While we're up in Ohio for Derrick Brooks' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but to make the trip worthwhile, we hurried up to Berea this morning for Browns practice, to bring back a feature on rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
While we were up there, we had a chance to talk with Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who was a coveted free agent this spring but was transition-tagged by Cleveland, which matched an offer and signed him to a five-year, $42-million contract. Mack has two strong ties to the Bucs offense -- he played for Jeff Tedford at Cal from 2005-08, and his line coach the last five years in Cleveland was George Warhop, now with the Bucs.
"We had a pretty complicated offense at Cal, which prepared me well for the NFL," Mack said. "A lot was demanded of us. I think that speaks a lot for how intelligent he is about offense. He knows what he's doing. I had a great time at Cal."
Mack said the best part of playing line in Tedford's offense was how smart the playbook was, diverse enough to have a play ready to exploit any weakness that would be spotted, either in preparation for a game or even during it. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Bucs kicker Connor Barth is back healthy after missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon, and he's getting used to minor tweaks that all NFL kickers will encounter in coming weeks.
First, the NFL has extended the goalposts to make them five feet taller -- from 30 to 35 feet above the crossbar -- which can create the perception of them being narrower from a distance.
"It's good. It's different. I like it though," said Barth, who has felt like 100 percent since offseason drills started in spring. "I think it helps us ... if anything, you kick a better ball because you can focus on a higher target. The first day, it (seemed) a little bit skinnier, but I've gotten used to it. It hasn't been much of a difference. You get used to everything."
In the first two weeks of the NFL preseason, the league will experiment with longer extra points, with the ball being snapped from the 15-yard line for what amounts to a 33-yard field goal. Barth went 10-for-11 on field goals shorter than 40 yards in 2012. …Full Story
With corners Alterraun Verner (hamstring) and Rashaan Melvin (ankle) limited in the first week of preseason camp, the Bucs have signed a cornerback for the second time in three days, adding former Missouri cornerback Kip Edwards.
Edwards, 24, takes the roster spot of former Bucs guard Carl Nicks, who was officially released Wednesday, unable to return to football after a toe injury related to a MRSA infection last year. Edwards was undrafted in 2013 and has quickly made the rounds -- cut by the Bills at the end of camp last year, then a brief stint on the Browns' practice squad, then finishing the year on the Vikings' practice squad. They signed him to a futures contract after the season but cut him in June -- the Bucs and Chiefs brought him in for workouts during minicamps but didn't sign him from there.
Edwards had five interceptions in four season at Missouri, with three fumbles recoveries and six tackles for loss as a senior in 2012. The Bucs brought back corner Anthony Gaitor on Monday to address the depth concerns while Verner and Melvin are sidelined, so the lesser of Gaitor and Edwards could be cut once the Bucs have a healthy secondary again. …Full Story
KENT NISHIMURA | Times
Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner watched Monday's practice to rest a hamstring injury.
Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner, among the team's top free-agent additions this offseason, watched Monday's practice to rest a hamstring injury, but he said it's just normal "nicks" from camp and he's no worse than "day-to-day."
With Verner out, the Bucs had returning starter Johnthan Banks and free-agent signee Mike Jenkins working as first-team corners. But the injury, combined with another ankle injury to second-string corner Rashaan Melvin, was enough that the Bucs signed Anthony Gaitor, who had been released in May, then again by the Dolphins in June after signing there.
"When we released Anthony, I told him it was a numbers game. 'We may end up calling you back. Stay ready,'" coach Lovie Smith. "He never really got a true chance to show what he can do. He's back, made a couple of plays, of course a pick-six (in 7-on-7 drills) out there. We're taking note."
Gaitor, who had a combined 12 tackles with the Bucs in 2011-12 but missed last season with a torn ACL, said he was working out in south Florida on Sunday when he noticed a missed call -- his agent, telling him to hurry to Tampa and rejoin the team. …Full Story
The Bucs have added two players in advance of the team's fourth preseason practice, bringing back defensive back Anthony Gaitor and signing undrafted rookie defensive tackle Jibreel Black of Michigan.
To open up spots for the two new players, the Bucs have cut two undrafted rookies who faced long odds to make the 53-man cut: former Cal running back Brendan Bigelow and former N.C. State receiver Quintin Payton.
