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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs-Jaguars was NFL's lowest-rated ESPN game since 2005

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston talks with head coach Dirk Koetter during Thursday's 12-8 win over the Jaguars.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston talks with head coach Dirk Koetter during Thursday's 12-8 win over the Jaguars.

It is just the preseason, and it is the Jaguars, but Thursday night's Bucs-Jags preseason game earned a 1.6 rating on ESPN, which is the lowest-rated preseason game (excluding NFL Network) in 12 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

The 1.6 rating is the lowest for any ESPN preseason game since a tape-delayed 2005 game between the Falcons and Colts, which drew a 1.5 rating.

The site also reported that the Bucs-Jaguars' games 2.6 million viewers makes it the least-watched (non-NFL Network) preseason game in more than a decade -- the previous low was 2.8 million viewers for a 2008 game between the Jaguars and Redskins.

While the audience is low by NFL standards, the Bucs-Jags game still had the largest cable audience Thursday night among adults between ages 18 and 49, with a 0.9 rating in that demographic.

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Chasing 125: Bucs hope to hit rushing goal more often

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, shown in minicamp in June, said his team sets a goal of either rushing for 125 yards -- as they did in Thursday's preseason win at Jacksonville -- or averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, shown in minicamp in June, said his team sets a goal of either rushing for 125 yards -- as they did in Thursday's preseason win at Jacksonville -- or averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

Ever so often, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter pulls back the curtain a bit and shares some of the stats that matter to him most as a coach.

On Friday, he was happy to report that the Bucs, by rushing for 130 yards in Thursday's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars, had checked off one of their statistical goals for the team in any game: rushing for 125 yards or averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

It's an interesting threshold -- teams often set specific goals to remind players of their importance, whether it be winning the turnover battle or hitting a certain percentage on third downs. Go back a year or two, and the 125-yard mark is one that illustrates how much the Bucs missed a consistent running game last season, especially compared to 2015, when Koetter was Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator.

How many times did the Bucs rush for 125 last season, or average 4.5 per carry? They did so exactly once -- rushing for 249 yards against a historically bad 49ers run defense in their road win. They came awfully close in their season-ending win against Carolina -- 25 rushes for 112 yards, which works out to 4.48 yards per carry. We'd understand if they round up and count that one. …

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Bucs mull options at right tackle as Dotson awaits MRI

Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson suffered a groin injury in the first quarter of Thursday's preseason game at Jacksonville.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson suffered a groin injury in the first quarter of Thursday's preseason game at Jacksonville.

Right tackle Demar Dotson, the Bucs' most experienced offensive lineman, will undergo an MRI on his injured groin Saturday, three weeks before the season opener.

How would the Bucs replace Dotson if he had an extended absence? Second-year pro Caleb Benenoch, potentially the top backup at both tackle spots, filled in Thursday night when Dotson was hurt after only 11 plays. Coach Dirk Koetter said his run blocking looked better than his pass protection -- he was flagged for one of four holding penalties against the Bucs offense.

"He's doing a nice job in the run game," Koetter said. "He's a little inconsistent in his pass pro right now. But we're really happy with how he's progressing in the run game."

Dotson could very well be fine, but if he had a longterm injury, another option would be to shift starting left guard Kevin Pamphile, who played tackle at the start of his time with the Bucs, to right tackle, with veteran Evan Smith stepping up at left guard. …

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Bucs' Mike Evans motivated by deep ball that got away

Bucs receiver Mike Evans had five catches for 57 yards in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 win against the Jaguars.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bucs receiver Mike Evans had five catches for 57 yards in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 win against the Jaguars.

JACKSONVILLE -- Bucs receiver Mike Evans had an efficient half of football Thursday night, with six ball thrown his way and five catches for 57 yards in Tampa Bay's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars.

But the one that got away is what will continue to motivate him in the three weeks before the regular season arrives.

Already up 9-0 in the second quarter, the Bucs had a first down at the Jacksonville 43 when Jameis Winston threw a long pass down the left sideline, only to have the ball go through Evans' hands incomplete. Tampa Bay would later settle for a field goal.

