McDonald Got the Call He Wanted

When Brandon McDonald first arrived at One Buccaneer Place, it was August 20, less than two weeks before the Buccaneers would trim their camp roster down to the regular-season limit of 53 players.  That’s not the ideal situation for making a team, as there is relatively little time to absorb the system and then impress the coaching staff within that system.

And, in fact, McDonald was not retained when the team originally made that cut to 53.  However, he was called back later in the week and was even active for opening day, in part because the injuries to fellow cornerback E.J. Biggers and Anthony Gaitor were lingering.

And that’s how a sixth-year veteran who had been a free agent the entire spring and through most of the NFL’s camp-and-preseason phase was suddenly playing about 40% of the Buccaneers’ snaps as the primary nickel back. Continue reading

Bucs Focus on Pressuring Brees

Tampa Bay’s defense produced a season-high six sacks last Sunday against Philadelphia, accounting for one quarter of its 2012 total in that category.  Against the Saints in Week Seven, that defense failed to pick up a sack, marking just one of four times this season it has been shut out.  This Sunday, the Buccaneers probably need to fall somewhere between those two extremes if they want to avenge their earlier 35-28 loss.

It won’t be easy, though the constant pressure the Bucs put on Eagles QB Nick Foles is definitely a good sign. Continue reading

Looking to Capitalize on Late-Game Opportunities

After their first three drives on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the Philadelphia Eagles hadn’t moved the ball forward an inch against Tampa Bay’s defense.  In fact, they had gone in the other direction, losing a total of six yards on 10 plays on that trio of drives.

Fortunately for the Eagles and rookie QB Nick Foles, and unfortunately for the Buccaneers, their last two drives proved to be much more important than the first three.  Foles led Philly on TD marches of 72 and 54 yards in the game’s final five minutes to pull out a 23-21 victory on the very last play.

Meanwhile the Buccaneers, who have outscored their opponents by 46 points this season and haven’t lost a game by more than eight points yet, are 6-7 and hanging on to a playoff thread because they’ve had more than their share of end-game disappointments.  Sunday’s game marked the third time this year that the Buccaneers have lost on an opposing score in the game’s final 30 seconds. Continue reading

Jackson Pleased by Offensive Adjustments

Through the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense was leading the NFL in points scored on game-opening drives.  In Denver in Week 13, however, the Bucs didn’t reach the end zone until a minute was left in the first quarter.  And on Sunday against Philadelphia, Tampa Bay was shut out before halftime for the first time all season.

And yet it was the Eagles that had to mount a furious rally in the final five minutes of the game to come away with a 23-21 victory.  That’s because, on what would ultimately prove to be a disappointing afternoon for the Buccaneers, the offense was able to overcome a very slow start to find a groove after halftime. Continue reading

Full House for Reunion Sunday

On Thursday, the Buccaneers confirmed that their Week 14 game against the Philadelphia Eagles would be televised locally on WTVT FOX 13.  A potential local blackout had been avoided because the team had sold more than 85% of the general admission seats for the game, and because earlier in the summer it had chosen to take advantage of that new NFL option to reduce blackouts.

There are a limited number of seats remaining for purchase, though it appears as if the rematch of the 2002 NFC Championship Game will draw the Buccaneers’ biggest crowd of the year.  That’s not surprising given that the team is in serious playoff contention with just four weeks left, and because Sunday’s game will double as the 10-year reunion of the 2002 Super Bowl Championship team.

Current Buccaneer players are enjoying the return of their championship predecessors but are not letting it become a distraction in their preparations.  Likewise, while a potentially sold-out stadium would be a positive development for the home team, it’s not something the players are counting on to help them overcome the Eagles.

“You have to look at it as, what can you do,” said QB Josh Freeman.  “Yeah, it gets you amped up and ready to go. You love it when the fans are out there screaming.  But we have to have a singular focus and that’s what’s going on in between the lines.  You can’t let anything distract you.  You just have to push  forward, lock in and execute as well as you possibly can.”

No Rookie Wall for David

The night before the Lavonte David’s Buccaneers played the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished up their regular season in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.  Nebraska won’t play again until January 1, in the Capitol One Bowl against Georgia.

That means if David was still in Lincoln, rather than playing in the NFL as a rookie with the Buccaneers, his season would be essentially over.  In fact, counting the NFL preseason, he has already played three more games than his old college buddies on the ‘Huskers.  This is what analysts call “The Rookie Wall,” that point in a player’s first NFL season where the extra work catches up to him and his production tails off during a month in which he had become used to resting.

If there was a rookie wall in front of David, however, it looks as if he has flown right over it.  Instead of dipping, his production has actually spiked in the second half, and he may be coming off his best game yet in Denver. Continue reading

Foster Celebrates Super Bowl Reunion…Sort Of

Mason Foster was 13 years old and already a big football fan when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.  He was about to enter high school, where he would emerge as a prep star on the gridiron, mostly playing linebacker.

