NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Bucs now have had an entire week of practice since quarterback Tom Brady took an excused leave of absence from the team, but two days of joint practices with the Titans ended with coach Todd Bowles saying he doesn’t know exactly when Brady will return.
A week earlier, Bowles had said Brady “will not be here until after Tennessee” as part of something discussed and approved by the team before training camp started, but that shouldn’t have been taken as “immediately after” Saturday’s preseason game.
“We’ll see. We’ll talk about it next week,” Bowles said when asked if he knew when Brady would rejoin the team. “I’m not concerned about it right now. We’re trying to practice against Tennessee and play a game. I said sometime after Tennessee. There’s no definitive date for me. We’ll check on it, we’ll keep in touch and find out.”
The team said last week that Brady was excused “to deal with some personal things,” and Brady hasn’t spoken or posted anything on social media to elaborate since. The 45-year-old retired after 22 seasons in the NFL in February, only to change his mind and return 41 days later in March, so it’s possible part of that decision to return included some concessions for more time with his family, even during preseason. Brady actively recruited several players to join him in Tampa this season, so it’s unlikely he’ll change his mind about playing this season if only out of that commitment to his teammates and the Bucs as a franchise.
The idea that the Bucs had discussed and planned a break for Brady would presumably include knowing a return date, and it could be as simple as the quarterback returning to practice Monday as the team prepares for its preseason finale at the Colts, where he would logically play a limited number of snaps. If an exact date wasn’t agreed upon, the Bucs might be avoiding the appearance of setting a public deadline for his leave to end, so as not to create a headline if he isn’t back at that specific date.
In Brady’s absence, many of his top receivers continue to be sidelined as well. Julio Jones has practiced both days in Nashville but will not play Saturday, nor will Mike Evans (hamstring), Chris Godwin (knee), Russell Gage (hamstring) and Breshad Perriman (hamstring).
Julio Jones going through drills again today, makes nice high catch in back of end zone. pic.twitter.com/GdLwAo1KQD
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 18, 2022
Safety Keanu Neal, who sustained an arm injury Wednesday, was not practicing Thursday and won’t play Saturday, and two Bucs players left early during Thursday’s drills. Tackle Tristan Wirfs, who wasn’t expected to play this week, left with what looks like rib/abdomen issues, and rookie corner Zyon McCollum left with a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play Saturday.
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Goedeke working as a starter: ‘His time has come’
Thursday marked the first time since training camp began that Bucs rookie Luke Goedeke, a second-round pick from Central Michigan, worked with the first-team offensive line. It’s a big step as he competes with veteran Aaron Stinnie and to a lesser extent, Nick Leverett and Brandon Walton, who all have had multiple days working with the starters.
“Now is the time to give him a look,” Bowles said. “You can’t put him in early because he hadn’t learned everything. He’s learned enough now to go in and play. We’re giving all these guys shots at guard, and his time has come.”
Goedeke and other interior linemen this week had their hands full with Titans defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons, but the rookie said he liked the chance to prove himself with the first line.
“It felt great to get out there definitely with the 1s,” Goedeke said. “There were definitely some butterflies, but just really settled in and we came together as a whole. There’s definitely room to improve, but I’m just going to get better every day.”
Goedeke said he didn’t know if he’d get the start in Saturday’s game, and Bowles said he had an idea but would consult with run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert before deciding.
Leverett, working as a second-team center this week, was one of the more animated players engaging with the Titans, but Bowles didn’t like him being called “feisty” in a question, wanting him to keep his emotions in check.
“He’s a tough guy and he’s a strong guy. We’re not looking for feisty,” Bowles said. “We’re looking for guys that get the job done. We don’t want any penalties going into the season like that. We make sure we coach that and Nick understands that. We know he’s tough. He’s a film junkie, he comes in and works hard every day, and he’s competing for a spot.”
Not surprisingly, a skirmish during joint practice
The Bucs and Titans had largely been able to avoid any extended fighting during two days of sharing the same fields and physical practices in mid-80s August heat. That changed in the final period, as the teams went through end-of-game running-clock scenarios, complete with Hail Mary throws and other red-zone scoring opportunities.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette and Simmons started throwing punches and the skirmish escalated from there, with multiple players being separated from one another. The teams went to separate huddles and the end of practice was called, each team going its separate way until Saturday night’s game.
“It’s unfortunate …” Bowles said. “We got some good work against these guys. They have a good team. We feel like we have a good team. There’s no need for that in practice. Luckily, none of it went far and we got it taken care of.”
Video: Bucs coach Todd Bowles says a fight between his team and the Titans was unfortunate, but otherwise they enjoyed the joint practices in Nashville. pic.twitter.com/VWdOqhHaep
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 18, 2022
Said Titans coach Mike Vrabel: “I think we should be able to not do dumb shit that hurts the team. I would say that’s an example of that. You guys are all writing about what that is. That’s what that would be.”
• With outside linebacker Shaq Barrett getting a day off, new pass rusher Carl Nassib was jumping right in and getting some work with the first team, opposite Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Bowles said Nassib’s role will continue to expand as he gets himself in football shape and gets caught up learning the defensive scheme.
• The news that the NFL and Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson had reached an agreement on an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine benefits the Bucs, who are Cleveland’s 11th opponent this season and thus avoid having to play Watson. The only NFC South team that will end up having to play against Watson is the Saints, who head to Cleveland in Week 16.
• We wrote last August about outside linebacker Elijah Ponder, who had played defensive tackle in college at as much as 275 pounds but had dropped to 248 last year as he shifted outside. Ponder, challenging for a job if the Bucs carry a fifth outside linebacker, is now down under 240 and should get significant action Saturday with Cam Gill injured, Barrett likely held out and potentially Tryon-Shoyinka as well.
• Longest Tennessee ties on the Bucs’ staff? Offensive assistant Rick Christophel played 50 years ago at Austin Peay, which is about 45 minutes from Nashville in Clarksville, and got his first coaching job there, returning as head coach from 2007 through ’12. He also spent five years as a Vanderbilt assistant from 1986 to ’90. Christophel, 69, was Bruce Arians’ tight ends coach in Arizona and in Tampa before shifting to a smaller role this season.
(Photo of Todd Bowles: George Walker IV / USA Today)
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