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Defensive line has been a key to Bucs’ improvement so far

The improvement of the Tampa Bay Bucs’ defense through two games is no accident, says under tackle Gerald McCoy.

McCoy pointed to the newcomers up front who have led the way.

“We brought in some guys,” McCoy said. “Robert Ayers is a vet and [has] got a lot of experience, really good player. He has a lot of nastiness to him, which helps us out a lot when we’re preparing in meetings, individually, and getting ready to go against other teams.

“And then Noah Spence is coming along strong. Clinton McDonald is Clinton McDonald; we call him ‘The Hammer’ for a reason. So guys are developing. Will Gholston is really having a good camp, he really is. And Coach (Mike) Smith’s scheme is great, man, It leaves opportunities for everybody to make plays.”

McCoy likes having other vets on defense for the team to lean on.

“Having more vets, instead of just being the one, having more people to go to — and even for me, because Daryl Smith is like 100 years old. So I can go to him, he’s got a lot of experience, and he’s been in this defense before, so he’s really, really big for us,” McCoy said.

McCoy said the goal is for all 11 players to move as one.

“Yeah, like I [was] just asked, that defense you [saw] with Denver last year and that 2002 Bucs defense, they were — let’s take away all of the Hall of Famers on the defense and just look at how 11 people, when the ball moved, 11 moved as fast as they could to wherever that ball is at,” McCoy said. “That’s where we’re trying to build ourselves on. If we’re out of place, it doesn’t matter if we’re out [of] our gap, if you get out [of] your gap, you turn, and you go as fast as you can. Because we had a play against Jacksonville [where] Gholston got out of his gap, fell on the ground, popped up and made the play like 10 yards down the field. You ask what our identity [is], that’s what we have to be.”

Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said the team did OK in its practices against the Browns.

“I feel like we did an OK job,” McDonald said. “We’re never satisfied if we’re not on the field showing greatness. So we did OK in certain aspects. In certain aspects, we have to straighten up and get our act right. But for the most part, I feel like every day’s a learning process, every day you’re either going to get better or get worse, so we’re striving every day to get better.”

Head coach Dirk Koetter said the offense struggled against another team for the second straight week.

“We had balls tipped; we had poor throws, and we had bad protection. Bad combination,” Koetter said. He said place-kicker Roberto Aguayo continues to struggle.

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Bucs prepared to work against Cleveland’s 3-4 defense

The Cleveland Browns, like the Tampa Bay Bucs, have struggled in recent seasons.

So what can the Browns offer the Bucs in this week’s shared practices?

Start with alignment. The Browns use a 3-4 defense, which will be a new sight for the Bucs. The 3-4 is a different defense to block, and different for a quarterback to read.

“Cleveland is a 3-4 defense and we’re going to see like eight 3-4 teams over the course of the year, so two extra days of working against a 3-4 are huge and then they’re a zone-read team on offense,” Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter said. “That’s not all they do, but over the first couple of games they’ve probably averaged, I’ll say, six or seven zone-read plays a game where the first two teams (we played), not so much. And we need to see zone-read for down the road when we play teams like San Francisco and Seattle and Carolina, of course. Each team is a little bit different, but just playing and working against different guys is good.”

 Koetter said that playing against a 3-4 team requires more game-planning.

“We run some stuff that we want to work on for 3-4 teams, but game planning is serious business,” he said. “I probably spend, on a real week, I probably spend close to 40 hours working on a game plan. I just don’t have 40 hours, none of our coaches do right now and things are changing. A lot of your regular game planning is key to specific personnel, and when they’re playing three-deep, like we may want to attack X, Y and Z. X in the pass game, Y in the run game, Z on the perimeter. But now those guys play two series, well it just doesn’t make sense to game plan, you don’t have time, you’ve got other stuff going on. Our game plans are much more detailed and that’s why, as we talked about the other night, preseason is a catch-22. You want to win because they’re keeping score, but at the same time, the preseason was set up to evaluate your team to how you’re going to get from 90 down to your final cuts, your 53, that’s what it was set up for. I’ve been game planning for 35 years, I don’t need to practice game planning.”

For the Bucs, there are different rules to attack the defense.