Gaitor, who missed last season with a torn ACL, was cut by the Bucs in May, picked up by Miami and released by the Dolphins in June. The former Florida International player had 12 tackles with Tampa Bay during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He'll join the competition in a deep secondary.
Black, who was invited to rookie minicamp with the Steelers but wasn't signed, had 7.5 tackles for loss at Michigan last season. He'll compete with another undrafted rookie, Georgia Tech's Euclid Cummings, and second-year pro Matt Masifilo for the team's No. 4 defensive tackle job.Full Story
Bucs S Mark Barron says he still is not 100 percent after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in Jan.
Barron said the procedure was needed to remove some cartilage from his knee, an injury that he sustained during a collision with Panthers receiver Steve Smith in the first meeting against Carolina Oct. 24. Barron missed all of the Bucs' off-season work but has been starting with the the team's No. 1 defense during training camp.
"No, I don’t quite feel like I’m 100 percent yet. I’m feeling pretty good, but I wouldn’t say I’m 100 right now,'' Barron said Sunday. "I can’t tell you (when I will be 100 percent). I’ve just got to come out here and keep working and hopefully I’ll be ready before the first game.
“I had a surgery on my right knee back in January. It was a knee scope, it wasn’t anything major. I’ve just been working on that since January. I’ve just been easing back into it. That happened the first game against Carolina. I bumped knees with Steve Smith and I chipped some cartilage and just had to deal with it the rest of the year and got it fixed right after the season.''
TAMPA -- Leonard Johnson does not think of himself as the Bucs' starting nickel defensive back.
Especially with the release last week of veteran D.J. Moore, Johnson could have the confidence of being the man to beat at nickel -- at a job he held last season for the Bucs -- but he does not allow himself to presume anything.
"It's not even on my mind," the Largo High graduate said, still driven by the hunger of a player who made the Bucs two years ago as an undrafted rookie out of Iowa State, then had 41 tackles that first season. "Everybody in this league is good. You let one guy go, but there's 89 other guys on the team, everybody just fighting for a roster spot. I'm doing that."
Johnson, still just 24, played on 65 percent of the Bucs' defensive plays last year, finishing with 62 tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown for the second year in a row. With a change in coaches in the offseason, he had to prove himself again, but to hear Lovie Smith, he's made a strong first impression. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Defensive end Michael Johnson, who had the biggest contract in the Bucs' offseason free-agent frenzy, has a personal goal for 2014, and it's something the Bucs haven't seen in quite a while.
"I'd like to get back to double digits," Johnson said Saturday of his goal for sacks in his first season with Tampa Bay. "That's the plan. I don't see why not. That's definitely the plan, and that's what's going to happen."
The Bucs haven't had a player reach 10 sacks in a season since Simeon Rice did in 2005 -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy just missed with 9.5 last season. No NFL team has gone so long without a player getting 10 sacks -- 24 of the league's 32 teams have had a 10-sack season in the last two years.
Johnson had 11.5 in 2012 in a breakout season with the Bengals, then had just 3.5 sacks last year. He said the difference is being able to finish plays, if only a few times each game. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Safety Dashon Goldson, held out of offseason drills as he recovered from foot surgery, has opened the first two practices with the No. 1 defense but has also watched much from the sidelines, easing himself back into full speed.
"They've got me taking baby steps, of course, but it felt good to be out here, running around a little bit," said Goldson, who said he dropped 10 pounds in the offseason, one of several players to come in lighter. "I'm looking forward to getting in shape and definitely being out there the whole practice."
The Bucs had another veteran safety, Major Wright, lined up alongside Mark Barron with the No. 1 defense most of the day, and Goldson said he's been pleased by his progress preparing for the season.
"I'm excited," he said. "The trainers here have been doing a good job with me. They're taking their time but definitely pushing me at the same time. I think I'm on track to be there, especially the first game, full speed."
Coach Lovie Smith said he'll be careful in adding more repetitions to Goldson, with two weeks before the preseason opener at Jacksonville and six weeks until the regular season starts against Carolina. …Full Story
TAMPA -- After months of waiting, the Bucs gathered in the end zone for their first practice Friday afternoon at One Buc Place, then broke the team huddle to the cheers of fans in the stands.
And 10 minutes later, alarms sounded for nearby lightning, sending the team inside for an hour and 50 minutes. The team returned, again to fans' delight, only to be sent in 40 minutes later by more lightning, ending their first day early.
