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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs' Aqib Talib says accuser was looking for 'an extra couple dollars'

Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, in his first recent interview, said stress over his now-dismissed aggravated assault charge in Texas was “killing” him, but he is grateful for the “clean slate” given by coach Greg Schiano.

Talib, in Atlanta participating in agent Todd France’s annual football camp, told Atlanta’s 790 The Zone that accuser Shannon Billings was unfairly targeting Talib in the incident, which occurred in March 2011.

“It was killing me, man,” Talib said. “It was a bad situation where a guy had to say a couple lies to try to put an extra couple dollars in his pocket. But it was killing me, man. It was just a bad situation and I’m just glad it’s behind me.”

Talib said his attitude now is “I’m just (looking) forward from now on.”

Prosecutors in Dallas dropped the charge last week, at least in part because of concerns about Billings’ credibility. Talib was accused of firing a handgun at Billings in a domestic dispute and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Billings, the former boyfriend of Talib’s sister, is currently in jail on unrelated charges.

Talib suggested the incident has taught him to make better decisions. …

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No concerns yet despite no deal between Bucs, Mark Barron

You might have noticed the flurry of signings among the Bucs’ draft picks in the past two months, a result of the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement and the new structured rookie salary scale implemented last year.

But first-round pick Mark Barron, the seventh overall choice, remains unsigned. In fact, none of the top eight picks in the draft have signed deals, despite nearly 90 percent of rookies having already agreed to terms. There hasn’t been much reported progress in negotiations involving those top picks, either. So, does this suggest it’s time to be concerned?

Not at all.

Yes, there is a reason these players aren’t signed. Their agents and teams aren’t seeing eye to eye on some of the language in their contracts. But, as John Clayton of ESPN.com recently explained, the issues, while important to the players and teams, aren’t terribly serious in the grand scheme.

Here’s one of the major issues holding up the progress. Teams and player representatives are haggling over whether rookies should receive the balance of their guaranteed salaries if they’re released before the end of their deals and, subsequently, sign with another team. This is referred to as “offset” language.

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More talk of London NFL franchise, but obstacles are significant

london.jpgWith the Bucs having traveled to London for games twice in the past three seasons, you’re probably quite familiar with the idea that the NFL wants to create a bigger footprint in Europe.

It has done that with the International Series, which currently includes an annual game at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Bucs played in it in 2009 and 2011.

Now, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose team takes on the Rams in London this season, is saying in the English media that he can envision a permanent franchise in the U.K.

“I personally think we should have a franchise in London and that is something I am going to push for,” said Kraft, according to Sky Sports. “I think I said that the last time we were over here in 2009 and before this next decade is out, I hope we have a team here. I think that would be right for the NFL and this fan base has proven they deserve it.”

Kraft is one of the league’s more influential owners, so his throwing his considerable weight behind this issue can’t hurt. We already know commissioner Roger Goodell is on board, as he’s said in the past. …

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Arron Sears, Jimmie Giles target Bucs in concussion-related lawsuit

For more than three years, former Bucs guard Arron Sears has been exhibiting signs of psychological problems that ranged from an unwillingness to communicate with others to displays of uncontrollable anger.

The problems were so extreme that the promising second-round pick saw his career end when the issues did not subside. But  Sears’ problems have never publicly been attributed to any particular cause – until now.

A lawsuit filed this week in Hillsborough Circuit Court points the finger at one particular culprit: football.

Sears’ parents filed the lawsuit on their son’s behalf and are joined as plaintiffs by former Bucs great Jimmie Giles and former Bucs player Donald Smith, claiming that the Bucs, NFL, helmet manufacturer Riddell and several other NFL clubs were negligent and misled and withheld information related the effects of concussions and head injuries.

The suit seeks an unspecified monetary award and punitive damages.

It also outlines, in great detail, some of Sears’ current issues. According to the suit, Sears, who left the club in 2009, is experiencing “various neurological conditions . . . related to head trauma.” It describes him thusly: …

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Buccaneers to honor Ronde Barber's starts streak in season opener

The Bucs are giving fans more reasons to turn out for the team’s season opener, announcing today plans to honor veteran Ronde Barber, who will make his 200th consecutive start in the game.

The Bucs open Sept. 9 against the Carolina Panthers and will offer free parking, half-priced concessions (excluding alcohol) and offer fans a giveaway – a Ronde Barber gym sack.

“As we usher in a new Buccaneer era that kicks off in September, we are looking forward to celebrating Ronde Barber's 200th consecutive start,” co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement. “Ronde has made us all proud during his 15 seasons with the team, and this next milestone is yet another along the road that we expect will lead to Canton. Our fans have a lot to look forward to this season, and we hope this promotion helps give everyone the chance to both celebrate a Bucs great and join the fight.”