“Yeah, every year you have basically what you’d call your even front rules and your odd front rules,” Koetter said. “So we’re working a lot on our odd front rules on plays. And one thing Cleveland does that makes it challenging is they’ll mix back and forth – even within a series, they’ll switch back between even and odd. So that’s one of the problems a 3-4 presents for an offense, is they make you be on top of your communication. You’re not always blocking the same rules. Typically the outside linebackers in 3-4 are really just big defensive ends, so in pass protection you’re trying to keep your backs from not having to block those guys. You want to make your calls so that your linemen are blocking those outside backers and your backs are responsible for the inside guys. In a 4-3, you’re fine. Look at (linebacker) Lavonte David as our outside linebacker and from a size standpoint, we’d be fine with our back blocking a size guy like that.”

Koetter praised rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, who had two interceptions Saturday night.

“Thinking about moving him to receiver,” Koetter said. “Those were two great catches, two beautiful plays. His range on the one when he was at nickel, you’re not going to see many – well, [cornerback] Brent Grimes might argue – but you’re not going to see a whole lot of better catches than those two.”

Koetter said those were the kinds of plays that undersized corners have to make.

“They have to have good ball skills, and our guys do,” Koetter said. “They have to be explosive to the ball, and our guys are. Like we said before, they’re not going to grow, we’re not going to change them out at this point, our corners are who they are. We’re happy with them, we like what they’re doing but they’ve got to be able to go get the ball. I think that Grimes, there [were] two examples in the Jacksonville game, and both times he should’ve had safety help but he didn’t, the safety got out of position.”

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Slow starts bothering Tampa Bay Bucs after two games

Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter’s team needs to be better at the start.

That goes for quarterback Jameis Winston.

And for kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Heck, for the Bucs in general.

Oh, make no mistake. The Bucs had their share of good glimpses for the season to come in Saturday night’s 27-21 victory over the Jags. The secondary had four interceptions, and there were fewer penalties and fewer dropped passes.

There was good. There was bad. The Bucs won. But the Bucs didn’t look crisp enough to make you think the team would be significantly better. All of which leaves Koetter trying to figure his team out.

“Defensively, the positives: Four turnovers, of course we’d take that every week. We handled sudden-change situations well when our offense turned it over a couple times,” Koetter said. “We did a good job in two-minute drives, got interceptions, really, in both two-minute drives. So those were three positives. The negatives: Our first group did not play as well. They just weren’t as consistent, maybe not as physical, not as detailed. Our red zone efficiency was not where it needs to be. And we didn’t pressure the quarterback like we’d like to do.”

“Offensively we did play more physical than we did the first week. We ran the football. Everybody was worried about the run game; we ran for over 150 yards. And we did a good job of reducing our penalties.”

Koetter said his team has to get off to a better start.

“It is two weeks in a row in the preseason with this year’s group that offensively we’ve started slow.” Koetter said. “That’s just a fact; it’s happened. How are we going to fix it? If I knew that, it would be easy to do. I don’t know that exactly. We’ve got to talk to them about it, we’ve got to emphasize it. I think more than anything, we’ve got to get Jameis off to a quicker start. He just started real slow last night.”

Winston seemed more out of rhythm than he did in the first preseason game (when he hit seven of nine).

“I don’t know about the rhythm part, but he wasn’t as accurate as he needs to be,” Koetter said. “He missed a couple throws. The one to Vincent (Jackson), the fade ball down the sideline to Mike (Evans), those are throws that have to be better.

“He’s looked fine. You’ve got to remember, a year ago at this time we were scared to death because Jameis was throwing three or four interceptions every day in practice and he’s definitely not doing that. He knows what he’s doing. Jameis, the competitive side of him, he sometimes tries to do too much. Example would be it’s third-and-15 last night and he gets in a scramble situation. No matter how you slice it, he’s going to run for five yards, but he refuses to slide and lets the whole defense hit him. Now we ended up getting a penalty there which I think is more luck than anything else, but that’s the kind of stuff where Jameis, he sometimes tries to do too much and again, that’s just one example that you don’t have to win the game every single play.”

Koetter wouldn’t use the word “concern” to describe how he feels about Aguayo’s slow start.

