JACKSONVILLE — When you play defensive back, there will be days like these.
But no defensive back ever gets used to seeing opposing receivers streaking downfield after catching deep balls.
And the Bucs saw it twice in Saturday night's preseason game, when WR Troy Williamson caught a 74-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, followed by a 61-yard gain in the second quarter.
On both plays, miscues and confusion abounded.
On the opening play, the Bucs lined up in a zone coverage, but SS Sabby Piscitelli said he was defending what he expected to be an underneath route. Williamson instead ran a go route and used his speed to run by Piscitelli on the way to catching a beautifully thrown ball.
"I was being greedy," Piscitelli said. "I'll take that one."
Williamson's subsequent catch involved two issues, with CB Elbert Mack — playing press coverage — losing a step on Williamson at the line of scrimmage, then Piscitelli deciding to attempt a play on the ball and not the receiver.
"It was Cover 1, with one high safety," Mack said. "He ran a good post route, got it and took off."
Piscitelli said: "The guy came out of (his break), and the quarterback did a great job. I shouldn't have tried to break on the ball."
Both plays are disconcerting considering the Bucs' progression toward man-to-man coverage and the amount of responsibility now on the secondary.
Things were otherwise steady for the defense, but the two big plays left a distasteful feeling.
Adding injury to insult, Mack, expected to be the nickel back, suffered an ankle sprain that prevented him from returning. X-rays didn't appear to show any damage, however.
WARD WOWS: With RB Earnest Graham out, Derrick Ward got more action throughout the first half, and his performance was impressive. He averaged 8.0 yards (40 yards, five carries), including a smooth, 27-yard side-stepping run in the first quarter.
Ward, who said he was "in a groove," gave his best display yet of his blend of deceptive quickness and speed for a 228-pound back.
"Quickness and speed is part of my repertoire," he said. "But I know how to be a power back, too. I learned that from (former Giants teammate) Brandon Jacobs. But it was good to go out there and showcase my abilities."
Ward's performance with the starting line was encouraging for another reason: After the miscues of last week along the offensive line, which is learning a new blocking scheme, linemen did not seem to repeat the same mistakes this time around.
"We were in synch tonight," he said. "We were down on ourselves last week (in the running game). We didn't feel like we executed. But we came back with a good week of practice, and we did things right in this game. You always develop game to game."
DROPSIES — AGAIN: Drops by the receiving corps were common again, a week after the preseason opener was marred by crucial dropped passes.
Saturday, WR Brian Clark dropped two passes, plays that threaten to set him back after the progress he had made during camp. TE Jerramy Stevens dropped a slant from Byron Leftwich, and WR Maurice Stovall also dropped a ball. Stovall's drop was offset by his five-catch, 42-yard night, which included a 17-yarder that converted a third-and-16.
INJURIES: RB Kareem Huggins suffered a knee injury that did not initially appear serious. LB Jermaine Phillips suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter and left for the locker room, but the team indicated it was not serious. WR Michael Clayton took himself out in the first quarter and did not return, though his injury was not disclosed.
ANYBODY HOME? The Jaguars said 42,177 tickets were distributed for the game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, but there were fewer than that in the 67,246-seat venue.