As a nascent linebacker, it’s not surprising that the play he remembers most from that big game in January of  2003 is the one that caused Buccaneers radio man Gene Deckerhoff to exclaim, “There’s the dagger! The Bucs are going to win the Super Bowl!”  With the Bucs holding on to a 34-21 lead with a little less than five minutes to play, linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted a Rich Gannon pass and returned it 44 yards for the title-clinching score.

Yes, Foster, now a Buccaneers linebacker himself, remembers that play.  Just not necessarily fondly. Continue reading

Rookie of the Month Not Playing Like a Rookie

On Thursday, LB Lavonte David became the first Buccaneer ever to win an NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month award.  David took the award for his efforts in the month of December, but truth be told, he hasn’t really felt like a rookie since September.

“The vets have told me I’m not a rookie anymore,” he said.  “Once you get on the field, they say, ‘Hey, all that rookie junk is gone.  You’re  a man now, you’ve got to handle your business.’  And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

David led the NFL with 47 tackles in November, five of which came behind the line of scrimmage.  Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan could have picked David for the award without even seeing those numbers, however.  According to Sheridan, the most impressive part about David’s game so far is how seamlessly he has taken over the job of defensive play-calling.

“I think probably the most pleasant surprise is the fact that he’s been able to handle all the mental stuff,” said Sheridan.  “We all thought he was going to be a fantastic player but you never know until you get him in your system if he can handle it and make calls at the line of scrimmage and notify offensive formations and backfield sets and that kind of stuff.  I’m not shocked that he was doing it but you never know until you put him in the system, and he’s done a fantastic job in that area, outside of being a fantastic player, which he is.”

For his part, David shared the credit for the smoothness of his on-field leadership with his teammates, saying he’s had plenty of help along the way.  He never doubted he could handle the play-calling duties, however, having done the same thing at Nebraska.  He figures he convinced the Bucs’ coaches and scouts of his strong mental makeup before the draft.

“I think they feel I’m a very mature and responsible guy,” he said.  “I had that same responsibility in college and they thought I could turn it over to this level.  I’ve been really working on that, and guys have been helping me since Day One.

“It’s just studying, knowing what you’ve got to do, knowing what the guys are doing around you.  That makes you play your game faster.  It’s breaking down opponents and stuff like that.  All of that ties together and I think I’ve been doing a good job of that.  Guys are still helping me.  Everybody’s working together at it and it’s just working out.”

High Altitude Doesn’t Concern Bucs

Lavonte David didn’t get a chance to play the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder during his two years at Nebraska, but his Cornhuskers did make on trip to play Wyoming in Laramie.  And in terms of altitude, the Cowboys’ home actually has 1,855 miles on Boulder.

So, yes, the Buccaneers’ rookie has actually played in “thinner” air than what he and his new teammates will experience this Sunday when they take on the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field.  David’s recollection of the experience: No big deal.

“It was [difficult] at the beginning, but you get used to it,” he said.  “It wasn’t that bad.  It wasn’t as bad as you think it’s going to be.”

Air at any level of the Earth’s atmosphere has the same amount of oxygen in it, but the lower atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes makes it more difficult for a person to force that oxygen into his lungs.  This can obviously lead to increased breathing and heart rates, quicker fatigue and dehydration.  It stands to reason that the Denver players will be much more acclimated to the environment than will the Buccaneers.

However, nobody in the Bucs’ locker room seems particularly concerned about playing a mile high.

T Donald Penn played his college football at Utah State in Logan, Utah, which has an elevation of 4,535 feet, about a 1,000 feet lower than Denver.  He says the adjustment period should be pretty quick for the visiting team.

“We’ll be ready, we’ll be fine,” he said.  “I’ve played up there before.  The air, once you get used to it real quick, it doesn’t really affect you once you get going.  It might affect you early, but once you get going it becomes natural.”

DE Michael Bennett played in a couple high-altitude stadiums during his days at Texas A&M.  He points out that the team will actually arrive in Denver on Saturday and should be able to get used to the difference in the atmosphere by the next day.

“It’s a big difference, but you’ve just got to get used to it – running in and running out,” he said.  “You’ve got to keep your breath.  You start breathing hard and you can’t have your pants too tight.  But once you get out there and breathe it on Saturday you should feel pretty good on Sunday.”

O-Line Faces Biggest Threat Yet

Five minutes into the second quarter of the Buccaneers’ nail-biter with the Falcons on Sunday, QB Josh Freeman was sacked by blitzing CB Dunta Robinson.  Two plays later, Freeman was sacked again, this time by DE Kroy Biermann.

This was an uncommon experience for Freeman.  Those two sacks, before the second quarter was halfway over, equaled the highest total he had absorbed in any of the Bucs’ previous 10 games of 2012.  It looked like he might be in for a long afternoon.

As it would turn out, however, Freeman would not suffer another sack the rest of the way.  Continue reading