The Sports Xchange

Bucs on guard as offensive line builds chemistry

The excitement from the opening of training camp has transitioned to what head coach Lovie Smith termed the "grind" as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their second week of practices Monday leading into Friday's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With live game action on the horizon, the Bucs are spending time each day working on the two-minute drill offensively, with the defensive mantra being to seek turnovers.

"It's a little tougher, everybody is sore," Smith said. "Each day, it gets a little bit more heated, which isn't always a bad thing, as long as you don't take it too far. Again, we're getting better."

The Jaguars will present an important litmus test for the revamped offensive line, which is continuing to work on its chemistry following the departure of left guard Carl Nicks. Veterans Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are competing at the guard spots against several more inexperienced options.

"We like the prospects," Smith said. "We don't have a lot of players at the positions that have started a lot of games. We have young talent at the line.

"These preseason games will be so important for those guys. But we have a group of guys working there."

With left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith coming over via free agency, it's important for the Bucs to lock down the guard spots and begin building chemistry among the starting five leading up to the regular season.

"I see this line as what (offensive line coach George Warhop) wants it," Collins said. "And whoever is playing next to me and whoever is playing next to (right tackle Demar Dotson) are going to get the job done and that's all I look forward to."

--Smith hasn't discussed the playing time for the Jaguars game with his players yet, but it will be an important first test for the players battling for roster spots in the backfield. Doug Martin lead a deep unit that includes Mike James, Bobby Rainey and rookie Charles Sims, with former track star Jeff Demps also trying to wedge his way in for some playing time.

"We're very deep there," offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford acknowledged. "I'm really impressed by their knowledge, they all bring something a little bit different, they all have skill, they all catch the football really well, they're smart, they can run in between the tackles and they have speed outside.

"I think they're really versatile guys and it's a good group of guys to work with. I'm anxious to watch them in a game."

--With Smith returning to Tampa Bay, there have been plenty of comparisons between defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks, but the coach is quick to point out that great Bucs defense also had a standout safety in John Lynch.

"Mark Barron - he looks the part," Smith said after Monday's practice. "Very pleased with him. I really like what he did at Alabama when he came out. He had a good season last year. But it's ahead of him.

"What we need: we need a big, strong safety. He'll be down into the box. He went three days and had interceptions on three days. He has good hands for a big guy. I could talk about Mark for quite a while, as you can see, but we like the direction he's going."

--CB Alterraun Verner remains sidelined by a hamstring injury, and the team is taking a cautious approach considering his history of tweaked hamstrings.

TE Luke Stocker and DE Da'Quan Bowers were held out Monday with undisclosed injuries, but are expected to be available for the preseason opener.

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