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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Koetter: Winston owned mistake as speaker but still exceeds expectations as face of the franchise

The Bucs played a little defense for quarterback Jameis Winston Wednesday.

Dirk Koetter said Winston 'made a mistake,' and apologized for his poor choice of words during a presentation to students at Melrose Elementary School last week. But the Bucs coach added that Winston exceeds expectations as the face of the franchise both on and off the field.

“Anyone who knows Jameis Winston knows that when Jameis gets up in the morning, he’s trying to do good things out there, whether it be improve himself, help our team get better or do something good in the community,'' Koetter said at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Obviously, with the situation at the school last week, in the midst of a school presentation, he made a mistake and he owned up to that mistake. He’s 23 years old. I think anyone who has to stand behind a microphone and talk to a group of people, you’re going to make mistakes from time to time and there’s been other ones in the sports world very recently.

"Jameis continues to exceed expectations as the face of our franchise every single day. We couldn't be happier with Jameis. It was an unfortunate situation. He owned up to it and and now we've got to move forward.'' …

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NFL Draft Q&A: Southern Miss center Cameron Tom

Our daily NFL Draft Q&A series continues with Southern Miss center Cameron Tom, who isn't at the NFL combine this week but helped himself at the East-West Shrine Game in January and is getting prepared for his pro day on April 4 in Hattiesburg. He took a few minutes to talk about his draft prep ...

Q: First off, where are you training to get ready for your pro day?

A: "I'm in Madison, Mississippi. There are a couple of guys from my school here, a slot from Texas A&M, a tight end from Arkansas and an offensive lineman from North Carolina."

Q: What were your priorities for this spring in terms of things to improve on before the draft?

A: "I added on some weight. I wanted to add about 10 pounds. And my strength, working on my bench-press reps. Those were a couple of things I wanted to work on. I'm definitely getting stronger."

Q: What's the easiest way for you to put on 10 pounds in a short amount of time?

A: "Eat and eat a lot, even when you don't want to. You just keep on eating. A lot of protein. Peanut butter and jellies and drinking a lot of protein shakes. I was at 295, 296 this morning. I want to get to 300." …

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Adrian Peterson to Bucs? Vegas says maybe, fans lukewarm

In January, Adrian Peterson mentioned the Bucs among the teams he'd be interested in playing for if he didn't return with the Vikings.

AP photo

In January, Adrian Peterson mentioned the Bucs among the teams he'd be interested in playing for if he didn't return with the Vikings.

With Tuesday's news that the Vikings are not exercising the 2017 option for running back Adrian Peterson, it's another option for the Bucs as they evaluate the future of their running game.

In January, Peterson mentioned the Bucs among the teams he'd be interested in playing for if he didn't return with the Vikings -- he also mentioned the Giants and Texans -- and Las Vegas sports book Bovada set the Bucs as the early favorite when they posted lines Tuesday. The Bucs have 3:1 odds to land Peterson, with the Giants, Vikings and Chiefs next with 5:1 odds.

The Bucs have uncertainty at running back -- former Pro Bowl back Doug Martin is facing a three-game suspension to open the season and could be released, and last year's leading rusher, Jacquizz Rodgers, is an unrestricted free agent. So Tampa Bay could stick with their existing options, or look to the draft or free agency to find a new starting running back. …

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NFL Draft Q&A: Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis

Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis had 11.5 sacks last season with the Wildcats.

Getty Images

Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis had 11.5 sacks last season with the Wildcats.

Our daily NFL Draft Q&A series continues with Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis, who had 11.5 sacks last season with the Wildcats. With the NFL combine starting today in Indianapolis -- Bucs coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht will talk to the media on Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. -- we caught up with Willis about his draft prep ...

Q: Where have you been training to get ready for the combine?

A: "I'm training at two places. I'm at Simoneau Sports Performance in Overland Park (former K-State and NFL LB Mark Simoneau) and 68's Inside Sports (run by former Chiefs guard Will Shields). Both are in Overland Park. In my group is (former Kansas State DE) Ryan Mueller, (former Nebraska LB) Michael Rose-Ivey, and (OL Michael Miller) from Washburn.

Q: Was there a priority for you in getting prepared for workouts this spring? …

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NFL draft podcast: Greg and Riley Auman on running backs

Riley, left, and Greg Auman, right.

Photo from video

Riley, left, and Greg Auman, right.

With the NFL Draft two months off, we start a weekly draft podcast with Bucs beat writer Greg Auman and his son Riley, a draft-obsessed 14-year-old. In this episode, we look at the running backs in the 2017 draft class as the NFL combine begins.

