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Thursday Notes: Potential Pitt Pairing

Posted Sep 26, 2013

If Darrelle Revis is deployed as a shadow for Larry Fitzgerald Sunday, it will set up an enormously entertaining matchup between two former University of Pittsburgh stars

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bucs CB Darrelle Revis vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – both former Pitt Panther stars – could be the most exciting matchup of the day
  • Tampa Bay's starting WR duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams was held out of practice again on Thursday
  • Injuries at DT could mean a few more opportunities to rush the passer for rookie starter Akeem Spence
Darrelle Revis met Larry Fitzgerald during a 2004 recruiting trip to the University of the Pittsburgh, as Fitzgerald, the outgoing Panther, tried to help persuade the prep standout from Aliquippa to stay in-state. And that was the last time Revis ran into Fitzgerald…at least until both of them were established NFL stars.

Fitzgerald didn't take long to establish himself as one of the NFL's best receivers – and maybe one of the best ever – exploding in 2005 for 103 catches for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Arizona Cardinals, who had taken him first overall in the draft a few months after Revis' recruiting trip.  Two years later, Revis left Pitt a year early, got taken 14th overall by the New York Jets and established himself as one of the best at his position just as quickly.

The next time Revis and Fitzgerald crossed paths was on September 28 of 2008, the Jet corner's second NFL season.  What happened when these two stars finally shared an NFL field? Well…they both excelled.

With Kurt Warner throwing the ball 57 times, Fitzgerald was able to haul in eight passes for 122 yards as his team put up 35 points.  However, Revis countered with two interceptions, one of which he returned 32 yards for an touchdown during the Jets' ridiculous 34-point fourth quarter.  The Jets won, 56-35.  Five years later, Fitzgerald is now with the Cardinals, forming a new connection with QB import Carson Palmer, and Revis is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer as the two former Pitt Panthers prepare to face off for just the second time.

“I know Larry very well, I know him personally and it’s cool, it’s competition," said Revis.  "I’ve played him before, a couple years ago. I’m excited he’s healthy and I’m excited he’s back [from a hamstring injury], so it’s going to be fun. Whoever I line up on – You never know, I might not line up on Larry – But whatever the game plan is and what we’re doing is for us to execute a winning game.”

Revis' last reference is to the notion that he might find himself locked up man-to-man with Fitzgerald for most of the afternoon.  Their 2008 meeting came a bit before the "Revis Island" nickname surfaced to describe how effectively the then-Jet DB could take on a specific receiver and shut him down for an afternoon.  Now that he's a Buc, his new team has the option of putting him into that type of role on any given Sunday.  However, for obvious strategic reasons, neither Revis nor his coaches are divulging much of their defensive game plan for the Cardinals.

- CB Darrelle Revis had two picks and a TD the only other time he faced the Cardinals

“I get excited every week, it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against or what quarterback, or what receiver," said Revis.  "I think collectively, as a defense, we’ve just got to go out there and play ball. That’s what we’ve been doing and every team, [whether] they have the number-one receiver or the best receiver in the league, I’ve got to go out there and just play.”

There are many ways Darrelle Revis could help the Buccaneers put up a winning defensive effort on Sunday.  If becoming Larry Fitzgerald's shadow for a day is part of it, then it will be quite entertaining to see which former Panther comes out on top.

* For the second straight day, the Buccaneers practiced without the services of their two starting wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.  Schiano was asked if this might make it more difficult for rookie Mike Glennon, just anointed the new starting quarterback, to get into a rhythm with his starting receivers.  Schiano's answer: Maybe Glennon is practicing with his starting receivers.

“We don’t know if that’s the case," said Schiano of Glennon's midweek receivers not matching up with those who start on Sunday.  "He may be throwing [on Sunday] to the guys he’s practicing with. We’ll see. In this league, it is what it is. You don’t have lines of players.”

Obviously, that's not what the Buccaneers want, no matter how much faith they have in reserves Kevin Ogletree, Eric Page and Russell Shepard.  Jackson and Williams have combined to account for 391 of the team's 571 receiving yards so far this season, and being without both in the same week would undoubtedly be something of a hardship.

"Right now, you’ve got to go with the guys you’re practicing with, and if Vince and Mike are well, then they’ll play," said Schiano. "They have cumulative reps together. Would it be better if they had the whole week together? Sure, but it’s often that you don’t get reps with guys, because that’s the nature of the beast."