“Well, I don’t know if ‘concern’ is the right word, but every player on a football team has a specific role and a specific job to fill and they’re expected to do their job,” Koetter said. “Roberto, in both of the first preseason games — I mean, he’s been pretty consistent in practice — but in both of the preseason games he’s missed kicks that he’s expected to make. You know, he’s working with two holders — we can make all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line is he’s expected to make those kicks. He knows it, of course. Everybody knows it and we can’t hide behind it. We can’t hide behind any of our mistakes and trust me, I’m making more than anybody out there. But yeah, he’s got to make them.

“Yeah, that’s what I was talking to Nate [Kaczor], our special teams coach, [about] and when a guy that’s as good as Roberto — I think professional kickers, like professional quarterbacks, are a lot like professional golfers. We’re all amateur golfers but when you go watch the pros play, they’re on a different level. I don’t know what’s wrong with Roberto right now. Maybe there’s some nerves in there, I don’t know. He might be overthinking it. There’s definitely pressure on him. It is the preseason, it’s the time to work it out, but I’m not the guy that can help him. I’m not that guy.”

 The Bucs play the Cleveland Browns in their preseason home opener Friday night.

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Bucs’ interceptions lead the way to victory over Jacksonville

Worst start: Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston missed on his first six passes to start the game. He finished hitting only three of 10 passes for 28 yards, although he did throw a touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the Bucs’ 27-21 victory.

Flag day: The Jags had 13 penalties for 121 yards…in the first half.

Best start: In two weeks, Blake Bortles has hit 14 of 18 passes for 190 yards and four scores.

Best Gator: In a game dominated by FSU grads, Vernon Hargreaves intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards. Early in the third period, he intercepted another.

Best backup: Bucs’ second-team quarterback Mike Glennon completed 11 of 19 passes.

Best unit: The Bucs’ secondary, much maligned a year ago, intercepted four passes from the Jags’ backup quarterbacks.

Best attack: The Bucs, playing without the NFL’s second-ranked running back of a year ago in Doug Martin, rushed for 158 yards against the Jags.

Worried yet?: Roberto Aguayo missed two field goals, leading you to wonder if the Bucs had drafted one of those wide-right guys from FSU’s past instead of a star kicker.

“This is the NFL. He’s got to make those kicks. He knows it. Everyone knows it,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter.

Worst backups: After Bortles left the field, his backups passed for only 45 yards and threw four picks. After Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Bortles left the game, the Jags’ runners rushed for only 36 yards.

Most improvement: The Bucs’ defense played well for the second straight week, leading to belief that the unit will indeed be better than it was a year ago.

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Tampa Bay Bucs to face Jaguars without Doug Martin tonight

One of the key elements to the Tampa Bay Bucs won’t make an appearance in tonight’s preseason game.

The Bucs will hold out running back Doug Martin, who has sore ribs, as a precautionary measure against the Jacksonville Jaguars when the teams meet tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Martin figured to be a central figure for both teams. Last season, in a 38-31 victory, Martin ran for 123 yards against the Jags. But in the Bucs’ preseason opener against Philadelphia, the Bucs ran only for 31 yards on 21 carries. Establishing Martin seem to be a key factor for the Bucs; stopping him seemed to be vital for the Jags.

Without him, the Bucs may have to rely more on the passing of quarterback Jameis Winston, who was seven-of-nine throwing against the Eagles.

The Jags, meanwhile, while try to establish free agent Chris Ivory. In last year’s game, Jacksonville ran for only 55 yards, and 21 of those were by Blake Bortles.

There are clear goals for the Bucs in the game. They had five turnovers last week, they had seven dropped passes and 10 penalties. The Jags lost, too, but only after their first team staked them to a 10-0 lead.

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FSU fans should pay attention to Bucs-Jags preseason game

Now, this is an NFL game made for Jimbo Fisher.

Just imagine Fisher, the FSU football coach, kicking of his shoes and turning up the volume. Imagine him taking a break from the films for once. Imagine him making popcorn.

Here it is, the football version of All My Children.

Playing there for the Bucs is Jameis Winston, the former Heisman winner. He was the No. 1 draft pick and had a great rookie season.

Playing over there for the Jags is Jalen Ramsey, the former defensive back who is off to great reviews in Jacksonville.

Playing with Ramsey is linebacker Telvin Smith and receiver Rashan Greene.

Playing with Winston is kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Shoot, Fisher might get so excited he throws a flaming spear into the carpet.