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Bucs also tender TE Cameron Brate for 2017

It's largely a formality, but the Bucs have tendered a fifth exclusive-rights free agent for 2017 in tight end Cameron Brate, whose breakout season last fall could line him up for a lucrative extension later this summer.

Brate, 25, tied a Bucs record for tight ends with eight touchdown receptions, also tying for the NFL lead among tight ends. He finished with 57 catches for 660 yards, both second on the team behind Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans. Brate has played parts of three seasons with the Bucs, but because he was only on the roster for five games in 2014 -- one less than what is needed for an accrued season -- he's classified as an ERFA, instead of a restricted free agent as he'd be with three accrued seasons.

Brate joins four other ERFAs who were reported with tenders Monday night, in WR Adam Humphries, DB Jude Adjei-Barimah, LB Adarius Glanton and WR Freddie Martino. The only other ERFA for the Bucs is DE Howard Jones, who is recovering from ACL surgery last fall. …

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Bucs tender WR Adam Humphries, 3 others for 2017

Exclusive-rights free agents are something of a formality in NFL transactions, as all a team must do to retain an ERFA is tender a one-year, league-minimum contract.

The Bucs did just that with four of their six ERFAs on Monday, extending tenders to WR Adam Humphries, DB Jude Adjei-Barimah, LB Adarius Glanton and WR Freddie Martino for the 2017 season. The team still has TE Cameron Brate to be tendered as an ERFA, as well as DE Howard Jones, who is recovering from knee surgery last fall.

Once the tenders are signed, those four players are on the roster to compete for jobs this fall, and would be restricted free agents next spring in 2018.

-- Humphries, 23, became the Bucs' No. 2 receiver after a slew of injuries. He finished with 55 catches for 622 yards and two touchdowns. The undrafted player out of Clemson has more catches in two years (82) than all but four of the 31 receivers who were drafted in 2015. …

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Bucs' Brent Grimes earned $1-million in playing-time incentives

Brent Grimes actually earned $8-million for his first year in Tampa Bay, and he'll have an even better chance to boost his $6.5-million pay in 2017.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Brent Grimes actually earned $8-million for his first year in Tampa Bay, and he'll have an even better chance to boost his $6.5-million pay in 2017.

If there were any questions about Brent Grimes' durability when he signed with the Bucs last spring, he answered those during the 2016 season, and now has a cool $1-million to show for that.

Grimes, 33, played in 94 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps last season -- he missed only 64 snaps all season, including 48 in one game when he injured his quad early in the Bucs' win at Kansas City. So in addition to his $7-million in regular compensation, he triggered two incentives in his contract -- $500,000 for playing in 70 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps, and another $500,000 for playing in 80 percent of the defensive snaps. Had he made it to the Pro Bowl on the original roster -- going as an alternate or injury replacement doesn't trigger it -- he would have earned another $250,000 bonus.

So Grimes actually earned $8-million for his first year in Tampa Bay, and he'll have an even better chance to boost his $6.5-million pay in 2017. Grimes can pick up $500,000 incentives each if he plays in 60 percent, 70 percent and 80 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps, and the same $250,000 for making the Pro Bowl on the original ballot. …

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NFL Draft Q&A: Texas A&M tackle Avery Gennesy

Texas A&M offensive tackle Avery Gennesy was the Aggies' starting left tackle for the last two years.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Texas A&M offensive tackle Avery Gennesy was the Aggies' starting left tackle for the last two years.

Our daily NFL Draft Q&A series continues today with Texas A&M offensive tackle Avery Gennesy, who was the Aggies' starting left tackle for the last two years. Texas A&M has a strong streak going with four straight years with an offensive lineman taken in the first round -- Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews, Cedric Ogbuehi and Germain Ifedi. That streak is likely to end this year, but Gennesy is working to improve his draft position and took a few minutes to talk with us. ...

Q: Where are you training to get ready for the combine and pro day?

A: "I'm working out in Duluth, Ga., with Chip Smith Performance Systems. It's going pretty good, getting better every day.

Q: You were listed at 6-5, 305 at A&M. What's an accurate height and weight for you right now?

A: "It's probably 6-3, 314 now. I've gained weight since I've been here. I don't look like I've added any weight, so it's good weight."

Q: You played left tackle both years at Texas A&M. Where do you think you fit in best on an NFL offensive line?

