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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Sunday: Bucs-Broncos in-game chat, 4 p.m.

Join the conversation Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m., as Times beat reporter Stephen F. Holder blogs live from Sports Authority Field in Denver throughout the Bucs' game against the Broncos. Follow along, and add your comments and/or questions if you like. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Former Bucs Warren Sapp, John Lynch among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Warren Sapp and John Lynch, key cogs on one of the NFL’s best defenses and Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay, moved a step closer today to a new career pinnacle by making the list of 27 modern-era semifinals for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame selection committee narrowed a list of 127 preliminary nominees. Now, that group will be reduced to 15 modern-era candidates after the next round of balloting, to be announced in early January.

The final vote, selecting those chosen for enshrinement, is conducted Super Bowl weekend.

Sapp, a defensive tackle named to seven Pro Bowls, helped redefine the defensive tackle position with his pass-rushing, penetrating style of play. Including his seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Sapp finished his career with 96.5 sacks.

Lynch, a safety who went to nine Pro Bowls, starred for the Bucs and Broncos and recorded 26 career interceptions.

Tampa resident Eddie DeBartolo, former owner of the 49ers, also made the cut.

Here is the full list of semifinalists:

Larry Allen, G/T – 1994-2005 Dallas Cowboys, 2006-07 San Francisco 49ers …

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Gruden will attend Bucs 10-year anniversary celebration of Super Bowl XXXVII title Dec. 9

Jon Gruden sat in rented office at a local strip mall pouring over film as the founder of his Fired Football Coaches Association (FFCA) a few months ago. His visitor on this day was former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp and soon the discussion turned to the 10th anniversary reunion of their Super Bowl XXXVII championship team scheduled for halftime of the Dec. 9 game versus Philadelphia at Raymond James Stadium.

Sapp said Gruden cocked an eyebrow and gave his famous Chucky scowl when asked about attending the event. His schedule called for him to be in Foxborough, Mass., to prepare to broadcast the Monday Night Football game for ESPN between the Patriots and Houston Texans.

“I told Jon, I can’t go without you,’’ Sapp said. “Just like that cover of Sports Illustrated (Sept. 9, 2002) when you said you’re not taking that picture with Keyshawn (Johnson)? I’m not coming back to this reunion without you. Me and you are going to be the only two missing? Really? That’s what we’re going to do? We’ll have a Mexican stare down and the head coach and the captain aren’t going to be there? That’s what we’re going to do?  …

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Doug Martin won't press after subpar (for him) performance

Bucs running back Doug Martin has reached benchmarks in the past several weeks that have resulted in his name being mentioned in the same breath as greats such as Walter Payton.

So, when he rushed for 50 yards and averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on Sunday against the Falcons, you had to wonder how he might view his performance.

Predictably, the record-breaking rookie from Boise State has the proper perspective.

“If I try to do more than I can, that’s when something bad can happen,” Martin said. “So, I just try to go out and keep in mind that I have to just to my job and let things play out. I’ll just let it come to me.”

It wasn’t as if Martin didn’t produce. He scored two touchdowns in the loss. But there weren’t many did-you-see-that sort of highlights, and his longest run went for just 10 yards. That’s underwhelming for a guy who has an NFL-high four runs of 40 yards or longer this season.

The offensive line’s performance had something to do with it. Corrections have been made and players have taken responsibility heading into Sunday’s game at Denver.

Martin doesn’t seem concerned. …

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Lavonte David earns top rookie honor; Dekoda Watson also honored

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David has been named NFL defensive rookie of the month, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to earn the distinction.

David had 47 tackles in November, more than any player in the NFL. The second-round pick from Nebraska has been among the Bucs’ top defensive players, leading the team in total tackles (98) and tackles for losses (14).

Last month, running back Doug Martin won offensive rookie of the month after his string of sensational games.

Also today, Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson was named NFC special teams player of the month after making a pair of special teams tackles and blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown by Adam Hayward.

