TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said there would be changes coming out of the bye week and followed through on that statement.

The Bucs shook up their return game Tuesday, signing Trindon Holliday and releasing Solomon Patton. Holliday has appeared in 31 regular-season games and totaled 80 punt returns for 752 yards with two touchdowns and 49 kickoff returns for 1,327 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bucs promoted defensive end T.J. Fatinkun from the practice squad to the active roster. The Bucs also released defensive end Scott Solomon.

The team also signed linebacker Mister Alexander and receiver Marcus Thigpen to the practice squad. Linebacker Shayne Skov was released from the practice squad.

Bucs' Da'Quan Bowers suspended

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers has been suspended two games without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, the league announced Tuesday.

The suspension begins immediately, meaning Bowers will miss the team's upcoming games against the Minnesota Vikings (on Sunday) and Cleveland Browns (on Nov. 2).

Bowers will be eligible to return to the active roster on Monday, Nov. 3.

In his fourth year out of Clemson, Bowers has six tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in five games this season.

He will join suspended Buccaneers fullback Jorvorskie Lane in sitting out Sunday's home game against Minnesota, as well as the game at Cleveland. Lane's two-game ban for violating the same policy was announced last week, when Tampa Bay had a bye.

Lane will be eligible to return to the active roster on Nov. 3 as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here is the latest look at what could turn out to be a banner crop of rookie receivers.

They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game.

Here’s the list of the top-targeted rookie receivers (28 targets needed to qualify):

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (62 targets): He had a monster game in the Bills' 17-16 victory over Minnesota. He was targeted 14 times and caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He now leads all rookies with 35 catches and has 433 yards and four touchdowns. This is the first time he’s topped this list.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (61): He only had three catches for 61 yards on six targets in a 38-17 loss to Green Bay, though one was for a touchdown. He has 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage and TDs lead all rookie receivers.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (52): He had four receptions for 60 yards in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland. One was a 31-yard catch-and-run that resulted in his first career touchdown. He has 34 catches for 371 yards.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (42): Cooks had just two catches for 23 yards in the Saints’ 24-23 loss to Detroit. He has 34 catches for 278 yards and one touchdown.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (40): He had just one catch for 7 yards against the Browns and has 19 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (36): The Eagles were idle. He has 23 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (33): The Buccaneers were idle. He has 21 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

John Brown, Arizona (33): He had a light day in the Cardinals’ 24-13 victory over Oakland, catching just two passes for 41 yards. He has 17 catches for 197 yards and three TDs.

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must fix:

A major reason Tampa Bay's offense ranks 30th in the NFL has been the lack of production from the running game.

Just look at what Doug Martin, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, is doing. Martin, who missed two games with a knee injury, is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. He's gained only 139 yards on the ground, and his longest run of the season went for 19 yards.

A rebuilt offensive line that still is trying to get the proper chemistry undoubtedly is largely responsible for Martin's slow start. Watch the film and you don't see a lot of holes for Martin.

But some of the blame has to fall on Martin because the team's other running back, Bobby Rainey, is faring much better. Rainey is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and he's doing it behind the same offensive line as Martin.

The Bucs have stuck with Martin as their starter, and that may pay off in time. Martin still is a talented runner, and maybe things will open up for him. But the Bucs can't wait too long for Martin to break out of his slump.

If Rainey continues to outplay Martin, it might be time to switch starting running backs.

Buccaneers still in NFC South race

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
TAMPA, Fla. -- They're 1-5, which would have them out of just about every division race.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the NFC South, a division that no one is running away with. The Bucs are only one game behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the win column. And they're not all that far behind division leader Carolina (3-2-1). The Bucs were on a bye Sunday as all three other division teams lost.

"I watched all of the games this week," Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. "I know what happened in our division. I realize how many games we're out of first place. We're in it as much as anyone with our record. That's what we're focusing on. Again, there's life when you take a little bit of time off to not play a game and end up in a better position than when we started the Sunday. We're in a lot better of a position now. We're excited about that.”

The Bucs could be a lot more excited if they could string together some victories. There is no denying their start has been dismal. But the rest of the NFC South has been unable to pull far away from the Bucs.

Tampa Bay didn't help itself by losing to all three division opponents the first time around. But the Bucs might be able to pull back into the division race if they can beat Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans the second time around.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The rumor mill has had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers interested in trading for Percy Harvin and listening to trade offers for Vincent Jackson in recent days.

Harvin ended up being traded to the New York Jets. Jackson still is a member of the Buccaneers. Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that fans shouldn’t buy too much into rumors.

“Just kind of one blanket statement, as I’ve said to you, we’re always trying to improve our ballclub,’’ Smith said. “Teams in the NFL talk each week pretty much. You’re always talking about different guys. If there is a player that’s available, we look at him. Was there a player that was available? No. We’re not looking at players from some other football team.’’

