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Leonard impresses for Bucs

Running back Brian Leonard, described as a “tremendous athlete’’ by coach Greg Schiano, runs drills during Bucs camp.
Running back Brian Leonard, described as a “tremendous athlete’’ by coach Greg Schiano, runs drills during Bucs camp.
Published Jul. 29, 2013

TAMPA — When it came to RB Brian Leonard's 34-yard touchdown in Saturday night's practice, coach Greg Schiano said he had to set the record straight.

Schiano said S Dashon Goldson "was not really happy" with the ruling, believing he put himself in position to make the tackle before the goal line if it had been a full-contact drill.

"He's like, 'Coach, what's up with that?' " Schiano said, smiling. "I think we would have played some more football in that situation."

But Leonard's run displayed the ability and athleticism that could make the former Rutgers star a valuable player as a third-down back or on special teams. Schiano, who knows Leonard well from coaching him in college, says the 29-year-old is a "tremendous athlete." But while Leonard has been in the league for six seasons, he hasn't had a lot of exposure due to injuries and lack of opportunities.

"The good thing is he's a little bit older but he hasn't played so much that he's taken so many cumulative hits," Schiano said. "So I'm really hopeful that he can come in here and contribute with his versatility. If he's in there, you don't know if we are going to run, we're going to pass, is he going to pass protect? That's good when you have a role player that you can't pigeonhole into a role."

Leonard, a second-round pick in 2007, didn't get a lot of carries playing behind Pro Bowl RB Steven Jackson (Rams) then RB Cedric Benson (Bengals) and missed time due to shoulder, knee and foot injuries. But Leonard served as a weapon in passing situations, with 113 catches and was reliable in pass protection, a key for third-down backs.

Leonard said he's feeling healthy and is excited for a chance to contribute, his previous experience with Schiano easing his transition. Though Leonard said the Bucs have "one of the toughest playbooks I've learned in my career," he's getting more comfortable.

The backfield is crowded with rookie Mike James, second-year player Michael Smith and veteran Peyton Hillis hoping to work into the rotation. But during Sunday's practice, Leonard was the running back in the two-minute drill.

"It's great competition out there. It's making us all better," Leonard said. "We've got to fight for jobs out here. No one is guaranteed a job.

"I've got to go out there and fight every day and make this team."

TWO-MINUTE IMPROVEMENT: The Bucs lost three games in the fourth quarter last season — to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles — two coming with opponents in the hurry-up offense. That's why Schiano has identified the two-minute defense as an area to improve.

Sunday, the defense prevailed in both two-minute periods.

"We need to be better in the two-minute defense," Schiano said. "We need to coach better. We need to play better. Everything needs to be better. We also need to be better on two-minute offense. We do that great job at Carolina (scoring late in regulation) to win the game (in overtime). We got a great two-minute offense. We weren't real good in two-minute defense, and so many games come down to that.

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"It's got to be a huge area of improvement. If you looked, we had 20 opportunities in the spring. We did it 20 times. Twenty different situations and we're going to do it again because we need to be better and games come down to that each and every week."

LINING UP: S Ahmad Black suffered a minor ankle injury during Saturday night's practice and was limited Sunday. DE Steven Means tweaked an Achilles but should be okay. G Jamon Meredith is back after missing a few days due to a family issue.

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_JSmith.

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