"I had a drop in the end zone. Things I can work on," Evans said after the game. "These preseason games are good practice for us, to get ready for the real thing. I think we did well."

Evans said he can't make excuses for his single miss -- the ball was well thrown and he just couldn't bring it in.

"I tracked it pretty bad," he said. "It got caught in the lights, but the lights don't get the drop. I do. I can make that. Hopefully we'll be playing a lot of prime-time games (under the lights), so I've got to get ready for that." …

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McCoy: Bucs defense wanted to 'set the tone' vs. Jaguars

Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon is brought down by the Bucs' Robert Ayers and Lavonte David in Thursday's 12-8 win for Tampa Bay.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon is brought down by the Bucs' Robert Ayers and Lavonte David in Thursday's 12-8 win for Tampa Bay.

JACKSONVILLE -- The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on 7 carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 win.

And they were disappointed.

"We want them to have negative-90, negative-80. We don't care," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "We want to keep it going. This is just one showing. We have to be consistent."

The Jaguars, with top rookie Leonard Fournette sidelined by injury, didn't have a run longer than 3 yards in the first half, but the Bucs said they need success against the run as the starting point for their defense.

"We've got to get better on stopping the run," said defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who had one of the Bucs' seven tackles for loss. "Our job is never done. We still have to work on things to improve and be a better defense. It's all about consistency in the NFL. You can't just come out and do it one night and expect to be a great team. We still have a long ways to go. We know where our mark is set now with what we did tonight. We have to do that every play." …

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Winston looks good beating Jaguars except for one awful play

There is a reason why the air in Tampa Bay is filled with playoff talk. If Thursday night’s 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars is any indication, it’s also going to be filled with footballs thrown by quarterback Jameis Winston.

The Bucs are putting more and more of their offense on Winston’s right shoulder and it seems plenty  strong enough to carry this football team.

But his head may not be.

One play from Thursday’s game serves as a reminder that Winston still hasn’t learned when to attack and when to play dead.

Facing third and goal from the Jaguars’ 7-yard line in the second quarter, Winston was being pulled to the ground by Jaguars defensive tackle Sheldon Day when a bad habit took hold of him.

From the seat of his pants, he threw a pass up for grabs in the end zone that was intercepted by safety Barry Church.

Fortunately, referee Clete Blakeman ruled Winston’s ‘progress was stopped,’ resulting in a sack.

“Not what we’re looking for. Elite quarterbacks don’t make that play,’’ coach Dirk Koetter said.

Remember the scene from the first episode of Hard Knocks when Winston asked coach Dirk Koetter ‘how much is too much?’

That play, right there, Jameis, is too much. …

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Cannon Fodder podcast: Previewing Bucs-Jaguars

Charles Sims runs with the ball during the Bucs' game against the Jaguars last season.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Charles Sims runs with the ball during the Bucs' game against the Jaguars last season.

Greg Auman previews the Bucs' preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and talks about the $26,000 Bucs rookie dinner tab that wasn't in our latest Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast. Listen below:

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Donovan Smith: $26,000 rookie dinner tab just a prank

Here's the "bill" from the Bucs' offensive line "rookie dinner" at Ruth's Chris in Jacksonville. Donovan Smith said the linemen got a fake bill to scare the team's two rookies, who by tradition must pay for the dinner for all the team's offensive linemen.

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Here's the "bill" from the Bucs' offensive line "rookie dinner" at Ruth's Chris in Jacksonville. Donovan Smith said the linemen got a fake bill to scare the team's two rookies, who by tradition must pay for the dinner for all the team's offensive linemen.

Bucs tackle Donovan Smith pranked his rookie offensive linemen on Wednesday night, and got us pretty good as well.

Tampa Bay's 15 offensive linemen went out for a training camp tradition -- the rookie dinner, where rookies have to pay for an expensive dinner with their entire position, never more a challenge than with the offensive line -- in number and in size. Smith posted a picture of a receipt on Instagram with a $26,357 tab (plus tip!) and captioned it "Rookie Dinner thanks!!"