So Smith shot down the Harvin rumor. But what about the report that said the Bucs are getting a lot of calls about Jackson?

“I wouldn’t put too much into what sources said, unless they said ‘I talked with (general manager) Jason (Licht),’ or ‘I talked with Lovie, and they said this.’ I haven’t been looking at a whole lot of news. I didn’t see that. We like our football team that we’re going with and have here right now. We’re not trying to shop any players to answer any questions out there. And if people call about some of their players, we take all calls. We don’t say ‘Nope, this area code, we’re not going to take this call.’ We don’t do that. We listen to what everyone has to say and we go from there. You saw who was on our roster today, and I would just kind of go with that.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time in over a month, Josh McCown practiced Monday. But coach Lovie Smith wasn’t about to say if the quarterback would step back into the starting job.

McCown suffered a sprained right thumb in the Week 3 loss to Atlanta and Mike Glennon has been starting since. There are no official injury reports on Mondays and Smith wasn’t about to break tradition.

“Wednesday I can talk a little bit more,’’ Smith said. “Monday is kind of an extra day. As we talked about (at the start of the season) on Monday practices I’m not going to talk about injuries. That part hasn’t changed. But Wednesday we’ll talk a little bit more.’’

Smith couldn’t have talked less about his quarterback situation. He gave a quick answer when asked how McCown looked.

“He was able to practice and get reps in today,’’ Smith said. “So he’s making progress.’’

You can make an argument that there shouldn’t even be a question that Glennon should remain the starter. The passing game has been much more productive with Glennon than it was with McCown.

But nothing would surprise me on this one. That’s because Smith is big on loyalty. In Chicago, Smith once boosted Rex Grossman into the starting lineup after Kyle Orton had played well in his place.

McCown was Smith’s hand-picked quarterback and he went through the entire offseason and preseason getting all the first-team work. I easily can see Smith going back to McCown. Smith wouldn’t shed any light on his intentions, but he did say the decision will take care of itself.

“I think all decisions are pretty easy in the end,’’ Smith said. “Guys tell you exactly what you need to do, who needs to start, who needs to play. There aren’t any tough decisions in the end, the way I see it. I can’t wait to get to the point where I can come in here and talk to you about both of our guys being healthy and ready to go. The rest of the stuff will take care of itself.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the trade deadline starts to approach, there is always a lot of speculation about possible deals.

Oct. 28 is the deadline and the Buccaneers are getting their share of speculation. NFL Network reported over the weekend that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been fielding a lot of calls about wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

It’s important to note the report said other teams were calling. It did not say the Bucs were shopping Jackson.

On the surface, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to trade Jackson. He’s the team’s best receiver and a captain. He’s respected in the locker room and in the community and seems to be the exact type of player coach Lovie Smith wants on his team.

But it’s not difficult to figure out where the speculation is coming from. Jackson would be a good addition to just about any team, especially one that’s in playoff contention. It’s pretty clear the Bucs probably aren’t going to the playoffs this season.

When a team is in that situation, it is often open to building toward the future, and that’s why Jackson’s name is coming up. He’s 31 years old and the Bucs have his heir apparent in rookie Mike Evans.

The Bucs likely don’t want to part ways with Jackson. But they at least have to listen to what other teams have to offer.

If they can get an early-round draft pick in return, this type of move suddenly could make a lot of sense.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to practice Monday following a four-day break during their bye week.

They’re 1-5 and coming off a humiliating 48-17 loss to Baltimore. But coach Lovie Smith repeatedly has been preaching patience.

“The only message I can give is that it’s seven and a half minutes left to go in the second quarter and we’re behind," Smith said. “We understand that, but the games don’t decide the winner then, you have to play it out and that’s what we’re going to do. What we need to do these next two games -- starting with this next game -- is for us to just get better while we have time this week, which we’re doing. I would tell the fans that we are getting better and look at the overall picture of where we are. We’ve been very disappointed in our play two weeks (against Baltimore and Atlanta), there’s no way to sugarcoat that. The other four games, that was a decent football team that hasn’t figured out how to win consistently yet, but I would say I understand, we’re disappointed right now, but things will change.”

Smith’s optimism is nice. However, fans are getting a little tired of hearing how the Bucs are improving but continue losing. Some things have to change.

Smith has made it clear he’s not going to shake up his coaching staff or switch schemes. That’s good because you can’t make changes like that in the middle of the season.

But I think we’ll see some changes coming out of the bye. The one thing the Bucs can change is personnel. Smith is not going to put a whole new team on the field, but I expect there to be some changes in the starting lineup. There are numerous players who aren’t getting the job done right now. I’m expecting Smith to look at some alternatives.

Why are NFC South defenses so dismal?

