive.’’

Barth, 29, signed a two-year, $2.75-million contract with the Bucs and will have two preseason games to convince the team to give him his old job back over the man who took it in the first place – second-year pro Patrick Murray. The Bucs place-kicker missed an extra point and field goal in Monday night’s 25-11 win over the Bengals.

Barth said he has no animosity toward Murray. The two got to be close friends a year ago.

“You come in almost as a contractor,’’ Barth said. You come in and it’s a business, you’ve got to look at it like that. You just come in, we shake hands and compete and laugh and have fun off the field.

“I always say I treat people the way I want to be treated and I don’t come in here any different, not with any attitude or anything.’’ …

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Bucs D.C. Frazier confirms Smith will call defensive plays

Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, left, and head coach Lovie Smith during practice earlier this month at One Buc Place.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, left, and head coach Lovie Smith during practice earlier this month at One Buc Place.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier confirmed what Lovie Smith has been reluctant to say: the Bucs head coach is taking over the defensive play calling duties this year.

Frazier also says he's fine with the arrangement.

“He’s going to be heavily involved as he’s always been with our defense and he’s going to do the majority of the defensive play-calling,'' Frazier said of SmithThursday. “It really doesn’t change my role from a year ago, it really doesn’t. My role is to come in and help our defense and help them prepare for every ball game and help our team win. It really doesn’t change anything I have to get done.''

 

Frazier came under some criticism last season when the defense finished 25th overall and allowed 25.6 points per game, the eighth-most in the NFL. He will retain his title as defensive coordinator.

As a defensive coordinator with the Rams and the architect of the Chicago Bears Tampa 2 scheme for nine seasons, Smith has always had a heavy involvement on defense. But last season, after offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was put on an indefinite medical leave of absence following a heart procedure, Smith was forced to devote more time with the offensive coaching staff. …

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As Murray wobbles, Bucs bring back kicker Connor Barth

Two days after kicker Pat Murray missed an extra point in Monday's preseason win, the Bucs have agreed to terms on a two-year contract with veteran kicker Connor Barth, who was released Wednesday by the Broncos.

Barth, 29, was the Bucs' kicker from 2009-12, hitting 91 field goals before he missed the 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon. He kicked well for Denver at the end of last season, going 15-for-16 on field goals in five games and a perfect 15-for-15 on extra points.

Last year, when the same two kickers competed in preseason, the Bucs opted to keep Murray, shedding a $3-million salary by cutting Barth, but he now comes in with a much lower salary, making it a battle over the two remaining preseason games.

Murray, who went 20-for-24 on field goals last year as a rookie, has missed two field goals in preseason in addition to Monday's missed extra point, but he also connected on a 53-yard field goal against the Bengals.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith expressed his concern about the kicking game after Wednesday's practice: "We didn't kick as well as I thought we should," he said, reiterating that the league's new, longer extra points are "not automatic."

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Lovie's told-you-so on longer PATs: 'It's not automatic'

Last week, Bucs coach Lovie Smith warned that the NFL's longer extra-point attempts were "not a gimme now," and while NFL kickers have only missed five in 105 preseason attempts, one of those came from Bucs kicker Pat Murray.

"We missed an extra point the other day, and that's not a good thing," Smith said Wednesday. "When you move back, it's not automatic. We see that firsthand. It's always tempting to go for two, I'll just say that. For us, that's a good option for us to have."

The NFL has moved back extra points from the 20-yard line to the 33, adding drama to what had been a foregone conclusion. Murray, who went 20-for-24 on field goals last year and was perfect on the shorter PATs, was good on a 53-yard field goal Monday but also missed from 50.

"I think it's more important for us, if we get an opportunity, to let our guys kick field goals, that operation," Smith said.

Last week, Murray had expressed his confidence at being able to hit the longer PATs reliably, saying "It's a 33-yard kick. If you're a professional kicker, you've got to make that kick." …

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Chris Conte back for Bucs, Evan Smith hopes to play Saturday

Safety Chris Conte, out more than three weeks with a hamstring injury, was back at practice for the first time since the opening day of training camp.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Safety Chris Conte, out more than three weeks with a hamstring injury, was back at practice for the first time since the opening day of training camp.

Lots of injury updates from Wednesday's Bucs practice, the team's first since Monday's preseason win against the Bengals, with several key players returning to drills and potentially in position to play in Saturday's home preseason game against the Browns.

-- Safety Chris Conte, out more than three weeks with a hamstring injury, was back at practice for the first time since the opening day of training camp. He said in the locker room Wednesday that it's too soon to know if he can play Saturday.

-- Defensive ends Jacquies Smith (shoulder) and T.J. Fatinikun (leg) are both back at practice after missing all of last week. Fatinikun hasn't played in either preseason game, so the Bucs' pass rush could get a boost with two of their top four ends back healthy.

-- Center Evan Smith, who missed Monday's game after a groin injury in Sunday's walkthrough, did not practice but said that the plan is for him to play Saturday, an important chance to get the first-team line together for another extended time before the season opener. …

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Bucs want Winston to do a better job of avoiding hits

Jameis Winston suffered a sprained right ankle in Monday night’s 25-11 preseason win over the Bengals.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Jameis Winston suffered a sprained right ankle in Monday night’s 25-11 preseason win over the Bengals.

