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Friday Notes: An Answer for Sproles?

Posted Sep 13, 2013

Head Coach Greg Schiano calls Darren Sproles the best in the game in his specific role out of the Saints backfield, but the Buccaneers have athletic linebackers that they hope can keep Sproles limited...Plus, an updated injury report and more


In the New Orleans Saints' Week One win over Atlanta, quarterback Drew Brees completed passes to seven different players, with each of those seven recording at least two catches.  That included five to wide receiver Marques Colston, now the Saints' all-time leading receiver, and four to tight end Jimmy Graham, the matchup nightmare and fantasy football hero.

The player that got the most out of Brees' football distribution, however, was diminutive running back Darren Sproles.  All six passes that Brees threw in Sproles' direction were complete and they accounted for a game-high 88 yards, including a key 32-yarder in the fourth quarter that included 19 yards after the catch.  Sproles didn't find the end zone on any of those catchers, nor on his eight runs, but he did record touchdowns in both of his games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.

As with that 32-yarder last Sunday, much of Sproles' best work is done after the football is in his hands.  The Saints utilize the screen pass and the draw play very effectively, and Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano noted that Sproles is one of the NFL's best at those types of plays.

“[He’s] very dangerous – on screens, down in the red zone, tight red zone," said Schiano.  "[He’s] the most prolific scorer in the red zone, maybe, in the history of football, this guy. If you look at last year, he had so many points, down in that area, per touch. You’re looking at a guy who is elite at what he does. They don’t ask him to do everything, but what they ask him to do he’s the best in the game at right now.”

Pass-catchers coming out of the backfield are often the responsibility of opposing linebackers, and that's often exactly the matchup an offensive coordinator is looking for.  The Buccaneers have a rangy group of 'backers, however, led by Lavonte David on the weak side and Mason Foster in the middle.  In Week One, the Buccaneers' linebackers accounted for a big chunk of the defense's overall production: 23 tackles, four sacks, an interception, two passes defensed, four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.  Foster said the linebacking crew came together as a cohesive group to lead the defense.

"It was great calls [by] Coach [Bill] Sheridan and Coach Schiano, and just playing hard.  As a group, the linebackers, we tell each other we're going to play with a lot of effort and do whatever we can to help the team win.  If it's special teams, rushing the passer, making tackles, anything.  We were just happy that we could play a part in making plays."

Those linebackers give Schiano confidence that his team can find an answer for Sproles on Sunday, at least to limit his production even if he can't be completely shut down.

"It’s a challenge," said Schiano.  "We’ve got good players too though. We’ll go cover him."

* It looks as if fullback Erik Lorig will make his 2013 debut, the preseason included, this Sunday against the Saints.  The Buccaneers' put out their final injury report on Friday, this one with game status designations (questionable, doubtful, etc.), and Lorig is listed as probable.  Barring any sort of weekend setback with his calf muscle, that means he's almost certain to play.

The Buccaneers may have missed their best lead blocker last weekend in New York.  Tailback Doug Martin ran the ball 24 times but rarely found seams to exploit and ended up with just 65 yards on the ground.  Schiano saw no problem in Martin's play and says the second-year back will be heavily featured in the Bucs' attack again this Sunday.

“I thought Doug ran well, and he’ll run well this week," said Schiano.  "No one’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes. Was he 100 percent in his reads? No, but not many backs [are]. But he got a bunch of carries under his belt Sunday, and he’s going to get a bunch more this Sunday. He’ll be fine.”

As has previously been noted on Buccaneers.com, Tampa Bay's rushing attack was significantly more effective in 2012 on plays run out of two-back sets than one-back sets.  That isn't all attributable to Lorig's play, but he was certainly part of the equation.  The Buccaneers made a nod towards the need for another fullback option earlier in the week when they re-signed Spencer Larsen, but Lorig's return would definitely be a boost for the rushing attack.