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
The NFC South is the worst defensive division in the NFL -- and the metrics tell us it's not even close.

Based on statistical analysis of 10 years of NFL play-by-play data, "expected points" is how many net points the team with the ball at the start of each play is expected to score. The value accounts for factors including down, distance to go, field position, home/away status and time remaining. Offensive and defensive expected points added (EPA) give us the total impact of each play on each team's chances of scoring.

Allowing the offense to convert on third-and-12? Not very good for defensive EPA. Intercepting a pass in the end zone? Much better.

So what does the metric tell us about the NFC South? Through six weeks, the division has four of the five worst defenses in the NFL. NFC South defenses have cost their teams 224.9 expected points, more than twice as many expected points as the AFC South (101.8), the next-closest division.

ESPN Stats & Information pinpointed primary problem areas for each NFC South defense. What solutions, if any, exist? We asked the NFL Nation reporters who cover the division:

The Buccaneers can't stop deep passes.

The issue: Tampa Bay is allowing a staggeringly high 60.7 completion percentage on throws at least 20 yards downfield. This is the worst in the league and would easily be the worst over a full season in ESPN Stats & Info's data set (since 2006). The next-closest team over a full season is the 2010 49ers (53.1 percent).

The solution: The easy target is the secondary, and it should be. The Bucs have a lot invested in the defensive backfield with high-round picks Mark Barron and Johnthan Banks and high-priced free agents Alterraun Verner and Dashon Goldson.

All four have struggled, but it's not necessarily all their fault. This talented group has been hung out in coverage for too long and that's not a healthy situation. The talent is there, but this unit needs more help from elsewhere.

The pass rush, which is supposed to be a strength in a Lovie Smith defense, has floundered. The Bucs have only nine sacks and five of those came in a single game against Pittsburgh. There's talent up front with Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson, but they're not generating enough pressure to slow passing games. The pass rush has to get much better for this defense to have a chance to succeed.

-- ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas

The Panthers can't stop the run.

The issue: No team since the merger (1970) has allowed more yards per rush over a full season than Carolina's 5.5 yards per rush allowed. Tackling has been a significant issue. Carolina is allowing 2.4 yards after contact per rush, which would be the worst of any team in the last five years and worst in the league by far (Rams are second-worst at 2.1).

The solution: Gap control. It's pretty basic: Players aren't sticking to their assignments and are out of position to make tackles. Coach Ron Rivera blames this on players trying to do too much. The loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list, has to be a factor. Hardy was one of the best on the team at stopping the run as well as rushing the quarterback.

Rivera said gap control was outstanding against Cincinnati on Sunday, other than the 89-yard run. Take away that run and a 20-yard scramble by quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals rushed for only 84 yards.

But that long run by Giovani Bernard is the perfect example of why the defense is being gashed. Defensive end Charles Johnson was out of position at the point of contact and linebacker Thomas Davis then missed the tackle. One of the best tackling teams in the league a year ago has become somewhat average.

-- ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton

The Falcons can't pressure anyone.

The issue: Atlanta has controlled the line of scrimmage on 44.8 percent of dropbacks, worst in the league. Atlanta has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 19.5 percent of dropbacks, one of four teams under 20 percent. The Falcons average 1.2 sacks per game (seven sacks this season), ranking 29th in the league.

The solution: The solution would have been to target a pass-rusher in free agency or the draft, which is something the Falcons neglected to do. Watching Chicago's Willie Young and Jared Allen get after Matt Ryan last week made you wonder why the Falcons didn't make a run at one of those two during free agency.

Atlanta figured being stouter up front against the run with the additions of defensive tackles Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, and the multiplicity of playing both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, would resolve matters. Instead, the Falcons find themselves in a bigger hole as one of the league's worst defenses.

Personnel-wise, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan only has so much to work with. He could be more aggressive with his blitz packages, but that's easier said than done. For now, Nolan has to hope that a player such as Jonathan Massaquoi builds off last week, when Massaquoi notched a sack and had two quarterback hits. Veterans Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters also provided some flashes of solid pressure and need to build off their performances. It's hard to see anyone else really emerging as a pass-rusher.

-- ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure

The Saints can't make any impact plays.

The issue: New Orleans has two takeaways this season, lowest in the league. The Saints have six sacks and 23 disrupted dropbacks (sacks plus interceptions plus pass breakups); only the Raiders and Rams have fewer in each. The lack of takeaways is a major contributing factor to the 78.2 QBR allowed by the Saints, 28th in the league. Four of the five QBs who had at least 20 action plays against the Saints beat their season QBR. (Brian Hoyer "only" had a 67.9.)

The solution: It's difficult to pinpoint the primary reason for the Saints' lack of big plays on defense since they've had so many different issues (missed tackles in Week 1, blown coverage assignments in Week 2, poor run defense in Week 4).

