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Bucs still pondering what to do with running back Doug Martin

Is Doug Martin running on empty?

Martin, the Tampa Bay Bucs’ back who was second in the NFL in rushing two seasons ago, but who fell off substantially a year ago (to 421 yards) and finished the season suspended for PEDs, remains the property of the Bucs. However, there has been much speculation that the Bucs might check out a first-round running back in the upcoming draft.

The Bucs are still trying to figure out if they can give a roster spot to Martin, who will miss three weeks, or if they need to address the situation in other ways.

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter said at the NFL owners’ meeting Wednesday. “Are we going to add a running back in the draft? Is Doug going to continue down the path of good health? We have other guys we like at the position, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen as I sit here today. But right now, we have time on our side.”

The Bucs have Jacquizz Rogers, who started five games last year, to replace Martin for his three-game suspension. A number of mock drafts have the Bucs’ taking a running back.

“Every team is looking for a game-wrecker with that first pick, at whatever position he plays,” Koetter said. “I would think, of the 32 teams, everyone is saying ‘Man, this is a good running back draft. Maybe we ought to add one of those guys.”

The trouble with Martin, of course, is that he’s a feature back who doesn’t help on special teams.

“I’m a Martin fan,” Koetter said. “We would love to have Doug on our team. But when a guy’s been a Pro Bowl running back, and you know you’re not going to have him for the first three games of the year, how do you do the reps.”

Martin signed a huge contract before last season, but because of his suspension, the Bucs are no longer bound by it.

Joe Henderson: Proposed new transportation agency a good start toward solving an old problem

Short of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, the surest way to get a headache is to wade deep into Tampa Bay area transportation problems. You encounter a mishmash of competing agencies and agendas that has resulted in legislative and automotive gridlock for frustrated commuters for years.

Given that, I’m encouraged by what is coming out of Tallahassee. A pair of Republican legislators — state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and state Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City — have introduced bills that would create a five-county regional transit agency.

Hernando County is a late addition to a group including Manatee, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the Legislature already try something like that?

Yep.

A decade ago, Tallahassee gave us the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority — known in wonk terms as TBARTA. Its scope was as large as its acronym, an attempt to bring seven counties together under a single transportation tent.

Nice sentiment, but poor execution. Trying to meet the needs of seven counties proved unwieldy.

“What Jack and I are trying to do is tweak this thing,” Raulerson said. “We want to get everybody moving in the same direction so we can put together a plan and get federal money for this. We have been woefully short there.”

The revamped board would have 13 members — seven elected officials, and six from the private sector. The elected officials likely will include the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg along with a commissioner from each county affected.

“That part is a work in progress right now,” Raulerson said. “But it is important to have more elected officials on the board because that provides for transparency and accountability.”

Both bills have sailed through their respective committees and appear to be gaining local acceptance. Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the plan, telling Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com, “ … we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success.”

During committee hearings on the proposed bills, some lawmakers were skeptical that a new regional transportation agency would just be more of the same. Given the history on this issue, I certainly understand that point of view.

But I do like that this new authority would be smaller and focused on the counties of greatest need. Having Latvala and Raulerson behind this doesn’t hurt, either. Not only are they capable of guiding this from proposal to reality, they also represent both sides of Tampa Bay.

How soon can this happen?

“Once this becomes law, we probably need to have a good plan in place to take to the feds within 12 months,” Raulerson said. “The good news on that is that there already are a lot of plans out there, so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. We just need to get moving.”

Rowdies open first USL season with 1-0 victory over Orlando City B

Now, that’s the way a team should begin a journey.

The stadium was packed. The evening was perfect. And the team – the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in this case – dispatched a brand new rival in a new league with a 1-0 victory.

Playing in front of 7,710 fans, the Rowdies beat the Orlando City team of the USL.

Georgi Hristov scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute for the only goal to lead his team to the victory.

It was a big game with a big atmosphere and my players came good tonight,” Rowdies’  coach Stuart Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Georgi because he worked his absolute socks off and if anyone deserved a goal tonight, it’s him.”

Hristov, who had missed much of the preseason with an injury, admitted he could have scored two other goals. But he calmly knocked home the penalty kick for the winner.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Hristov said. “I think everyone realizes that out organization is trying to do something big for Tampa Bay, so I appreciate everyone coming out to support us.

I’m happy to have scored the goal on an important night for the Rowdies,” Hristov said. “We played really well tonight and should’ve won by more, so I’m proud of the way all my teammates played. There’s things we can do better, but this is a good start.”