Late-afternoon rains, a staple of summer in Florida, aren't going to change Lovie Smith's plans, which call for 4:30 starts for seven of the 14 remaining practices.
"That's not an ideal first day for us," said Smith, who is preparing his team for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff in Tampa for the team's season opener Sept. 8 against Carolina. "When we play Carolina, we could get a rain delay. You have to be able to go in and then come back out."
Smith likes having an early walkthrough practice, sharp minds for team meetings, then a practice under similar conditions to the Bucs' first two games. And the Bucs won't be in pads for full-contact drills until Sunday, so Smith isn't fretting missing part of a non-contact practice. …Full Story
The Bucs' offensive linemen spoke with great respect for Carl Nicks after news that he and the team were parting ways, but at the same time, the remaining guards have confidence that they can step up as part of an improved Bucs line.
"Our group, we're not even sweating it," said Jamon Meredith, who opens preseason as the starting left guard after starting 20 games the last two seasons. "We're going to miss Carl a lot. We like him as a player, we like him as a guy. I think y'all are going to be a little bit more panicky than we're going to be. ... We've lost Carl a few times in the past and we were able to bounce back. It's one of those unfortunate things, but I think we're built ready, built to bounce back from this."
Meredith and fellow veteran Oniel Cousins have the first shot at starting guard jobs, but rookie Kadeem Edwards and second-year pro Patrick Omameh are also competing. The line has three entrenched starters in center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackles Anthony Collins and Demar Dotson. …Full Story
A half-hour after the first practice of preseason started, the Bucs announced that they have "mutually agreed to part ways" with former Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who has been sidelined with a toe injury.
"I'd like to think the Buccaneers organization for working with me as I have attempted to get myself back on the football field," Nicks said in a statement. "However, after careful consideration, I have made the decision to step away from the game. This was by no means an easy decision, but I believe that it was what is best for me and my family, as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Saints, signed a five-year, $47.5-million contract with Tampa Bay in 2012 but played only nine games in two seasons with the Bucs. He had been given an excused absence from the first two days of camp. He was limited last year by a MRSA staph infection in his toe, and he had not practiced with the team in the offseason. …Full Story
Soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, already a busy man in his retirement, has added another job to his work week, announced Friday by the NFL and NFLPA as a new appeals officer for the league.
Brooks, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week in Canton, will serve as an arbitrator for on-field discipline against players, deciding appropriate punishment for fines levied for actions during games. He replaces former Vikings star Matt Birk, and will be one of two appeals officers, along with former NFL coach Ted Cottrell.
Brooks already has plenty on his plate, working as president of the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm, with the Tampa high school that bears his name and other work with his foundation.
"Derrick views this game with a very unique understanding as both a player and a team president," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "His review of appeals will be informed by experience as a player and as an executive." …Full Story
The Bucs made two transactions Thursday as players reported for the start of training camp, claiming linebacker Brandon Magee off waivers from the Browns and placing defensive end Ronald Talley on the non-football injury list.
Magee, 23, played collegiately at Arizona State and played in eight games with Cleveland last year, totaling five tackles. He's the second linebacker added by the Bucs in as many days, joining undrafted rookie Jeremy Grable of Valdosta State.
Talley, who played three years with Arizona, is competing for a backup defensive end job and was signed by Tampa Bay last month. His agent declined to comment on any specifics of his injury when reached Thursday afternoon. It's unknown how long he'll be sidelined.Full Story
TAMPA -- It was barely 7:15 a.m. Thursday when Gerald McCoy walked up to One Buc Place, reporting for training camp in a red robe and slippers like a kid on Christmas morning.
Many players had already arrived before sunrise, and if it seemed like the Bucs couldn't wait for their first camp under Lovie Smith, well, they weren't the only ones.
"I know I'm not jumping up with pompoms right now, but believe me, I've seen this day for a long time," Smith said. "We have. There's a lot of us excited about getting out there on the football field."
The team's first practice won't come until Friday afternoon -- fans can watch at 4:30 p.m. at One Buc -- and the team won't be in full pads for a few days, with the Bucs' regular-season opener still more than six weeks away. But with nearly seven months of buildup since Smith's hiring started a busy offseason of change, the start of camp brought a welcome end to so much prologue. …Full Story