“I think it will help," said Schiano. "He was our starting fullback, and we haven’t had him all preseason, and now we’re going to have him Sunday, so that’s a good thing.  I’m excited about having our fullback, and having our two-back run game, two-tight end run game and pass game, all that stuff. That’s who we are, that’s the kind of style of ball we play. I’m looking forward to it.”

Below are the full injury reports for both teams, complete with game-status designations:

Buccaneers

Player

Injury

Practice Status

Game Status

CB Michael Adams

Knee

Out

Out

DE Adrian Clayborn

Hip

Limited Participation

Probable

TE Tom Crabtree

Ankle

Did Not Participate

Out

FB Erik Lorig

Calf

Full Participation

Probable

CB Rashaan Melvin

Hamstring

Limited Participation

Questionable

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Limited Participation

Questionable

 

Jets

Player

Injury

Practice Status

Game Status

S Isa Abdul-Quddus

Ankle

Did Not Participate

Out

NT Brodrick Bunkley

Calf

Did Not Participate

Out

WR Marques Colston

Foot

Full Participation

Probable

G Jahri Evans

Back

Full Participation

Probable

DE Glenn Foster

Ankle

Did Not Participate

Questionable

LB Junior Galette

Hamstring

Full Participation

Probable

CB Jabari Greer

Back

Limited Participation

Questionable

S Roman Harper

Knee

Did Not Participate

Questionable

DE Akiem Hicks

Knee

Limited Participation

Questionable

DE Tom Johnson

Foot

Limited Participation

Questionable

LB Curtis Lofton

Knee

Limited Participation

Probable

CB Patrick Robinson

Foot

Limited Participation

Questionable

T Zach Strief

Neck

Full Participation

Probable

DE Tyrunn Walker

Knee

Did Not Participate

Out

CB Corey White

Illness

Limited Participation

Questionable

LB Martez Wilson

Elbow

Full Participation

Probable

 

Schiano said on Friday that "there's a chance" G Carl Nicks could play against the Saints, and indeed he has improved from "out" last Friday to "questionable" heading into this weekend.  Cornerback Rashaan Melvin's questionable status is important in that his absence would leave the team with only three healthy cornerbacks on Sunday.

The Saints' injury report grew by three players on Friday, as S Roman Harper (knee), DE Akiem Hicks (knee) and DE Tom Johnson (foot) were all added and marked as "questionable."  Of those three, only Harper failed to practice at all on Friday.  Three Saints have already been ruled out: S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle), NT Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and DE Tyrunn Walker (knee)

* Former Buccaneer Pro Bowl safety John Lynch is getting an extended look at his former team at the beginning of the 2013 season.  The Fox game broadcast team of Lynch and play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt called Tampa Bay's season opener in New York last weekend and now they're in Tampa to handle this Sunday's game against New Orleans.  Lynch and Burkhardt will also call Tampa Bay's Week Three contest in New England.

That has Lynch studying the Buccaneers as closely as he has since he was reading his own Tampa Bay playbook from 1993-2003.  As a Fox analyst, he not only calls the game as it happens but speaks to players and coaches beforehand and watches tape after.  And despite the Buccaneers' last-second loss to the Jets, Lynch sees a lot of positives in what his former team is doing.

"In everything that went down, you can't miss though the positive things that happened," said Lynch.  "I thought the defense played really well.  I think they set a tone that this is going to be a physical group.  It kind of reminded me of our old group.  Unfortunately, the rules have changed a little, so you have to adjust a little there.  But I thought the plays were clean in my mind.  I thought they set a tone.  There aren't going to be too many receivers running freely across the middle without fear, and that's a good thing.  And I thought the pass-rush [was good].  Gerald McCoy I thought was outstanding.  It didn't materialize in sacks but I thought that was good.

"Offensively at times it was good.  I think the clear thing offensively is, in today's football – it used to be enough to have one or two good receivers – these days you need multiple options.  You're going to have a lot of people focusing on 83 [Vincent Jackson] and 19 [Mike Williams]; who else is going to make some plays, along with Doug Martin?  It's going to create some opportunities for guys like Kevin Ogletree, and they've got to step up."

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