The Bucs need to do a better job of blocking for quarterback Jameis Winston. But he also has to learn to protect himself.

Winston suffered a sprained right ankle in Monday night’s 25-11 preseason win over the Bengals when he tripped over the feet of center Jeremiah Warren and was sandwiched between Bengals defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry. The injury was not serious and he is expected to start Saturday against the Browns.

While that hit may have been unavoidable, there have been others he may have contributed to. Winston also has scored two rushing touchdowns, diving for the pylon or the goal line in each instance. In the first preseason game at Minnesota, he took a blow to head when he failed to slide properly.  

“That’s something I’ve got to learn quickly,’’ Winston said. “It’s going to take some time for me to adjust. But I know I’ve got to protect my body and I’ve got to protect this team by staying injury-free.

Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says the Bucs are working with Winston to make better decisions to preserve his health.    …

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Bucs coordinator says Martin shows 'pep in his step' in a contract year

The burst Doug Martin showed Monday night with a 30-yard run is what he's consistently brought in practice for the past month, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The burst Doug Martin showed Monday night with a 30-yard run is what he's consistently brought in practice for the past month, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says.

Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had high praise for running back Doug Martin on Wednesday, saying the burst he showed Monday night with a 30-yard run is what he's consistently brought in practice for the past month.

"What Doug did in the game … that's how Doug's been practicing every day. That was not surprising," Koetter said. "Doug definitely has a pep in his step and a smile on his face. … Contract year. We've all been there."

Martin's rookie contract will be up after this season — the team declined a fifth-year option that would have paid him more than $5-million in 2016 — and he said that's been in the back of his mind, but his focus has simply been on getting better. He's playing at just 208 pounds, about four pounds less than last year.

"I'm leaner, but it's just the mindset going into this season, around here in the organization, the vibe that's going on with a fire to win," Martin said. "I do feel a little quicker. Four or five pounds can make a difference." …

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Bucs bring back Jake Schum as 3rd punter

The Bucs' ongoing search for a challenge to veteran punter Michael Koenen continued Wednesday, as the team has signed punter Jake Schum, who had two stints with the team last year without playing in any games.

To make room for Schum, the Bucs released undrafted rookie safety Derrick Wells, who did not play in Monday's preseason win against the Bengals. For now, they are carrying three punters, with Karl Schmitz as the other challenger to Koenen.

Schum was with the Bucs from January to May 2014, then back for three days on the practice squad in November. He was waived by the Jets last week after playing in one preseason game, with an impressive 51.3-yard average on four punts, as well as a 41.8-yard net average.

The Bucs could carry three punters for Saturday's home game against the Browns, or could release one after what is essentially an extended tryout in practice over the next three days. NFL teams must begin the paring of their rosters but cutting 15 players to get down to 75 total on Tuesday.

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Bucs' Mike Evans won't play rest of preseason

Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who left Monday's game early with a hamstring injury, won't play in the team's two remaining preseason games.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who left Monday's game early with a hamstring injury, won't play in the team's two remaining preseason games.

Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who left Monday's game early with a hamstring injury, won't play in the team's two remaining preseason games, being careful not to aggravate the injury and risk missing part of the regular season.

Evans said the hamstring "stifffened" on him during the game and he left to avoid making it worse. Smith is careful with hamstring injuries -- safety Chris Conte hasn't practiced in more than three weeks after injuryng his hamstring on the first day of camp.

The injury means Evans won't have any catches in the preseason -- Jameis Winston tried to hit him deep on two passes Monday but both fell incomplete. Starters often are held out of the final preseason game, so it's more significant that he isn't playing in Saturday's home game against Miami.

Coach Lovie Smith said that nickel defensive back Leonard Johnson, who injured his ankle Monday, will not play Saturday, but wouldn't say whether the injury was enough to sideline him from the season opener in 19 days. Winston rolled his right ankle on a second-quarter sack and left the game shortly after, but Smith said he expected Winston to be able to play Saturday. …

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Bucs Shepard could have bigger role in offense

Russell Shepard had two catches for 44 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon on a fade route during an all-out blitz by the Bengals Monday.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Russell Shepard had two catches for 44 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon on a fade route during an all-out blitz by the Bengals Monday.

Russell Shepard’s biggest worth to the Bucs is as a special team player and he helped down a pair of punts inside the 5-yard line Monday night against the Bengals. But Shepard is emerging as a reliable receiver, where his role could soon expand.

Shepard had two catches for 44 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon on a fade route during an all-out blitz by the Bengals Monday.

An undrafted quarterback from Louisiana State in 2013, Shepard has lobbied for more playing time on offense and defense. Now he may get his wish.

Receiver Mike Evans, who has not had a catch this preseason, was forced to leave Monday night’s game in the first quarter with a hamstring strain. Although the injury is not considered serious, it’s unknown whether he will play Saturday against the Browns.