All five of the players started for FSU during the national title run after the 2013 regular season. Of course, there are others. Carolina has Kelvin Benjamin and the Raiders have Mario Edwards and the Ravens have Timmy Jernigan. Success has scattered other FSU players across the NFL.

But for a night, five of them will reunite. Fisher should be proud.

Winston told ESPN he is looking forward to going against Smith.

“That’s what I love, and that’s why I’m really excited, just to be playing against him,” Winston said. “Just to get that feeling back, because I know he’s very passionate and I know he’s going to bring it and he’s not going to take any plays off.”

Ramsey, on the other hand, has talked up Winston.

“Jameis always gets me better,” said Ramsey, who was selected fifth overall by the Jags in this year’s NFL draft. “I love going against Jameis. He made me a better player my two years in college with him, and today was good work with him as well.”

They play against each other Saturday night. Fisher should be paying attention.

After that, he has a lot of new players to get ready to be pros.

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Bucs’ offense more crisp in second workout vs. Jags

Tampa Bay Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was happier with his team’s second day of practice against the Jacksonville Jags.

Koetter had thought his team lacked energy in the first day of practice against the Jags, but picked it up on Thursday.

“I thought we got really good work,” Koetter said. “Now again, I’m only seeing one field until we watch the tape. It was good. That was really good two-minute work, where we got four drives, two on each side. I thought our team had a much crisper approach than we did yesterday, so I’m pleased with that.”

Koetter was especially pleased with his team’s two-minute drills against Jacksonville.

“All I saw was those two two-minute drives, and we got two stops there in two minutes,” Koetter said. “The best pass coverage is a good pass-rush, and you see we had a little juice on that pass-rush with the four-man rush. That helps your pass coverage. It was good. Our defense continues to build confidence. And I’m happy to see our first offense go down and get a score.”

Koetter said quarterback Jameis Winston benefitted from the practices against the Jags.

“Well, competition against different looks is always good,” Koetter said. “Jameis going against some of his old Florida State guys, they get a little healthy competition going there. That linebacker they have, [Telvin] Smith, they were talking a lot today back and forth.”

Koetter didn’t talk to his offensive players about Wednesday’s problems.

“I really didn’t have to,” Koetter said. “The players knew. When they watched the tape, they knew. Those guys did a good job. Offensively, they knew that wasn’t our best effort or the right kind of effort, and so it was much better today.”

Koetter said tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a good practice.

“He got a lot of balls thrown his way. Any of the skill guys, the receivers and tight ends, sometimes (it’s) luck of the draw; they just don’t get very many balls that day. Austin got a lot of balls thrown his way. We actually held Cam (Brate) out of some reps today just [because] we wanted to give some other guys a chance to get some catches, and Austin had a good day. Probably had his best day of camp.”

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Bucs sluggish in first practice against Jacksonville Jaguars

Playing against a different team was supposed to make the Tampa Bay Bucs energized Wednesday.

It had the opposite effect.

The Bucs were sluggish, according to head coach Dirk Koetter, in their first practice against the Jacksonville Jags. The teams practice against each other again today before playing in Saturday night’s exhibition game.

“I thought offensively, we were a little bit sluggish,” Koetter said. “But maybe that’s due to Jacksonville playing good on defense. I’ll know when I watch the tape. I just didn’t think we had much juice today on offense. It happens.”

Koetter wouldn’t guess as to a reason.

“Well, anything I say on that would be like we’re making excuses,” Koetter said. “The bottom line is, I just didn’t think we were as crisp on offense as we have been in our own practices. But, again, it’s a different environment, so it was a good experience for us.”

It was in Jacksonville, in 2007, that Koetter first met coach Mike Smith.

“We had quite a year that year in 2007,” Koetter said. “I was in the press box with Mike that year, and I saw the best defensive coordinator that I’d seen. Now, it was my first year in the NFL, so all I had seen was college guys. But I saw a defensive coordinator who was a great teacher and an extremely hard worker and always had his guys ready to play.”

Koetter said the goals for the Bucs’ defense to get better are easy.

“We’ve got to create more turnovers,” he said. “We’ve got to get off the field on third down, and we’ve got to cut our penalties.”

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Bucs sign tackle Demar Dotson to a contract extension

Demar Dotson is a rich man. But he remembers the journey that got him here.

