TAMPA — As Bucs head coach and offensive play-caller, Dirk Koetter has much to juggle on the sideline during games. His simplest decisions — to run, to throw — place the proverbial devil on one shoulder and angel on the other.
"Little Dirk, sitting right here on my shoulder," he said of the voices he hears, even when his assistants aren't talking on the headset. "Little Dirk on this side, Big Jim here."
Koetter's father, Jim, is retired from a high school and college coaching career in Idaho. Koetter joked that his father would say "whatever is the opposite of what I say."
Koetter said he has the same freedom now that he had last year, insisting that former coach Lovie Smith left the offense in his hands last year when he was the coordinator.
"I asked him sometimes what he wanted to do, but never did Lovie dictate what we were doing on offense," he said. "I keep saying that, and you guys don't believe me. Coach Smith was a tremendous head coach to work for as an offensive coordinator. He set parameters and stuck to those parameters."
HEALTHY RETURN: Starting C Joe Hawley, held out of Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury, was back at practice in a limited capacity Thursday, an encouraging step for him to play Sunday against Denver. He missed only one play against the Rams last weekend after a lineman landed on one of his ankles from behind. Four players remain out and are unlikely to play for the second week in a row: RB Doug Martin (hamstring), DE Robert Ayers (ankle), TE Luke Stocker (ankle) and WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring).
BOUNCING BACK: Rookie Roberto Aguayo, who missed an extra point and a field goal in Sunday's 37-32 loss to the Rams, had an encouraging practice, going 6-for-6 on kicks at the end of drills. "That's probably the best he's hit the ball in two weeks," Koetter said. "It's ongoing … still have faith in him."
STEPPING UP: Koetter said he's pleased by third-year pro Kevin Pamphile, who has played well starting at left guard while J.R. Sweezy is sidelined with a back injury. Sweezy will be out at least two games before he can return from the physically unable to perform list.
"Kevin's getting better every week," Koetter said. "We've said for the longest time that we would be fine if Kevin was starting on our offensive line, and that has proven to be true. That whole J.R. Sweezy thing is unfortunate. We wish we had him out there."
FIRST TASTE: Rookie S Ryan Smith played six special teams snaps Sunday in his NFL debut after being inactive for two games. "It was a very cool feeling, a blessed feeling," Smith said. "I'm making the best of my opportunity, but I've got more to do." Smith suffered a hand injury in the final preseason game. The Bucs' backup safeties haven't played much. Third safety Keith Tandy has played 25 defensive snaps in three games.
Contract Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.