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Former Buc Stevens arrested in Tampa

Former Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens, who recently wed U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, was arrested this morning in Tampa for investigation of violating his probation, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Stevens was arrested at 10 a.m. at an address listed as his home residence on the sheriff’s report. He was booked at 11 a.m., according to records from the sheriff’s office.

Stevens was on probation in Florida, stemming from a drug-possession charge from October 2010, when he was playing for the Bucs. 

Read the full Seattle Times story here.

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Offensive line depth an issue for injury-riddled Bucs

When the Bucs placed Jeremy Trueblood on injured reserve on Tuesday, it didn't impact their group of starting offensive linemen.

But it does mean the Bucs have even less depth in a unit besieged by injuries. Trueblood has been the team's only real backup tackle since coaches moved Jamon Meredith to right guard.

The signing of Derek Hardman earlier today doesn't necessarily solve things, either. He's been a guard for his entire NFL career, though Hardman said today he played tackle during college and feels he could step in if called upon.

Something to keep an eye on is the Bucs' lone remaining open roster spot. The team made a flurry of moves on Tuesday and still has one opening that remains unfilled.

And in case you're wondering, that spot won't go to waived Eagles defensive end Jason Babin. The Bucs don't appear interested and aren't currently among the teams considering signing the veteran.

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McCoy, Bucs have oodles of respect for Peyton Manning

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is excited about playing Peyton Manning. How excited? 

He interrupted questioning during the start of an interview Wednesday to express his admiration for the Broncos quarterback, whom he considers the best "to ever do it."

"I just can't keep doing this interview without saying, I’m really looking forward to this. It’s Peyton Manning!''  McCoy said. "I don’t care what you all write, but arguably I think he’s the best QB to ever do it. I’m just being honest. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If somebody wants to write bad about it, oh well, I don’t care.

“That guy, it’s like a dream come true for me, honest. I’m not afraid to say it. A lot of people would be, but I’m not. I’m not going to go in there, star struck like, 'Ah, that’s Peyton Manning!' Because I’ve met the guy before. But I never played against him. Playing against him, it’s just like when a basketball player came into the league and they had a chance to play against Michael Jordan, of course they were going to say, 'That’s Michael Jordan over there.'" …

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Bucs re-sign lineman Derek Hardman

From the team ...

BUCCANEERS RESIGN G/T HARDMAN TO 53-MAN ROSTER

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today that they have signed G/T Derek Hardman to the 53-man roster.

Hardman originally entered the league with the Buccaneers as a college free agent in 2010 and spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Buccaneers, playing in 12 games with four starts.

The team also announced it has signed LB Joe Holland to its practice squad and released WR Diondre Borel from the practice squad.

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Jeremy Trueblood's run with Bucs has likely come to its end

Bucs offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood has spent each of his seven pro seasons with the same team, but he’s probably seen the field for the last time wearing Tampa Bay's colors.

Trueblood, 29, was placed on injured reserve today after suffering a shoulder injury against the Falcons on Sunday. So ends a forgettable season in which Trueblood was benched for the first time in his career.

It also likely marked the end of his run with the Bucs.

Trueblood is in the final year of what was a 2-year, $10 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in the spring. Given his benching and $1 million salary reduction before the season, Trueblood is unlikely to return to Tampa Bay.

Trueblood has started 84 of the 101 games in which he’s played, missing only four games in his career entering this season. Trueblood once started 68 straight games at right tackle.

That roster move was one of several today. Safety Cody Grimm (hamstring) was also placed on injured reserve after missing Sunday’s game. The 2010 seventh-round pick was relegated to mostly a special-teams role this season after making 12 starts in 2010-11. …

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Grimm, Trueblood placed on Injured Reserve

From the team ...

BUCCANEERS ROSTER MOVES

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced today that they have placed S Cody Grimm and T Jeremy Trueblood on Injured Reserve.

Since being drafted by the Buccaneers in 2010, Grimm has played in 23 games, with 12 starts, recording 77 tackles, two passes defensed, 15 special teams tackles and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Originally drafted by the Buccaneers in 2006, Trueblood has played in 100 career games, with 84 starts, along with one start in the postseason. He started 68 consecutive regular season games at right tackle from 2006 through mid-2010.

