TAMPA — As the Bucs began on-field preparation for their first game at Raymond James Stadium in seven weeks, coach Bruce Arians gave his road-weary team a lighter practice than normal on Wednesday.
The session mirrored a walk-through session the team would have before a Thursday night game, and Arians believed the adjustment was necessary.
"The travel, the extra plays in the ballgame, all those things, we're a little bit tired so we made sure this was more of a mental practice," Arians said.
The Bucs' haven't played at home since Sept. 22. Since then, they've made two west-coast trips to Los Angeles and Seattle and one to London for a "home" game.
"Just a big mental day, allowing us to regroup and get our feet up under us," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We still had to really focus and have a good mental day and I think we did."
Arians said last week that he was most concerned about how the team would respond to a 6 1/2-hour cross country flight to Seattle. The Bucs traveled eight hours to London last month, but also had an open week after that to recover.
Injuries to outside linebackers Carl Nassib and Anthony Nelson early in Sunday's game forced starters Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul to play 99 and 96 percent of defensive snaps, respectively, another reason Arians gave the team an easier day before going back to a regular practice routine on Thursday.
“I really think he did that because of the defense, because we were out there (so much) and guys went down,” Pierre-Paul said. “But it don’t stop. We’ve got eight more games. Ain’t nothing impossible to do.”
Wells serves as unique extra blocker
With the Bucs thin at the tight end position on Sunday — O.J. Howard was out, Cameron Brate was limited and Antony Auclair exited the game early with an injury — the Bucs used tackle Josh Wells as an extra blocker for seven plays in the second half to supplement the running game.
In those seven plays, the Bucs ran for 21 yards, including an eight-yard end around run by Chris Godwin. Ronald Jones ran for 13 yards on five carries.
Wells said that he practices the plays during the week, even a play that the Bucs employed using him as a fullback in the backfield.
“Most of my time in Jacksonville, I was a swing man, so whenever they would do jumbo on the goal line or short yardage, I would kind of fill in that spot,” Wells said. “It was good to be back out there trying to help the team in.”
And even though the Bucs expect to get Howard back this week following his two-week absence, the loss of Auclair — who is arguably the team’s top blocking tight end — for the season could signal more of Wells as an additional blocker.
Sam Acho brings pass rush help
Injuries are piling up for the Bucs at outside linebacker, where both starter Carl Nassib (groin) and rookie Anthony Nelson (hamstring) were unable to finish Sunday’s game in Seattle. Arians said Nelson will likely be out this week versus the Cardinals.
That’s why the Bucs signed outside linebacker Sam Acho, who played for Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Arizona. Acho was released by the Buffalo Bills at the start of the regular season and just hoping for another chance.
"It’s obviously it’s good to be back with coach (Bowles) and B.A., guys I played with in Arizona for my last two years there,'' Acho said. "So a lot of the stuff is familiar. It’s obviously good to be back on the football field. I’ve been training pretty hard. I’ve been in Buffalo training at the University of Buffalo...it’s been awesome so I’m in great shape and ready.''
Acho, 31, who played eight seasons for the Cardinals and Bears, said it was tough being out of the league.
"People talk about the NFL standing for Not For Long,'' Acho said. "Injuries happen so you have to be ready. A couple guys went down. I’m glad to be here. Obviously, it’s an unbelievable opportunity and it feels like a good fit … anyone who goes through any kind of transition knows what’s like to go from one job to another or have a job and not have a job and not know what’s going to happen next. For me, it was just a huge opportunity to trust God.''