MIAMI — Most Bucs fans likely couldn't pick E.J. Biggers out of a photo lineup, but the cornerback boldly introduced himself in Saturday's preseason opener, showing an ability to find the football and the necessary aggressiveness to play in a secondary much like the Bucs have.
Biggers, 23, missed all of his rookie season in 2009 with a preseason shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve, but he had enough time to turn in a strong training camp that left coaches intrigued.
Now the seventh-round pick out of Western Michigan has compounded an impressive camp this year with a memorable preseason debut.
Among his achievements: a team-high four solo tackles, including one for no gain and another for a loss, and a forced incompletion to the Dolphins' new star receiver, Brandon Marshall. Biggers had a fumble recovery when he blitzed from the slot, scooping up QB Tyler Thigpen's mishandled snap.
On that play, Biggers lined up in the same place starter Ronde Barber does in passing situations and was given the go-ahead to shoot into the backfield.
"I love it," Biggers said. "Being in there at the nickel back, it's a great job. I've just been watching the best nickel (cornerback) in the game in Ronde."
With the Bucs seeking a long-term replacement for Barber, they might have wanted to examine how the 6-foot, 180-pound Biggers would handle it.
But the immediate goal is to find a suitable nickel back, and Biggers arguably has taken the lead. His chief competition is Elbert Mack, a third-year player who held the job last season. Third-round pick Myron Lewis is a factor, but his hamstring injury has proved to be a setback. He did not make the trip.
Biggers showed the physical play that coach Raheem Morris seeks from his cornerbacks, displaying a willingness to mix it up with the likes of bruising Dolphins RB Ricky Williams. Biggers dropped the veteran for a 6-yard loss on a pass into the flat in the second quarter. He said his physicality is the biggest difference in his game this year.
"Being physical is part of football," the Miami native said. "So that's what (coaches) wanted me to do, and I had to get better with it."
No Ward worries: RB Derrick Ward was visibly frustrated with his struggles. He finished with 20 yards on 12 carries, a 1.7-yard average.
Ward said his frustrations stemmed more from being forced to run in the muddy baseball infield at Sun Life Stadium (the Florida Marlins share the facility) that was made messier by a downpour early in the game.
Morris, while not offering an indictment of Ward, wasn't interested in excuses. "I think he's just got to go out there and be mentally tough and just go out there and do it," he said. "(Kareem Huggins) went out there and did it with that same unit. So, he's got to find a way to grind through with that same unit as well. … I'm not ready to throw Derrick Ward under the bus until we evaluate the tape and see what was good."
What a mess: After the rain flooded the infield, players said conditions were among the worst they've seen. S Sabby Piscitelli said there were puddles that reached his ankles. "What was that about?" he said. "It was like an ice skating rink."
Bowden debuts: Rookie Brent Bowden had an impressive debut, placing his first punt inside the Miami 10 and later getting the Bucs out of a jam, punting from their own 8 with him near the back of the end zone.
Injuries: WR Maurice Stovall injured an ankle in the first half and was unable to return. He wore a walking boot after the game but said it was precautionary. … CB Darrell Pasco injured his shoulder in the second half and did not return.
(All games on Ch. 8)
Saturday: Kansas City, 7:30
Aug. 28: Jacksonville, 7:30
Sept. 2: at Houston, 8
Sept. 12: Cleveland, 1, Ch. 10
Sept. 19: at Carolina, 1, Ch. 13
Sept. 26: Pittsburgh, 1, Ch. 10
Oct. 10: at Cincinnati, 1, Ch. 13
Oct. 17: New Orleans, 1, Ch. 13
Oct. 24: St. Louis, 1, Ch. 13
Oct. 31: at Arizona, 4:15, Ch. 13
Nov. 7: at Atlanta, 1, Ch. 13
Nov. 14: Carolina, 1, Ch. 13
Nov. 21: at San Francisco, 4:05, Ch. 13
Nov. 28: at Baltimore, 1, Ch. 13
Dec. 5: Atlanta, 1, Ch. 13
Dec. 12: at Washington, 1, Ch. 13
Dec. 19: Detroit, 1, Ch. 13
Dec. 26: Seattle, 1, Ch. 13
Jan. 2: at New Orleans, 1, Ch. 13
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