Wednesday Injury Report: Catching a Bug

Tampa Bay’s injury report to open the week of practice leading up to the Denver game was short – that’s what happens when injured reserve claims a handful of players – but it would have been even shorter if not for something apparently going around.  C Ted Larsen was limited on Wednesday and DT Roy Miller did not practice at all due to illness.

Otherwise, the remainder of the Buccaneers’ active roster was able to practice without limits on Wednesday.  That was mostly true for the Broncos, too, as they had just one player sitting out: DE Robert Ayers, and that was not injury related.

Here are the full week-opening injury reports for both teams, though there isn’t much of concern on either list:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Player Injury Practice Status
DE   Michael Bennett Ankle Full   Participation
C   Ted Larsen Illness Limited   Participation
DT   Roy Miller Illness Did   Not Participate
LB   Dekoda Watson Hamstring Full   Participation

 

Denver Broncos

Player Injury Practice Status
DE   Robert Ayers Not-Injury   Related Did   Not Participate
TE   Virgil Green Hamstring Full   Participation
G   Chris Kuper Ankle Full   Participation
DE   Malik Jackson Finger Full   Participation
CB   Tracy Porter Illness Full   Participation
G   Manny Ramirez Back Limited   Participation
WR   Brandon Stokley Wrist/Hip Limited   Participation
WR   Demaryius Thomas Knee Full   Participation

 

Clark, Manning Now on Opposite Sides

From 2003-09, Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark formed one of the most prolific QB/TE combinations in NFL history.  The 44 touchdown passes that Manning threw to Clark were second only to the 45 that Drew Bledsoe tossed to Ben Coates, and from 2007-09 the pair was good for 235 completions, 2,570 yards and 27 scores.

The two might have gone right on racking up such unprecedented numbers if injuries hadn’t intervened.  It started with Clark’s season-ending wrist injury just six games (and another 37 catches and three scores) into the 2010 campaign, which followed his groundbreaking 100-catch effort in 2009.  And it ended – “it” being the NFL partnership of Manning and Clark – when the quarterback’s neck injury led to him missing the 2011 campaign.  The Colts chose to move on, releasing Manning and drafting Andrew Luck, and Clark was one of a handful of accompanying veterans that was let go.

Now Manning is a Bronco and Clark is a Buccaneer, and they’re both doing quite well.  While he hasn’t had much time to dwell on it yet, Clark knows that his years in that shared groove with Manning constituted a one-of-a-kind experience.

“It’s something special,” he admitted.  “It’s unique and it’s definitely something that, as you continue to play and down the road when you’re done playing, it’s one of those things that will be something you’ll look back on and realize how special the situation was that we had.”

Some thought that the Broncos would try to reunite Manning and Clark in Denver, but they went with another ex-Colt, Jacob Tamme, instead.  Still, the two former Colts will get a chance to catch up this Sunday when Clark’s Buccaneers visit Sports Authority Field to take on Manning and company.  It’s a big challenge for the playoff-seeking Buccaneers and Manning, who is third in the NFL with a 104.8 passer rating, is one of the main reasons why.  It hasn’t take Manning long to get comfortable in Denver, and to begin running the Broncos offense with the same total control he had in Indy.  Clark isn’t at all surprised to see his former quarterback making such a swift rebound from his serious neck injuries.

“I would never bet against him on his determination with his rehab,” said Clark.  “Just being around and seeing all of the hard work that he was putting in, you knew he was going to surprise a lot of people.  He definitely gave great commitment and dedication to getting back, and everything that you have to do to overcome an injury as an athlete.  He did that, and did a great job of putting himself in a position to come out and perform the way he wants to.”

Clark also knows that some of his current defensive teammates will be looking to him for clues as to how to defend Manning, but he doesn’t think he’ll be too much help in that regard.  In fact, he would counsel his fellow Bucs to focus on their own preparations and treat this matchup like any other.

