TAMPA — As expected, Joe Hawley will open the season as the Bucs' starting center, beating out fellow veteran Evan Smith, coach Dirk Koetter said after Friday's practice.
"I think it would be fair to say we feel like we have two starting centers,'' Koetter said, two days before the season opener at Atlanta. "In this particular case, because we did have some injuries in fall camp, could Evan Smith's versatility have worked against him? Yes. There were days where he had to play starting guard at both sides and Joe's the center. Both those guys are going to play throughout the season."
Hawley joined the team in Week 2 last season after being cut by the Falcons, and when Smith injured an ankle that week, Hawley stepped in and held the job the rest of the season. Smith returned healthy last year and stepped in as the starting right guard for three games after Ali Marpet was injured.
SILENT TREAtMENT: The Bucs' best performance of the preseason came when they went with an uptempo, no-huddle offense against the Browns. QB Jameis Winston was 16-of-25 for 259 yards and two touchdowns for a 27-3 first-half lead en route to a 30-13 victory.
But communication could be a problem Sunday at the Georgia Dome, and Koetter warned that might limit the number of opportunities in the no-huddle offense. "It's definitely harder on the road," he said. "That's always one of the things that comes into consideration when we're playing on the road is how much no-huddle will we do."
The Bucs worked extensively in the offseason on hand signals and silent snap counts, but they could do little to simulate opening day noise on the road. "We have them crank up the music and everything when our offense has the ball," Koetter said. "We try to work in noise. But preseason noise, practice music, that's not the same as 70,000 (people)."
HAPPY HOMECOMING: Rookie RB Peyton Barber, promoted to the active roster after an injury to backup Mike James, will have a special homecoming Sunday. The game will be played not far from his hometown, Alpharetta, north of Atlanta. "Definitely high emotion," said Barber, who grew up cheering for QB Michael Vick when he was with the Falcons.
Barber made headlines at the NFL combine when he said that his mother, Lori, was homeless. He has since clarified that she has been living with his sister near Atlanta. Being able to provide a better life for Lori has been Barber's motivation. He missed the Bucs' initial cut and was signed to the practice squad, which generally pays $6,900 a week. Being promoted to the active roster, he will make $26,470 a week.
Lori and his dad, Ken, will attend the game, and Barber is working on getting tickets for other family members and friends.
Being active as the No. 3 back likely means a role on special teams for Barber, with limited playing time on offense unless Doug Martin or Charles Sims gets injured. "I don't think I've made progress in just one spot," said Barber, who had a team-high 99 rushing yards in the preseason, albeit with an average 2.5 yards per carry. "I think I've made it in every (spot), whether it's running the ball, pass protection, picking up the plays quicker."
BACK AGAIN: Rookie TE Danny Vitale, cut twice in the past week, was signed to the practice squad. He replaces WR Evan Spencer, who retired at age 23.
Vitale, a sixth-round pick out of Northwestern, was among the Bucs' final cuts last weekend to set their initial 53-man roster. He was claimed off waivers by the Bills, who waived him after he failed a physical. His agent said the Bills diagnosed a torn labrum from an injury two weeks earlier that the Bucs had seen as only a mild joint sprain.
Spencer had made the initial 53-man roster after injuries to four other receivers, but he was cut to make room for free agent Cecil Shorts this week. Spencer had cleared waivers and was signed to the practice squad but decided to retire. He is the son of running backs coach Tim Spencer.
The Bucs were expected to make another move, with LB Josh Keyes being promoted to the 53-man roster to provide depth with rookie Devante Bond out with a hamstring injury.
INJURY REPORT: Bond is listed as out on the final injury report. TE Luke Stocker (back) and S Ryan Smith (hand) were listed as questionable; both practiced Thursday and Friday. Former Bucs S Dashon Goldson (hamstring) is questionable for the Falcons.