The Bucs have two rookie linemen -- tackles Cole Gardner and Korren Kirven -- and both were undrafted free agents, so they go into the league with little to no signing bonus and will do well to make the team's practice squad. Kirven posted video from the dinner, fretting the potential bill, then posted a pic of that same receipt, writing "Rest in Peace."

The receipt showed all kinds of expensive drinks -- 50 shots of Louis XIII cognac at $200 each (that's $10,000), three bottles of red wine at $1,150 each, plus another $7,280 in Opus One wines. …

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Jameis Winston's scolding of offensive linemen was a strong leadership moment

Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs" preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: ‘I got your back.’

Then he proved it.

After being told backup quarterback Ryan Griffin had suffered an injury to his right throwing shoulder, ending his battle for the No. 2 quarterback job with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Winston spotted two backup offensive linemen yucking it up on the bench.

Winston approached offensive linemen James Stone and Jarvis Harrison, who were seated on the sideline, talking and laughing. He then sarcastically told them he was glad they were having fun while Ryan was being attended to in the locker room by the Bucs medical staff.

“I’m happy y’all are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder. So keep having fun,’’ Winston said.

Ryan suffered a sprain on the AC joint in his shoulder and will miss several weeks. Stone and Harrison quickly changed their demeanor and knew better than to respond to Winston, who dismissively turned and walked away. …

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Jameis Winston's subtle but strong leadership moment

Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs" preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: ‘I got your back.’

Then he proved it.

After being told backup quarterback Ryan Griffin had suffered an injury to his right throwing shoulder, ending his battle for the No. 2 quarterback job with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Winston spotted two backup offensive linemen yucking it up on the bench.

Winston approached offensive linemen James Stone and James Harrison, who were seated on the sideline, talking and laughing. He then sarcastically told them he was glad they were having fun while Ryan was being attended to in the locker room by the Bucs medical staff.

“I’m happy y’all are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder. So keep having fun,’’ Winston said.

Stone and Harrison quickly changed their demeanor and knew better than to respond to Winston, who dismissively turned and walked away.

But in those few moments, Hard Knocks cameras captured the kind of determined leadership that Winston demonstrates each day. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes sarcastic. But always strong.

 

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Tempers flare as Bucs and Jaguars show some fight

Went to a fight and a football practice broke out.

The Bucs and Jaguars practiced for a second straight day in advance of their Thursday night preseason game. But on Tuesday, it got pretty chippy.

First, Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith and Jags defensive end Yannick Ngakoue got into a heated discussion during a pass rush drill. Smith shove Ngakoue, who countered by hitting him in the facemask. Then centers Joe Hawley and Ali Marpet joined in, with Hawley losing his helmet.

“We talked (expletive) to everybody,’’ said Bucs defensive end Noah Spence. “We talk to each other. Maybe a little fighting, but it’s all love for the game.’’

In another team period, former Bucs receiver Arrelious Benn and rookie cornerback Maurice Fleming engaged in an altercation, with Fleming ending up holding Benn’s helmet.

At first, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he was unaware of any fights. 

“No drills that I was in. We didn’t have any,’’ Koetter said. “Who won?

Then Koetter seemed to acknowledge the fights. …

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Bucs tight end Alan Cross still enjoying underdog role

Bucs tight end Alan Cross celebrates during last season after a punt was downed inside the 5-yard line in Tampa Bay's win against Seattle.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs tight end Alan Cross celebrates during last season after a punt was downed inside the 5-yard line in Tampa Bay's win against Seattle.

When Alan Cross made the Bucs as an undrafted rookie last year, the tight end from Memphis was one of the team's best feel-good stories. Once a walk-on long-snapper at Memphis, he earned a scholarship and had a prolific career with the Tigers, only to need to do the same thing to break into the NFL ranks.

Cross played in 14 games as a rookie, catching six passes for 38 yards, most memorably a fourth-quarter touchdown that provided the winning margin in the Bucs' big win at Kansas City during their five-game win streak.