“I’ve been on a team where we’ve played other ex-teammates,” said Clark.  “You find a lot of teams try to play the game of…if you give them a few code words or if you give them a few things here or there then that’s all they’re looking for and they’re forgetting to play football.  The main thing I tell them is, just play your game.  Play the scheme, play everything else and just play hard.”

Of course, Clark wouldn’t expect any information he had from his time with Manning to be of much use anyway.  Manning is legendary for playing a mental game with the opposing defense at the line of scrimmage, trying to be the last one to react to the other team’s adjustments.

“There’s not much you can do, because he’s got ways to kind of fool you,” said Clark.  “It’s not worth trying to give them this and that, code words or whatever.  Besides, he’s in Denver now and who knows what they’re running and the code words and all of that.  If he was in Indy, it would be a little bit different, but I don’t know what they’re doing in Denver.”

Point/Counterpoint: Toughest Test Left

There are certain aspects of NFL football in general, and the Buccaneers specifically, on which we can all agree.  Touchdowns are good.  Doug Martin deserves a better nickname.  Derrick Brooks is headed to the Hall of Fame.  Those cannons at Raymond James Stadium are really loud.

Unfortunately, not everything is so cut-and-dried.  Or perhaps we should say fortunately, because half the fun of following a sports team is debating the little things.  Should we go for it on fourth-and-one at the 45?  Should we draft a cornerback or a tackle?  Is “Muscle Hamster” really that bad of a nickname?

With so many debatable topics, it’s time we get into the act here in the Captain’s Blog.  Thus our new feature: Point/Counterpoint.  We’ll pick a topic and two blog contributors will take opposite sides.  In the discussion beneath the article, you can share your own thoughts on which side you support.

Today’s topic: What is the most difficult game left on the Bucs’ schedule as they chase a playoff spot?

I’ll give you first choice, Andrew. Continue reading

Martin Making Pro Bowl Noise

The NFL’s latest update on the fan balloting for the Pro Bowl on NFL.com had the same encouraging news from the one released two weeks ago: Ronde Barber is still the top vote-getter at free safety in the NFC.  If he does earn his sixth trip to Honolulu, the 37-year-old Barber may have a 23-year-old teammate to show around.

Tampa Bay’s rookie sensation, Doug Martin, isn’t the leading vote-getter at running back in the NFC, but he is making a charge at the established guard.  Martin currently stands fourth in the voting behind a trio of backs who have made a combined nine Pro Bowl trips: Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (four Pro Bowls), Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (two) and San Francisco’s Frank Gore (three). Continue reading

Buc Rookies Prominent in Award Races

The Buccaneers have not had a player win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award since 2005, when it went to RB Cadillac Williams.  (Warrick Dunn also won it in 1997). The team has never had a player win the defensive version of that award, at least not the official Associated Press version.  DT Santana Dotson got a nod in that direction in 1992 from two publications that used to give out rafts of awards: Football Digest and College and Pro Football Newsweekly.

There is a very real chance a Buccaneer could take home both of those award in 2012.  At the very least, several Bucs have forced their way into the conversation.

That’s the opinion of SI.com’s Jim Trotter, at the very least.  Trotter has posted his top three front-runners for all of the NFL’s major awards in 2012, and two Buc rookies are prominently featured.  RB Doug Martin is third on his list for Offensive Rookie of the Year, behind the first two picks in the 2012 draft, QBs Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (in reserve order).  On defense, LB Lavonte David is Trotter’s second pick behind Seattle LB Bobby Wagner.

Trotter refers to Martin as “one of the game’s dynamic young players at the position.”  He lauds David not only for his own strong play but for being the Buccaneers’ signal-caller on defense.  Trotter says David “consistently shows up when big plays need to be made.”

Check out all of SI.com’s predictions on the 2012 player awards.  Trotter updates the list every Tuesday (you can see that he had Martin at #1 a week ago), so it’s worth a weekly check.

Bucs Fantasy Brief: Can We Consider Dallas Clark a Fantasy Starter?

Sunday will mark an interesting reunion between two former Indianapolis Colts teammates. Now, playing for different teams, Dallas Clark of the Buccaneers will be facing Peyton Manning of the Broncos for the first time ever.