Said Campbell: “He’s a cool customer, isn’t he? He’s never too high. Never to low. When it comes to penalty kicks, I let the players sort it out. Sometimes, it’s whoever gets the ball first.”

Orlando City goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. had a good night, making four saves.

For the Rowdies, goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald had a clean sheet. He had found out only Thursday that he was starting because of neck injury to regular Matt Pickens.

I’ve been in the league six or seven years,” he said, “so the night before wasn’t too bad. The team played great defense in front of me.”

Said Campell: “He’s done well. We’ve known he was starting for a while, but we kept our cards close to our vest. He’s calm. Very assured.”

The Rowdies are home on Saturday night against Toronto.

Tampa Bay area to host 2019 Medal of Honor convention

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS) Thursday selected the Tampa Bay area as the host community for its 2019 Convention, honoring Medal of Honor recipients and their families.

This is the first time the weeklong event, taking place in October 2019, will be held in Tampa.

“Tampa Bay’s strong military tradition coupled with our outstanding vacation venues, cemented Tampa’s position as the host of this prestigious event,” said Ed Miyagishima, president and CEO of the 2019 Tampa Bay Medal of Honor Convention. “We’re humbled to be able to roll out the red carpet and the white sands of Tampa Bay to honor these outstanding individuals and their families as only this region can.”

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest and rarest military honor, bestowed by the president in the name of Congress on deserving members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.”

“We’re thrilled to select Tampa Bay as the host of the 2019 Convention,” said Medal of Honor Recipient and President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Thomas Kelley. “Tampa’s unique military footprint, coupled with its spectacular beaches and activities will serve as the ideal backdrop to honor and celebrate Medal of Honor recipients and their families.”

The Medal of Honor Convention, the annual gathering of Medal of Honor recipients, was created to honor the awardees and their families. Highlights of the week will include an official public welcome, reunion events, book signings, school events and autograph sessions, and the black-tie Gala.

“We recognize members of the military, veterans and their families as valued members of our community,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “We could not be more proud that Ronald Ray, a graduate of the University of Tampa, and Baldomero Lopez, Tampa native, are both recipients of the Medal of Honor and would be honored to celebrate their accomplishments as well as those of all of the other Medal of Honor recipient’s right here in Tampa.”

The Medal of Honor families will be special honorees during the convention. According to Miyagishima, “We will make sure that there are numerous family-friendly events. These are the individuals who have sacrificed and supported the Medal of Honor recipients over the years, so it is important that we express our gratitude and make it special for them, as well.”

In Tampa, an educational outreach campaign will be implemented in area schools to promote patriotism and character, special assets personified by the Medal of Honor. A special curriculum will be created for teachers to utilize throughout the area and guest speakers will be available to visit local schools.

“We are especially excited by the prospect of a lasting legacy for Tampa Bay in the form of a curriculum that can be used year after year to educate our students about the character attributes of Medal of Honor recipients,” said retired United States Army Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell, who serves as an adviser to the Convention and has served as the president of CMOHS. “As a culmination to the convention, we will select a local student to receive the newly-created Medal of Honor Scholarship and look forward to partnering with local schools for other exciting learning opportunities.”

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is expected to play a significant role during the convention. MacDill is currently home to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE), the 6th Air Mobility Wing and nearly 30 other tenant units.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society was formed in 1958 under President Dwight Eisenhower to protect, uphold and preserve the dignity and honor of the medal at all times and on all occasions. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Convention and general meeting, held annually at different host communities across the country, serves:

– To further the bond of brotherhood and camaraderie among all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

– To remember in reverence and respect those who received the Medal of Honor posthumously, and those who are now deceased.

– To foster patriotism and to inspire and stimulate our youth to become better citizens of our country.

– To recognize and award patriotic Americans who promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation was founded through their life’s work.

Lightning embarrassed by Arizona with defeat in playoff drive

Quick question: If a team is going to be embarrassed by the second-worst team in the NHL, what does it say?

Other than, for a night, that the Tampa Bay Lightning was among the worst.

The Lightning blew every advantage Tuesday night. They were playing the second-worst team in the league, the Arizona Coyotes. They were at home. They held a lead in the third period. They were playing with playoffs in mind.

And still, they lost a 5-3 game to Arizona, an embarrassing game that might help keep them from the post-season.

The Bolts gave up five goals for the third straight game, and they lost again.

“You have to keep the puck out of your net if you’re going to win,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “In our last two games, we’ve scored three. In the past, when we’ve made a commitment to play defense, we’ve won those games. If you’re not going to defend, you’re not going to win.”