The only change in the Buccaneers' injury report was a slight improvement: Defensive tackle Gary Gibson participated in a limited fashion in Thursday's practice after being held out completely on Wednesday.  Gibson suffered a back injury on the first play from scrimmage last Sunday against New England and did not return to that game.  More on the Buccaneers' potential solution for defensive tackle depth below.

The Cardinals had just one change to their injury report on Thursday, and it too was a step in the right direction.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall was limited on Wednesday but full-go on Thursday; Mendenhall is the Cardinals' leading rusher so far with 155 yards on 40 carries.  WR Larry Fitzgerald, who had been somewhat slowed by a hamstring injury in the first few weeks of the season, participated fully for the second straight day on Thursday.

The full injury reports for both teams are below:

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

CB Michael Adams

Knee

Out

T Gabe Carimi

Illness

Did Not Participate

TE Tom Crabtree

Ankle

Limited Participation

DT Gary Gibson

Back

Limited Participation

WR Vincent Jackson

Ribs

Did Not Participate

DT Derek Landri

Knee

Did Not Participate

DT Gerald McCoy

Ankle

Full Participation

CB Rashaan Melvin

Hamstring

Full Participation

WR Mike Williams

Hamstring

Did Not Participate

 

Cardinals:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

WR Larry Fitzgerald

Hamstring

Full Participation

S Rashad Jones

Finger

Did Not Participate

RB Rashard Mendenhall

Toe

Full Participation

LB Kevin Minter

Hamstring

Did Not Participate

DE Ronald Talley

Wrist

Full Participation

DT Dan Williams

Not Inj. Related

Did Not Participate

 

* The Buccaneers' defensive depth chart, combined with the above injury report, leads one to wonder if Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence will be two very tired men by the end of Sunday afternoon.

McCoy, the 2012 Pro Bowler, and Spence, the talented rookie, start in the middle of the Buccaneers' four-man line, with veterans Derek Landri and Gary Gibson backing them up.  Landri, in particular, saw a lot of action as part of the inside rotation in the first two games of the season before he was rendered inactive by a knee injury.  Landri didn't play last week and isn't likely to play this Sunday, either.  Gibson, as mentioned above, is trying to return from a back injury.  Either way, the Bucs look a little thin at DT heading into the fourth game of the season, at least on paper.

In reality, of course, the team is preparing contingency plans.  For one thing, defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim have been known to take some snaps at tackle, particularly on rushing downs.  The Buccaneers are also preparing rookie defensive ends William Gholston and Steven Means, this year's fifth and sixth-round draft picks, respectively, to fill in at tackle on passing downs if needed.

And, of course, Spence could see his reps increase. While McCoy already plays almost every snap, coming out only when he needs a short break, Spence has primarily been in the game on first and second down so far, playing the tilt-nose position.  That's exactly the role the Buccaneers envisioned for him when they took him in the fourth round last April, but during training camp and the preseason Spence showed more pass-rush ability than the team had necessarily expected.  He got his first sack last weekend on New England's Tom Brady – on a second-down play – and would be more than willing to pick up more third-down work.

Playing on third down doesn't simply mean an increase in overall workload; it means learning a new set of plays.  There is a much higher likelihood of a passing play on most third downs, of course, and that means the emphasis of the front line is on collapsing the pocket instead of stopping ballcarriers.  It's a specific job that needs to be studied and memorized.

I'm just watching the center and trying to see what I can do to him. I think I need to use my power and strength to try to get to the QB.
-- DT Akeem Spence

"Coach brought Will up, so Will's ready to go, Steve's on the ready, and then there's me learning everything I need to do so I can play in there on third downs and be ready to go," said Spence.  "I've been studying up on that and I've been getting a little bit of work out there in practice on it.  So if my name is called on third down, I'll go out there and do what I can."

Spence's sack in New England is one of 12 already for the Buccaneers through three games, a total that took eight outings for last year's defense to register.  Meanwhile, Arizona has allowed quarterback Carson Palmer to be taken down nine times in the same three weeks.  The Buccaneers' pass rushers are studying tape this week trying to find the weaknesses in the Cardinals' blocking schemes and personnel that will allow them to continue their run on sacks.

"We've been looking at stuff on film, guys to beat," said Spence.  "On the edge, [Adrian Clayborn] and those guys have been working on their rush all week.  Me, I'm just watching the center and trying to see what I can do to him.  I think I need to use my power and strength to try to get to the QB."