TAMPA — Bucs WR Mike Williams expects to catch any football he gets his hands on — even if he doesn't get his hands on it first.
Such was the case during a two-minute drill that turned into a thrill in Tuesday's practice. Needing a touchdown to win and a field goal to tie with less than a minute left on fourth and 25, QB Josh Freeman lofted a pass over the middle that rookie S Mark Barron caught near his midsection, keeping Williams on his back.
But Williams reached around Barron with both hands and ripped the ball away before crashing to the turf. The gain kept the drive alive, helping set up Kai Forbath's tying field goal in the mock game.
"When we're playing our defense, man, I hate when they win because we go into the locker room and they talk a lot of stuff," Williams said.
"It was fourth down, we needed the catch. I just tried to do what I do best and make a play."
Those types of plays were common for Williams in 2010, when he led all rookies with 11 touchdowns. But last year, unable to train with the team because of the NFL lockout, Williams struggled. He reported out of shape, had three touchdowns and was among the league leaders in dropped passes.
"His work ethic has definitely picked up," receivers coach P.J. Fleck said. "And he's reaping his rewards."
High praise: Backup QB Dan Orlovsky said he has known WR Vincent Jackson for eight years, ever since they played in the Senior Bowl together.
And Orlovsky has been impressed with the work ethic, leadership and ability of Jackson in their first stint as NFL teammates.
"I've had the chance to play with some Hall of Fame receivers," Orlovsky said. "Andre Johnson in Houston, Reggie (Wayne in Indianapolis) and Calvin (Johnson) in Detroit. The similarities between them are scary. There's an unbelievable amount of humility. I say they have talent and perform like they're elite players, but they work like they're undrafted rookies.
"You would never know by the way that they practice that they're the top of the top. They're so committed to their craft. They're so committed to getting better. It's impressive. Take away their physical skills and what they can do and see how they work and it's unbelievable."
Orlovsky said is somewhat surprised by what he has learned about Jackson since the offseason. The reality, Orlovsky said, has been quite different than the reputation that preceded Jackson.
"I kind of heard that he came with some bad reputation or something," Orlovsky said. "After a couple of weeks, I had to ask him, 'Where's that from?' He just kind of gave me a look. I don't see it. He's quickly bought into what we're doing."
REDEMPTION TIME: WR/KR Preston Parker is eager to bounce back from a disappointing exhibition opener Friday in Miami.
He committed a personal foul penalty during a first-quarter touchdown drive and later fumbled a punt.
"You just put it in the tank, gives me fuel to the fire," Parker said.
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Though Parker made a big impact last season, with several key third-down catches among his 40 receptions, he's in a crowded competition at receiver as well as kick returner. The personal foul drew the ire of coach Greg Schiano, who pulled him aside for a "quick talk" on the sideline.
"You've got to think about the team," Parker said. "I was trying to hold it, hold it and I broke. That's what you can't do. He was talking about that, you can't crack and get a personal foul because it hurts the team.
"It's going to get rough between battles, you've just got to be the smart person and walk away from it."
Parker, a former Florida State standout, entered the league as an undrafted free agent and isn't taking anything for granted.
"You've just got to keep focused, knowing that this is not promised to you," Parker said. "Everyday you've got to come out and work."
MEDICAL MATTERS: There's some question over TE Luke Stocker's status. Stocker left Monday's practice early, and watched from the sidelines Tuesday, with Schiano saying he was not feeling well. Schiano would not give details, only that he was scheduled for more evaluation Tuesday. … WR Arrelious Benn (right knee sprain) ran the past few days, but Schiano said he's "probably a few weeks" from returning. Benn suffered the injury on the first day of camp. "We'll see how he progresses, but it's good to have him back out there running," Schiano said. "That's the first step."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.