Cooper offered up an interesting statistic. Arizona blocked 25 shots on Tuesday night; the Bolts blocked only six.

Still, the Bolts had a chance to win. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov scored to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead. Still, Arizona came back to win.

The Lightning, impossibly, is still only four points out of a playoff spot. But as Cooper said, “We’re running out of real estate.”

Tampa Bay now goes on the road, facing Boston and Detroit.

Tampa Bay Rays extend center fielder Kevin Kiermaier’s contract

Kevin Kiermaier was always one of the most popular Tampa Bay Rays.

Now, he’ll be popular with his banker, too.

Kiermaker, the Rays’ center fielder, signed a six-year, $53.5 million extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay through 2023.

The agreement with Kiermaier marks the fourth time that Stuart Sternberg’s ownership group has guaranteed at least six years in a contract with a Rays player. Right-handed pitcher Chris Archer signed for a guaranteed six years (plus two club options) on April 2, 2014. Third baseman Evan Longoria signed for six years guaranteed (plus three club options) on April 18, 2008, then on November 26, 2012, extended that deal an additional six years with a club option for 2023.

“Kevin has established himself as one of the most dynamic and exciting players in baseball, and he also sets a tremendous example off the field with his work ethic, dedication and leadership,” said Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman. “We’re thrilled that he’ll be patrolling center field for the Rays for years to come.”

Kiermaier, 26, won the AL Gold Glove Award for center field in 2016 for the second consecutive season, joining Longoria (2009, 2010) as the only players to win multiple Gold Glove Awards in franchise history. He also became the second AL outfielder since the awards were first presented in 1957 to claim the Gold Glove in each of his first two full seasons in the majors, joining Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001-02.

Last season, Kiermaier led major league center fielders with 25 Defensive Runs Saved despite missing 48 games due to injury. Defensive Runs Saved attempts to calculate how many runs a player saved or cost his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. His 25 DRS ranked second overall in the majors (regardless of position), behind Boston’s Mookie Betts (32), despite playing 509.1 fewer innings.

Kiermaier beat the odds. He simply outworked his teammates. He made the front office notice him.

The Rays were hunting for outfielders in the 2010 draft. They picked Josh Sale first. Bust. They picked Drew Vettleson third. Bust. They picked Michael Lorenzen 10th. Bust. They picked Deshun Dixon 13th. Bust. They picked Chris Winder 27th. Bust.

Finally, they picked Kiermaier. But not until they picked a third baseman named Nicholas Schwaner and a catcher named Matt Koch and a first baseman named Phillip Wunderlich. In all, it was the greatest collection of nobodies ever picked in front of a somebody.

And that’s a key thing with Kiermaier. Think of all the bonus babies who went in front of him. Think of all the high-priced free agents who disappointed. Kiermaier simply wouldn’t settle for being less than an impact player. He kicked down the doors to this franchise. He made himself a bargain.

For Kiermaier, it turns out that more things are gold than just his baseball glove.

Lightning lose second straight as Capital’s T.J. Oshie gets a hat trick

And suddenly, the Tampa Bay Lightning is going in the wrong direction.

The Lightning, which entered the week on a hot streak, lost its second straight key matchup Saturday night in a 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals. The Caps clinched the playoffs with the victory.

Tampa Bay, which has 11 games to play, is certain to finish with its worst record in four years.

Saturday night, the Bolts gave up the game’s first two goals and its last three. Along the way, T.J. Oshie had a hat trick. Oshie has played 14 games aginst Tampa Bay and has 10 goals and 19 points.

Nikita Kucherov scored twice for the Bolts. Alex Killorn scored the other goal.

“They’re a really good team,” said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. “You sit here and say, tie game going into the third. We were going to take our chances. That was tough. We take the penalty and we get through it and then we just stopped playing. Our defensive awareness, it was, we can’t let that happen. They’re changing, coming off the bench. To give up that chance, that’s a tough one. It’s a one goal game, but you can’t give up that fourth one. Killer.”

 Cooper thought the Lightning scored enough to at least get a point.

“We got three,” Cooper said. “When you get three, you’ve got to get points. Yes, you want guys to come out of their goal droughts and stuff like that, which they did. We scored three. You can’t give up five. You can’t give up four. It’s too tough to win in this league. I’m not as concerned about the amount of goals we’re scoring. It’s what we’ve given up. They’re battling. You’ve got to feel for them because they’re laying everything on the line. As I said, if you had told me we were going to score three against Washington, I was hoping we could get some points out of it.”

Tampa Bay is home Tuesday night against Arizona.