But the area that's been the biggest surprise -- and remains the best hope for improvement -- is the lack of pass rush. The secret to the Saints' success on defense last year was being able to consistently generate pressure with just a four-man rush, led by Pro Bowl end Cameron Jordan, outside linebacker Junior Galette and end/tackle Akiem Hicks.

Perhaps offenses have done a better job of game-planning against them with quick throws and double teams. But the Saints simply need to win more battles up front. They showed signs of life with a dominant fourth quarter in their Week 5 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay, led by Galette's sack for a safety. That needs to be the start of more to come.

-- ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett

RB Charles Sims should return soon

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t been getting great production from their running backs, but they could get a boost soon.

Rookie Charles Sims is eligible to return after the Nov. 2 game with Cleveland. Sims has been out all season with an ankle injury that was suffered in the preseason. He was placed on the injured reserve list, but designated to return.

Sims was eligible to begin practicing this week, but he didn’t. When asked if he might return to practice next week, Sims said he hoped so but that decision would be up to the coaching staff and trainers.

Whenever Sims returns, I think we’ll see a healthy dose of him. The Bucs used a third-round pick on him even though they didn’t appear to have a big need at running back. After drafting Sims, the Bucs seemed infatuated with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. They also liked his ability as a runner.

Starter Doug Martin hasn’t put up big numbers. Backup Bobby Rainey had a 100-yard game, but has been quiet the rest of the time. Martin rushed for over 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, but he doesn't have deep ties to this coaching staff and front office.

The Bucs obviously had big plans for Sims when they drafted him. When he returns, I think he’ll take on a big role in the backfield.

Bucs fire Isaiah Harris after arrest

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired director of player development Isaiah Harris on Thursday after he was arrested for driving under the influence.

The 35-year-old Harris was in his first year with the team.

Harris was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge and released on $500 bond. He worked in the Bears' front office when current Bucs coach Lovie Smith coached in Chicago.

Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said in a statement that, "Every member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is held to a high standard. This type of incident, particularly for someone whose primary responsibilities are to mentor and develop our players off the field, cannot be tolerated. Due to the nature of his position and the expectations placed on our staff, we made the organizational decision to part ways with Isaiah."

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Buccaneers at the bye: Coaching

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
It’s the bye week for the Buccaneers, so we’re handing out grades.

We’ve already graded the offense and the defense. Now it’s time for the coaches.

Lovie Smith was seen as a savior by many fans when he was hired in January. But he already has been drawing criticism after a 1-5 start. I say it’s still way too early to judge Smith. It takes time for a new system to take hold. I keep thinking things will turn positive for Smith the way they did for his mentor, Tony Dungy, later in his first season.

Still, it’s hard to overlook what has happened so far. Although his defense has been getting torched, Smith has steadfastly stood by the Tampa 2, even though critics say that scheme is outdated. On offense, the Bucs have been conservative and predictable at times and they struggled to get into a rhythm early in the season.

Speaking of the offense, Smith and the Bucs drew a tough break early on. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford had to have heart surgery at the end of the preseason. He was supposed to come back quickly, but that never happened. Tedford has taken an indefinite leave of absence and the Bucs are going on the assumption that he’s not coming back.

That’s put quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo in a tough spot. He’s only 34 and this is his first year in the NFL. Arroyo has taken on the play-calling duties with the rest of the offensive staff helping out. Arroyo has made the most of his situation and I think his play calling has gotten better since Mike Glennon replaced the injured Josh McCown at quarterback.

But the bottom line is the Bucs are 1-5, which means that the coaching hasn’t been very good. GRADE: D-minus

Buccaneers at the bye: Defense

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their bye week, let’s take a position-by-position look at how they’ve performed so far.

Defensive line. Tackle Gerald McCoy and end Michael Johnson have been playing through injuries. They’ve been decent, but haven’t done anything special. William Gholston moved into the starting lineup at end after Adrian Clayborn suffered a season-ending injury, but hasn’t had a big impact. Tackle Clinton McDonald was supposed to add interior pass-rushing skills, but he’s been quiet so far. The Bucs have only nine sacks. They need to get a lot more active up front for coach Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme to have a chance to work. GRADE: D

Linebackers. Lavonte David has been solid, but he hasn’t been coming up with a lot of big plays. Middle linebacker Mason Foster missed three games with a shoulder injury and that really hurt the defense. Danny Lansanah has been a bright spot. He’s taken the starting job on the strong side away from Jonathan Casillas. Lansanah has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. GRADE: C

Defensive backs. The Bucs have a lot invested in their secondary, but they haven’t been getting much in return. Safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson have been very quiet. Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks have been slightly better, but they’re not coming up with big plays. GRADE: F