The Buccaneers were awarded WR/PR David Gilreath off of waivers from Pittsburgh. Gilreath (5-11, 169) entered the league as a college free agent with Indianapolis in 2011. He has spent the 2012 season with Pittsburgh, playing in three games.

The team also announced that they have released G Chris Scott from the practice squad and signed S Sean Baker to the practice squad.

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Bucs defensive struggles on third downs prove costly

There’s usually multiple reasons a team loses a football game. And that was true of the Bucs on Sunday in their loss to the Falcons.

But there are some factors that loom larger than others, among them the struggles of the Bucs defense on third downs.

The Bucs were among the NFL’s better third-down defenses early in the season, with no opponent converting more than 38 percent of its third downs against Tampa Bay through five games.

But in the past several games, that’s changed for the worse.

The Falcons on Sunday converted 62 percent of their third downs (8 of 13), way too many. That continues a stretch during which the Bucs have allowed 67 percent (against the Chargers) and 53 percent (against the Panthers) in recent games.

The Falcons are tough on third down, with a 48 percent conversion rate for the season. And Bucs opponents are converting 43 percent of their third-down attempts.

The big question: How to fix this? …

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Report: Eric Wright's contract guarantees voided after suspension

Could Eric Wright’s use of Adderall impact his long-term future with the Bucs?

According to a report tonight from ESPN insider Adam Schefter, Wright’s four-game suspension handed down today voids the remaining guarantees in his contract, leaving him in some jeopardy.

If true, that means the Bucs could opt to void Wright’s contract and avoid paying the $7.75 million he is owed in a guaranteed base salary for 2013 – or any other sum for that matter. Wright signed a five-year contract, but the $15 million in guarantees in his deal were all limited to the first two years of the pact.

The Bucs lack depth at cornerback and presumably could use Wright’s services. But $7.75 million is a large chunk of money for a player who hasn’t always played up to his contract value.

The financial penalties associated with Wright’s suspension likely are among the reasons he appealed the ruling and continues to consult with his representatives even after the decision was handed down. …

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Wright loses appeal, suspended four games for Adderal use

The Bucs were waiting for the other cleat to drop and it did Monday when the team was informed by the NFL that cornerback Eric Wright has been suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

Wright, who signed a 5-year, $37.5-million contract with the Bucs in March, apparently lost his appeal of the suspension that was disclosed in reports last month. The suspension will cost Wright $1,812,500 in salary. Wright will begin serving the suspension immediately and he is eligible to return to the Bucs Dec. 24, one day after they play the St. Louis Rams.

Wright is the second Bucs cornerback to be suspended for the non-prescription use of Adderall, a stimulant commonly used to treat ADHD. Cornerback Aqib Talib did not appeal his four-game suspension for Adderall use Oct. 13. With one week remaining on his suspension, the Bucs traded Talib and a seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for a fourth-round selection in 2013. …

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Barber says secondary will see what it's made of versus Broncos' Manning

The challenge for the Bucs young secondary will be elevated at least a Mile High when they take on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning Sunday.

Tampa Bay, which is ranked 32nd in the NFL in pass defense by allowing 315.5 yards per game, has been hurt by the trade of Aqib Talib to the New England Patriots and the recurring Achilles injury to Eric Wright, who was inactive in Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Quarterback Matt Ryan passed for 353 yards with a touchdown and interception in engineering his fourth comeback against the Bucs in the fourth quarter or overtime against Tampa Bay.

The Bucs have been forced to start undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson and E.J. Biggers, a seventh-round pick in 2009, at cornerback. Johnson was burned for an 80-yard touchdown pass by Falcons receiver Julio Jones.

Will the Bucs young corners be up to the challenge of facing Manning?

"They have no choice.  It gets no easier,'' Barber said. "You should want these challenges. We'll have a real judge of character after a game like this. We'll see what we're made of.''

Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward said the veteran players have been working to build the confidence of their young defensive backs. …

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