The duo played pitch-and-catch in Indy for eight years. In that timeframe Clark caught 393 passes for 4,535 yards and 44 touchdowns. From 2007-2009, the heyday of the pair, Clark had 235 catches for 2,507 yards and 27 touchdowns, solidifying him as a must-own fantasy tight end.

So far this season, Clark has not had the fantasy football numbers that he is seen in the past, as he has made a return from two injury-marred seasons. But in recent weeks he has been showing signs of life as the Tampa Bay Buccaneer offense continues to thrive. On the year, Clark has 31 receptions on 45 targets; 11 of those receptions and 15 of his targets have come in just the last two games while he has scored twice in his last three outings.

With defenses planning heavy to stop Doug Martin’s impressive running game, while paying equal mind to the Buccaneers’ receivers that have compiled a league-leading number of receptions of 40+ yards, Dallas Clark has snuck his way into sleeper status in the last two weeks. Continue reading

The Ones to Watch

As we discussed in Monday’s updated look at the NFC playoff race, the Buccaneers are very much in the thick of the Wild Card hunt but the NFC South title is almost out of reach, given Atlanta’s four-game lead with five to play.  That latter scenario actually makes this week’s Thursday night game a pretty easy call for Buccaneer fans: as much as it probably hurts, it makes sense to root for Atlanta to defeat the 5-6 Saints.

We’ll get to the issue of “Who Do I Root For?” regarding the rest of Week 13′s schedule on Friday.  Right now we want to look at the NFC homestretch as a whole and identify the games, outside of Tampa Bay’s own, that are likely to have the most bearing on the Bucs’ playoff hopes.  The Thursday-night NFC South showdown is definitely one of them.

First, here’s how the Wild Card picture in the NFC currently looks after the division leaders Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York Giants:

Team Rec. Conf. Rec.
1. Green Bay 7-4 3-5
2. Seattle 6-5 4-4
3. Tampa Bay 6-5 3-5
4. Minnesota 6-5 4-4
5. Washington 5-6 5-4
6. Dallas 5-6 4-5
7. New Orleans 5-6 3-4

We’ve included conference record in this table because it is the most common tiebreaker in Wild Card situations, and because it is currently the reason that Seattle is holding on to the second spot over Tampa Bay.

Given those seven competitors, here are seven games that Buccaneer fans are going to be watching closely over the next five weeks.  None of Tampa Bay’s own games are included because, well, it’s quite obvious how important those are to the Bucs’ playoff hopes. Continue reading

Reversing the Third-Down Trend

Tampa Bay’s 24-23 loss to the Falcons on Sunday wasn’t final until Josh Freeman’s Hail Mary pass hit the end zone turf after careening through a thicket of red and white jerseys.  The Bucs were forced into a very low-percentage situation by that point, however, with the real final blow coming about a minute and a half earlier on the fourth-quarter game clock.

Immediately after the two-minute warning, the Falcons ran Jacquizz Rodgers to the left and he was stopped after a gain of one yard by Adam Hayward.  The Bucs used their first timeout with 1:55 left on the clock, with the Falcons facing a third-and-five at Tampa Bay’s 37.  At this point, a pass had a much better chance of converting the third down and allowing the visitors to drain most of the rest of the clock, but it also could be a big gift to the Buccaneers if it proved to be a clock-stopping incompletion. Continue reading

Barth Appreciates Schiano’s Belief in Him

With three-and-a-half minutes left in Sunday’s NFC South showdown with the Falcons, Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano sent his kicker, Connor Barth, out to try a 56-yard field goal in hopes of taking a 26-24 lead.

Barth’s kick came up short and the Buccaneers were unable to get the football back with enough time left to do anything but try a Hail Mary as the clock ran out.  While acknowledging after the game that there were other options discussed on the Bucs’ sideline at that point, with the ball at the Atlanta 38 and the offense facing a fourth-and-seven, Schiano said he would make the same decision if given a second chance.

And Barth says he would make it. Continue reading