Rookie Kenny Bell, a fifth-round pick from Nebraska, has not shown up in preseason games as a receiver.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith said Shepard could soon have a bigger role in the offense. …

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Roster battles to watch as Bucs' cuts approach

Tight end Brandon Myers (82), who took a paycut to come back for a second year and had two catches for 39 yards Monday. Kicker Patrick Murray (7) missed a PAT, as well as a 50-yard field goal, but he also connected from 53.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Tight end Brandon Myers (82), who took a paycut to come back for a second year and had two catches for 39 yards Monday. Kicker Patrick Murray (7) missed a PAT, as well as a 50-yard field goal, but he also connected from 53.

The Bucs are closing the preseason with three games in a span of 11 days, so there's an urgency to the next week and a half as the team must decide how to pare its roster from its current 90 players to the final 53.

Monday's preseason win against the Bengals was another chance for players on the bubble to help or hurt themselves, and nearly all will have another shot to do so Saturday at home against the Browns before the initial cuts to 75 players come next Tuesday afternoon.

Beyond the individual players that make up the 53-man roster, the Bucs still must decide how many to keep at each position. We all but know they'll keep two quarterbacks and three specialists (kicker, punter, snapper) but the other positions are flexible. If you keep six receivers, you might carry only three tight ends. If you carry six linebackers, you might keep only nine defensive backs. And if you aren't sure of the position of the final five guys on the roster, it's even harder to project who those actual players will be. …

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Winston's ankle okay, shows improvement in win vs. Bengal

Jameis Winston left the game early in the second quarter, several plays after he appeared to sprain his right ankle following a sack by Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jameis Winston left the game early in the second quarter, several plays after he appeared to sprain his right ankle following a sack by Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry.

Jameis Winston's legs have carried him to the end zone twice this preseason, but it's his right arm that has the Bucs excited about their rookie quarterback.

Winston showed complete command in his second NFL start in Monday night's 25-11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, giving Lovie Smith his first victory at Raymond James Stadium.

Winston completed 8-of-13 passes for 90 yards and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He went 3-for-3 on the drive that was helped by Doug Martin's 53 yards rushing. The Bucs first overall pick also spread the football around, targeting eight receivers with his first eight passes Monday.

"My first two passes were checkdowns, so that was a big thing,'' Winston said. "I don't think I had too many checkdowns the first game.

"Completions all and all help you settle in and the way we were playing, we started fast and that was a good thing.'' 

Winston left the game early in the second quarter, several plays after he appeared to sprain his right ankle following a sack by Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry. He was checked by trainers following the game and the Bucs do not think the injury is serious. …

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Bucs' Glennon audibled on TD pass to Shepard

Mike Glennon finished a solid 10-for-15 for 121 yards and a touchdown

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Mike Glennon finished a solid 10-for-15 for 121 yards and a touchdown

Bucs backup QB Mike Glennon hadn't expected to be in Monday night's game so early, and facing a third-and-20 from the Bengals' 22 on his first drive, he didn't like the look the Bengals gave as they brought up personnel to the line of scrimmage.

He audibled out of a run play and threw a perfect ball to receiver Russell Shepard, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone, giving the Bucs a 20-0 lead to help put Cincinnati out of reach early in a 25-11 preseason victory.

"They showed a Cover-Zero blitz, and I knew in my mind this run's not going to do it," Glennon said. "I checked to it. Shep did a great job on his man. I threw it up, gave him a chance and he made a great play."

Glennon finished a solid 10-for-15 for 121 yards and a touchdown, and Shepard stepped up with two catches for 44 yards, as well as a 12-yard gain on an end-around. The special-teams standout -- he had a tackle on the coverage team after getting two last week -- was happy to see a smart read from his quarterback and make the most of it. …

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Young offensive line holds up in Bucs' 25-11 win

TAMPA -- Former USF offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren found out he'd be starting at center when he arrived at the locker room before Monday night's game.

Starter Evan Smith had tweaked a groin muscle in Sunday's walkthrough and was held out to be safe, so with Warren in his place, alongside two rookies and another injury replacement, four of the Bucs' five starting offensive linemen had never played in a regular-season NFL game.

"Coach (Lovie Smith) tells us to always be ready at all times," Warren said. "It's a great confidence booster. Those guys are amazing. Their d-line is incredible, so to go out with Logan (Mankins) and guys like Ali Marpet coming in and fighting, it was incredible."

That inexperience didn't show up on the scoreboard at all, as the Bucs marched down the field for an 80-yard touchdown drive behind that young line, leading 23-3 at halftime on the way to a 25-11 win over the Bengals.

"I thought the guys played together pretty well," Mankins said. "I know I had a few plays I'd love to do over. We're improving, and that's the main thing. We need to cut down on penalties, but the effort level and the physicality tonight were going in the right direction."

As expected, the team's two rookie second-rounders made their first starts, with Donovan Smith at left tackle and Marpet at right guard. Reid Fragel started as an injury replacement at right tackle.

All told, the offensive line had five penalties in the first half, but QB Jameis Winston was sacked only once, with backup Mike Glennon getting sacked three times after taking over midway through the second quarter. …

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