Rowdies lose final exhibition game to Miami; season opener next week

It was hardly the way that Tampa Bay Rowdies’ head coach Stuart Campbell wanted his team’s final tuneup to go.

The Rowdies lost a 3-0 decision to Miami FC in an exhibition game Saturday, when “two crazy minutes” led to their downfall.

Tampa Bay gave up two goals in two minutes, then another seven minutes later, in losing their final game before next week’s season open against Orlando B.

“It’s a very flattering score for Miami,” Campbell said. “For 88 minutes, it was a good performance by us. We dominated a really good team and created more than enough chances, but then there were two crazy minutes.”

In the 67th minute, Miami’s Stefano Pinho pounced on a loose touch in the Rowdies’ defensive ranks to bear down one-on-one against goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. A minute later, Kwadwo Poku picked off another soft pass in the Rowdies’ end and fed Pinho for his second goal in two minutes.

Enzo Rennella scored Miami’s third goal.

“The first goal was a big deflection that ended up with one of our players basically assisting their goal, which can happen from time to time,” Campbell said. “But the biggest disappointment is to go on and concede a second right away. That’s a sucker punch. We fell behind against the run of play when we were the team in the ascendency. We have to be more disciplined in that situation.”

“It was a very good performance, yet we lost 3-0,” Campbell said. “It’s preseason and I got more than what I wanted from the team because they really played a good game apart from those two minutes. But preseason or not, you still want to win and we didn’t do that so it wasn’t enough. It may not be such a bad thing in the end because there will be no complacency from the team going into the season opener.”

Lightning clobbered by Toronto in its race toward the NHL playoffs

Think of the ice at Amalie Arena as a giant windshield.

Now think of the Tampa Bay Lightning as a bug.

Splat.

Got it?

The Lightning, playing so well as of late, were clobbered at home in Thursday night’s game, losing 5-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bolts, who had just passed the Leafs in the standings, now are playing chance once again.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it was his team’s defense, which had been good lately, that led to the defeat.

“The thing that was missing was the defending of shots,” said Cooper. “That’s the thing we weren’t doing. There is a spot 10 feet out, this little 10×10 area in front of our net. That was the only area of the ice we didn’t play. Clearly, that’s the most important part (on the ice.) We’ve been so good defending as of late. That’s why we’ve had success, and tonight, we didn’t (defend.) It looks bad on (goalie Andrei) Vasilevskiy, but there’s not much you can do when guys are tapping them in and winning battles.”

Vasilevskiy, who was 6-0-1 in his previous seven games, was pulled after giving up his fourth goal on 15 shots in the second period. Cooper said, however, the problem was the defense. “It was a rest pull more than anything,” he said.

It was only the third time all season the Bolts had lost by five goals and it’s first since a Jan. 5 loss to Columbus.

Twelve games remain for Tampa Bay. If the team is going to salvage this season, it needs to take advantage of Saturday night’s home game against Washington.

Victor Hedman scores in overtime as Lightning wins another

Just like that, they’re back in it.

The torrid Tampa Bay Lightning won again Monday night, beating the Ottawa Senators 2-1 in overtime to tie – momentarily, at least – the New York Islanders for the last wild-card slot with 77 points.

Victor Hedman scored the winning goal for the Bolts, taking a perfect pass from Ondrej Palat and scoring with 55 seconds left in the overtime. Brayden Point had scored the first goal for Tampa Bay.

Andrei Vasilevski continued his solid play in net, stopping 32 of 33 shots. Vasilveskiy is 5-0-1 in his last six games.

The Bolts have now picked up at least a point in 15 of its last 17 games.

“To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been looking ahead, it’s just, ‘Who are we playing tonight?’” coach Jon Cooper said. “Now we can sit here and say clearly the Toronto game’s a big game for us. Last night was the Rangers, tonight it was Ottawa. Those boys, man are they battling hard. It’s been a lot of fun to be behind the bench with these guys. It was a lot of fun. That was a heck of a hockey game by the way. I don’t know if you guys saw the same thing, but oh man was it fast.”

The Bolts come home Thursday night for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“The last time we played them – we haven’t played them in a while — I think we took the penalty in overtime and they scored,” Cooper said. “Does it add a little bit because it’s the Leafs and the position we’re in? It should be a fun time Thursday night. But there’s still a lot of hockey left to play. Just because it’s the Leafs and we’re battling them, we’ve just got to keep getting points, regardless who it’s against. These two are going to be just as big as the two against Toronto and the two we’ve got to play Washington on Saturday. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we are.”

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