The Bucs will open up sales of single-game tickets for the game on Friday, while remaining single-game tickets won’t be available for several more weeks. Only season tickets are currently available. …

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While Lions deal with sixth recent arrest, Bucs staying out of trouble

You perhaps heard today's news that Lions cornerback Aaron Berry was arrested over the weekend for suspiscion of DUI, making him the sixth member of the team arrested this offseason.

That's a troubling statistic, but it's a scenario fans of the Buccaneers are familiar with. Tampa Bay saw eight members of its organization -- including front office personnel, assistant coaches and players -- arrested during an eight-month span from September 2010 to May 2011. Among the arrests were those of cornerback Aqib Talib (assault; charge dropped), personnel executive Shelton Quarles (DUI) and former linebacker Geno Hayes (disorderly conduct, trespassing).

It was a series of events that resulted in a great deal of criticism being directed at the Bucs -- understandably so.

But in light of what is unfolding in Detroit, it's prudent to point out that things have been quiet lately on the law-and-order front in Tampa Bay. Not to suggest that avoiding arrests is worthy of applause, but it is fair to point out that no players, coaches nor front-office members have been arrested since former defensive end Alex Magee's arrest for marijuana possession on May 9, 2011 -- 13 months ago. …

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A little more on Bucs' open training camp days

We finally got the public training camp schedule on Monday, and we now know that players are about a month away from reporting.

But here are a couple more details to help you know what to expect.

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement implemented last summer, there can be no padded practices or contact during teams' first two practices. That means the open practices scheduled for July 27 and 28 will not be conducted in pads. As a result, we can reasonably expect July 29, a Sunday, to be the team's first day in pads.

That's a day you'll want to attend if possible, as players finally get to make contact with one another for the first time since last season (remember, offseason workouts are not conducted in pads).

If you're lucky, maybe the Bucs will mix in an Oklahoma drill in that first padded practice.

 

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Bucs and Patriots reportedly considering joint preseason practices

belichick.jpgThe Bucs host the Patriots on Aug. 24 in a preseason matchup, but the teams might see each other a bit more that week.

The Boston Herald reports the Patriots and Bucs are talking about holding joint practices in Tampa in advance of the game, something that wouldn’t be a surprise given the relationship between Bucs coach Greg Schiano and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

One potential complication: The Patriots play a Monday night game at home against the Eagles just four days prior to meeting the Bucs. Because of that, you have to wonder whether there is enough time to conduct more than a single practice between the teams. The Patriots would probably be unable to work out on Aug. 21, the day following their game against the Eagles. That leaves Wednesday, Aug. 22 and Thursday Aug. 23 as possibilities. But typically, teams conduct walkthroughs on a day prior to a game, so the 23rd doesn’t seem like a likely opening, either.

Joint practices aren’t original. The Bucs and Dolphins used to do this under former Bucs coach Tony Dungy.

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Bucs announce training camp schedule featuring nine open practices

For the fourth straight year, the Bucs will host training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa, this year featuring nine practices open to the public.

The team announced today that the first open session will be July 27 at 8:45 a.m., the same start time for each of the open practices.

Also continuing this year is the Bucs’ habit of holding a free, Saturday-night workout at Raymond James Stadium. That has been scheduled for Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. and this year will feature an intrasquad scrimmage for the first time. The usual free parking, autographs and fireworks will continue, too.

No tickets will be required for practices, and gates will open at 7 a.m. Based on this timeline, we can project that Bucs players will report for camp on July 26 – just 31 days away. Training camp will allow fans their first chance to see new additions like receiver Vincent Jackson and first-round picks Mark Barron and Doug Martin.

“The anticipation and atmosphere of training camp is exciting for our fans and our team,” co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. “We look forward to Bucs fans welcoming Coach (Greg) Schiano and our new players to the Tampa Bay area.”

Training camp public schedule

July 27: 8:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m. …

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Tiquan Underwood in the mix in crowded Bucs receiving corps

tiquan.jpgWith 90 players on the Bucs’ offseason roster, we’re never going to adequately cover all of them.

But the Bucs picked up an interesting player this spring when they signed former Patriots and Rutgers receiver Tiquan Underwood (and we don’t say that because of his high-top fade haircut). So, let’s take a closer look.

It’s no surprise Underwood ended up in Tampa Bay after his release from New England; he played for Schiano at Rutgers and is held is high regard by his former coach.

That alone won’t secure Underwood a roster spot in Tampa. He’s somewhere in the middle of a large pack of young receivers trying to distinguish themselves behind No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson and presumptive No. 2 Mike Williams. With Underwood, Preston Parker, Dezmon Briscoe, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter, among others, it’s a pretty crowded situation.