Dotson, a former basketball player at Southern Miss, did not play football in Pop Warner, or junior high, or high school. He played one year for South Miss, but that was on the defensive line. He was an undrafted free agent who caught on with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

“Everything I have in life, I work for it,” Dotson said. “I came in as a rookie and didn’t even have a pair of shoes and a pair of cleats to come out here. I had to work myself up, and I think that’s just what God made me. A guy that just [has to] always stay humble because maybe if I get things too easy, I’ll get unhumbled. So I think that just having things come hard, it keeps me humbled every day, it keeps me on my knees and it keeps me grateful.”

Dotson is the longest-tenured Bucs’ player. NFL.com said he received $6-million a year.

In 2012, Dotson started 15 games and was part of an offensive line that tied for the third-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL (26), while helping pave the way for rookie running back Doug Martin’s 1,454 rushing yards – the second-most in a single season in franchise history. From 2012-14, Dotson started 47 consecutive games, helping anchor the offensive line.

 “Individually, (the goal for) me is to go out there and be the best right tackle I can be,”  said Dotson, 30. “I believe that I can be the best right tackle in this game, and I think collectively as a unit we just (have) to buy into what (offensive line coach] George [Warhop] is teaching us and go out there and put it on the field. I think that, as a coach, in Warhop, we’ve got a guy with so much great experience and he’s a great teacher of this game.

“So I think that [if] we buy in and do what he tells us to do, I think as a collective unit we can be better. You see what those guys did last year, and those guys went out there and they fought. And I’m sitting on the sideline like, ‘Man, I wish I was out there with them.’”

Dotson missed most of 2015 with an injury, but head coach Dirk Koetter has called him the team’s best lineman.

“It is a little chip on my shoulder because I know that everything you get you’ve got to prove, and if you want it you’ve got to go out there and get it,” Dotson said. “I started to realize I know this thing didn’t come easy, so I’m determined. Even though I got it, it’s no backing off, it makes me want to go harder because I feel that if a team is willing to invest in you and show you some, I call it love, then it’s my job to go out there and give it back to them. So with them willing to invest in me like that, I know one thing, they’re going to get my best.”

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Quarterback Jameis Winston thinks the Bucs ‘did ok’ on offense

Perhaps the problem here are expectations.

Two days after the Tampa Bay Bucs opened their preseaon schedule with nine points, five turnovers, seven drops, 10 penalties and 31 yards rushing against the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterback Jameis Winston said he thought the Bucs “did okay” in their first effort.

Is this the part where we say “congratulations.”

To give Winston credit, he did say the team has to play better in the games to come.

“We had a good game plan together,” Winston said. “And we just went with it, we just went with the flow. Typically, you try to be vanilla, but we just wanted to see how we would do against another defense instead of playing against our guys. And in my eyes, we did okay. But for future reference, we want to be way better than what we did, we want to be more consistent.”

To be fair, Winston did hit seven of nine passes and led the team on a scoring drive. On the other hand, his fumble set up an Eagles’ touchdown.

“I just dropped the ball,” Winston said. “I was actually getting ready to throw it, and he just batted it down. Great play. That guy (defensive tackle Fletcher Cox) is a hundred-million dollar man. Just got to hit my check-down and be a little bit more decisive and get it to Doug Martin.”

Winston conceded that four offensive turnovers (plus one on special teams) were too many to overcome.

“We’ll never be where we should be because like I said, we’ll never arrive,” Winston said. “Our objective is always to get better, but if you look at the box scores, our offense did a good job. It’s just really hard to win games with four turnovers, especially with my fumble being inside the 10 (yard line). You look at the whole game, the two turnovers that we had on their side of the field, if they don’t get those turnovers inside their own 10-yard line they, don’t score.”

 Winston has said that the Bucs have to develop a mentality that they have to hate losing.

“I’m not talking about individual players, I’m talking about a mentality,” Winston said. “I would never call out my teammates and say guys need to start hating to lose. It’s a mentality that you’ve got to have, and it’s an easy choice. It’s a choice; you’ve got to want to win. As a team, we have to make that choice together. I’m not saying just because I want to win doesn’t mean that someone else wants to win, I’m saying all of us have to be together and be on the same page because if we’re on the same page and we have the same common goal, the same focus, we’re going to win a lot of football games.”

The Bucs play in Jacksonville Saturday night.

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