TAMPA — No, your eyes were not failing you when it appeared WR Preston Parker lined up in the secondary on Sunday.
Parker has added safety to his repertoire during recent practices, and the Bucs put his ability to use against the Lions. In the first quarter, Parker lined up in the slot across from star WR Calvin Johnson in what looked like a colossal mismatch.
But rather than drop into coverage, Parker blitzed, got chip blocked and thrown off course, gathered himself and continued to give chase. Eventually, Parker forced QB Drew Stanton out of the pocket. Stanton finally delivered a pass to Johnson, who had run clear across the field. But Parker's pressure, coupled with good coverage from CB E.J. Biggers, resulted in Johnson catching the ball out of bounds.
"I think they just wanted to try something new, and they thought I could get the job done," Parker, a former Florida State standout, said. "They wanted to see what I would do with the opportunity. And I was trying to get to (Stanton). I had two big boys (blocking) me, so I had to try to get through them."
Parker had dropped hints about playing defense to coach Raheem Morris, who eventually took him up on it, using Parker at safety on the scout team during practice. But the call had never come in a game before Sunday.
"Raheem asked me if I thought it was a good idea, and I said, 'Let's go,' " Parker said.
Morris couldn't agree more.
"He got a nice, little rush and got a quarterback hurry," Morris said. "He did a nice job of practicing all week. He made himself versatile where he can play offense and defense. When you get guys on your roster like that, it makes your game day roster a lot easier to make."
It had been a long time since Parker played defensive back. When he did, he claims he was rather good at it.
"In high school, I was a safety," he said. "But in my senior year, I didn't really have to (play there) because a lot of (new players) came to our school, so I could just play receiver."
INJURY UPDATE: RT James Lee (ankle) missed Thursday's practice in pads after participating on a limited basis Wednesday. Morris didn't commit to Lee playing Sunday but said it's possible.
"We've got to get him ready and see where he is (today)," Morris said. "But … it's the next-man-up mentality. We have (Jeremy) Trueblood, and he's fired up to have another opportunity."
Speaking of which, how did Trueblood, a four-year starter, play in relief of Lee on Sunday? Morris didn't give a ringing endorsement.
"He played okay," Morris said. "He had the one (false start) call. He's a little rusty. We have to get him back into the flow of the game. … But right now, he's been getting every practice rep. So I won't be worried about the bright lights getting to him."
TIME TO STEP UP: Morris is looking for improved play from his defensive tackles after miscues and breakdowns resulted in big gains for the Lions. It was the first game the unit played without first-round pick Gerald McCoy.
"It's a continuing growing process," Morris said. "They played hard, and they played pretty good. But it doesn't matter when you have one play and you get out of your gap and it goes for 20 yards and it's a touchdown or you have one play at the end of the game and it goes for a big gain in the two-minute (defense). You have the appearance that you played bad.
"We have to get those young guys to play more consistently."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.