Maybe it’s not an ideal predicament, but it’s part of what drew Underwood to the Bucs as a free agent. …

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Roster move: OT Ingersoll in, LB Leak out

The Bucs announced today they have signed offensive tackle Mike Ingersoll, one of Bucs special assistant Butch Davis' former players at the University of North Carolina.

To make room on the roster, Tampa Bay released linebacker Antonio Leak.

Ingersoll, 6-5 and 300 pounds, entered the league last year but failed to the make the Chiefs' final roster as a rookie free agent. He later joined the Bucs' practice squad late in the season, giving the organization a chance to evaluate him. He found a place on the Patriots' roster earlier this offseason but was released this week.

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Bucs looking for development in tight end Luke Stocker

We know how the Bucs felt about tight end Luke Stocker upon his arrival. Based on the team’s decision to trade up 12 spots in the 2011 draft to select Stocker early in the fourth round, we can presume the former Tennessee Volunteer was quite coveted by Tampa Bay.

But both fans and the Bucs remain unsure about what, exactly, the team has in Stocker. Is he the potential asset in the passing game we think he could be? Is he truly the willing and physical blocker that he seems to be?

Because of Stocker’s misfortune with injuries last season, we don’t really know those answers. He missed all of training camp and the preseason with a hip injury. When he finally returned, Stocker later suffered a knee injury, the severity of which was downplayed by the team. While he played through the pain, at times, he seemed limited.

It was not something you would have predicted from a player who started 38 straight games at Tennessee.

Now that Stocker seems to have recovered, the Bucs’ new coaching staff hopes the real Stocker finally will be revealed. They don’t know what they’ll find, but they have high hopes.

But make no mistake – Stocker must prove himself.

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Mike Williams, Bucs receivers should expect to play multiple roles

One unit that will be closely examined during Bucs training camp is the wide receivers.

The complexion of this young group of players has changed markedly with the addition of veteran Pro Bowl selection Vincent Jackson, something that will leave players fighting for fewer opportunities and roster spots.

Knowing this, we recently asked Tampa Bay receivers coach P.J. Fleck what the insertion of Jackson means for Mike Williams, the team’s leading receiver in his first two seasons as a pro.

Interestingly, while addressing Williams’ role, Fleck also shed some light on the team’s plans for the receivers in general.

Whereas Williams was the so-called split end in former offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s scheme (one based largely on former coach Jon Gruden’s offense), the Bucs now intend to use him in multiple roles. As the split end, Williams was almost always lined up wide on the weak side, opposite the tight end. But Fleck said Williams and others will be asked to be more diverse in the new offense.

“A guy like Mike can play inside or outside – wherever we want him to,” Fleck said.

This is where the conversation turned toward the overall effort to mix things up.

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Bucs' projected starting lineup heading into training camp

Now that the Bucs are done with their offseason schedule and players have been released, it's a good time to take stock of some things. dougmartin.jpgAmong those is the starting lineup as of today.

The Bucs won't release a depth chart until just prior to their first preseason game, and what you read below is NOT official by any means. It also has not been provided by the team. However, these are pretty educated guesses about what the lineup currently looks like. It's based on everything witnessed during OTAs and from what we've gleaned from talking to players and coaches during the past two months.

You'll notice nine new starters compared to last season's opening-day lineup. That includes Ronde Barber and Jeremy Zuttah (who are playing new positions this year). Most of the newbies are significant upgrades, too. This should give you a better sense of something I've been saying for a long time -- that this is a very different team from the 2011 Bucs who, in retrospect, were short on talent and depth.

Before we go on, a couple of important points: …

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Bucs teammates Brian Price, Mark Barron reportedly fought

Walterfootball.com, a website that covers the NFL and the draft specifically, reports Brian Price and Mark Barron were involved in a fight several weeks ago at One Buc Place, during which Price punched and “bloodied” Barron.

The report cites "multiple" unnamed sources.

From the beginning, coach Greg Schiano’s recent explanation of Price’s whereabouts was sketchy and raised questions. After noticing Price was not in attendance for a recent practice, reporters asked about him afterward. Schiano indicated Price was dealing with a physical issue as well as coping with the recent death of his sister – the latter leaving him hospitalized after his body wore down.

We later told you that Price, according to his agent, was permissibly in Los Angeles working with a trainer in an effort to rehab his injuries and get conditioned for training camp.

It was certainly unusual for the team to make such an exception, which is why it’s plausible that something else played a role in the decision to allow Price to remain home in California during a critical portion of the offseason. …

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