Now, he's back battling for a roster spot again, buoyed by the confidence of a year's experience in the NFL, but knowing the Bucs added a first-round draft pick at his position in O.J. Howard. He's approaching this training camp with the same urgency he did as an unproven rookie.

"I just tell myself every day to go at this one day at a time," he said. "I could be done tomorrow. I want to enjoy every day like it's my last, try to have fun doing it." …

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New Bucs kicker Zach Hocker glad for another NFL shot

New Bucs kicker Zach Hocker, shown in 2016 as he tried to make the Bengals' roster, said he won't put as much pressure on himself as he tries to extend his NFL career.

New Bucs kicker Zach Hocker, shown in 2016 as he tried to make the Bengals' roster, said he won't put as much pressure on himself as he tries to extend his NFL career.

New Bucs kicker Zach Hocker is on his sixth NFL team in four seasons, so his excitement to be back in a training camp is tempered by an understanding of just how hard it is to win an NFL kicking job.

"It's a blessing that I'm still getting opportunities," said Hocker, 25. "I've been home for 10 months, and I kind of thought I was on the back end of my football career. To get an opportunity like this, to come down and give it a shot was definitely a blessing. I'm just thankful they're giving me a chance. It's been a fun time."

The Bucs signed Hocker on Sunday to add a second kicker in camp, along with veteran Nick Folk, after deciding to cut loose their kicker from last year, former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo. Folk went 5-for-6 on field goals in Monday's practice, and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, asked if he'd met the new kicker, said he hadn't met Hocker but that "our new kicker is Nick Folk." …

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Bucs' Dotson, Jaguars' Fowler square off 1-on-1 again

Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown earlier in training camp, said he was ready for another one-on-one challenge from Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler after he humbled him in last year's joint practices.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown earlier in training camp, said he was ready for another one-on-one challenge from Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler after he humbled him in last year's joint practices.

JACKSONVILLE -- A year ago, one of the most memorable moments of joint practices between the Bucs and Jaguars was Tampa Bay tackle Demar Dotson getting the best of Jacksonville defensive end Dante Fowler, so much so that Fowler was kicked out of practice after a scuffle in his frustration after the one-on-one matchup.

So Dotson fully expected to get Fowler's best Monday when the same drill came up a year later. Dotson got the best of Fowler again in the first meeting, but the former Lakewood and Gators star got down low and got past Dotson on the second head-to-head battle.

"It was competitive -- I know he had a chip on his shoulder, trying to get back for last year," Dotson said. "I was expecting it. We're all grown-men football players. They're always going to be somebody who whups you one year, and you're going to have that mindset that I'm going to get back at him. It was a good battle the whole day. He's going to be a tremendous young talent if he keeps working."

Fowler said last year's drills were humbling, something that gave him a reality check after he'd come into his second season with optimism after missing his rookie year with a knee injury. …

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Not for long: Roberto Aguayo, cut by Bucs, lands with Bears

Former Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, shown in training camp, was claimed by the Bears on Sunday and could face the Bucs in Tampa in Week 2.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Former Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo, shown in training camp, was claimed by the Bears on Sunday and could face the Bucs in Tampa in Week 2.

Kicker Roberto Aguayo, cut by the Bucs on Saturday after two misses in Friday's preseason opener, didn't have to wait long for another shot in the NFL, getting claimed off waivers on Sunday by the Chicago Bears.

That means Aguayo could go up against the Bucs in Week 2 when the Bears come to Raymond James Stadium. To do that, he'd have to beat out another former Bucs kicker, Connor Barth, who was cut by the Bucs last year after they drafted Aguayo in the second round.

The move does have some financial benefit for the Bucs -- by claiming Aguayo, the Bears are assuming his rookie contract, which means the Bucs are now off the hook for what was $428,000 in guaranteed 2017 base salary for Aguayo. The Bears are now responsible for that, whether he makes the team or not, an investment that suggests he'll have a chance to challenge Barth for Chicago's kicking job.

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