A: "I think I can be a left tackle or right tackle, guard. I would love to try (guard) out. I played guard at the East-West Shrine Game and played well at the position. …

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Hate to admit it: Bucs are the best choice for Hard Knocks

Jameis Winston could be ratings gold. The camera captures charisma. Cut to Winston driving in the dark to One Buc Place, interacting with coaches and teammates. Oh, the motivational moments. (“We some dogs, we ain’t no puppies!’)

Mike Evans is a budding superstar, but not shy about speaking his mind. You will see the intensity of Kwon Alexander and Robert Ayers. There will be bleeps. Gerald McCoy is constantly counting his blessings.

Coach Dirk Koetter is a heck of a lot more intense than anybody outside of One Buc Place realizes.

The Bucs are among the eight potential teams that can be mandated by the NFL to appear on the HBO series Hard Knocks for 2017. It’s hard to imagine the franchise will ever lobby to become part of the weekly preseason program. But there is an upside to marketing your product, especially if the arrow is pointing up.

The Bucs are coming off a 9-7 season where they narrowly missed the playoffs. It’s an important year and tension is good television for the NFL Films production. …

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NFL Draft Q&A: Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker

Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) had 16 sacks this past season, solidifying himself as a pass-rusher who is likely to go in the top 50 picks in the draft.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) had 16 sacks this past season, solidifying himself as a pass-rusher who is likely to go in the top 50 picks in the draft.

Our daily NFL Draft Q&A continues with Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who decided to come back for his senior year and stepped up with 16 sacks, solidifying himself as a pass-rusher who is likely to go in the top 50 picks in the draft. He took time to talk with us about his favorite sack, playing with Jameis Winston and his preparation for the draft ...

Q: The combine is now a week away. Where are you training for get yourself ready for that and pro day?

A: I'm at EXOS in Pensacola and still training for pro day back in Tallahassee. From the o-line and d-line, I see (Indiana's) Dan Feeney here, (Temple's) Dion Dawkins, Caleb Brantley out of Florida, those type of guys.

Q: What have been the key things you wanted to improve and work on for the combine?

A: "Just getting in shape. That's the main thing. Getting better in every single aspect: strength, quickness, speed, footwork. My explosiveness, my technique in running, bench-pressing, just getting stronger."

Q: FSU had listed you at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. Where are you now?

A: "They measured me (here) at 6-4, 275."

Q: How much do you think you helped yourself coming back for your senior year? …

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Bucs to release cornerback Alterraun Verner

The Bucs are releasing veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs are releasing veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner.

The Bucs are releasing veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner, who was due to make $6.5-million this season but had fallen into a backup role behind Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves.

Verner, 28, came to the Bucs in free agency in 2014 and started 14 games, but was limited to six starts in 2015 and three last season. The Bucs take no salary-cap hit for releasing him, and Verner gets a head start on free agency, which begins in two weeks.

"I would like to thank the Glazers, Jason Licht, Dirk (Koetter) and Lovie (Smith) for allowing me the opportunity to compete as a Buccaneer these past three years," Verner wrote in a post on Instagram. "I have learned so much over these years and i appreciate everything that they have done for me. I will miss my teammates, the community, and the fans for their support of me as a player and personally. You guys always had my backs. Sorry that we couldnt have succeeded more with my time there but there are great times ahead in Tampa Bay."  …

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Bucs Licht needs to duplicate free agent success of 2016

Brent Grimes was the only Bucs defender to have a rating over 90 or better by Pro Football Focus.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Brent Grimes was the only Bucs defender to have a rating over 90 or better by Pro Football Focus.

Free agency can be the cubic zirconium of the NFL. Fool’s gold. The Bucs have experienced that many times over.

But general manager Jason Licht and his staff have built a solid core of players through the draft and their approach to free agency has changed for the better.

Licht just needs to build on the success he had last year in free agency and it will become an important tool to push the Bucs into playoff contention. Consider what the Bucs were able to do last year and the important contributions free agents made in 2016.

Cornerback Brent Grimes had gone to three straight Pro Bowls with the Dolphins and had played for defensive coordinator Mike Smith in Atlanta. But he was 33 entering last season and many wondered how much he had left in the tank.

The answer was plenty.

He signed a two-year, $13.5-million contract and tied for the team lead with safety Keith Tandy with four interceptions, including one for a touchdown. He also led the club with 24 passes defensed. In fact, Grimes was the only Bucs defender to have a rating over 90 or better by Pro Football Focus. …

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NFL Draft Q&A: Miami tight end David Njoku

Miami tight end David Njoku is challenging Alabama's O.J. Howard as the top tight ends in this draft class.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Miami tight end David Njoku is challenging Alabama's O.J. Howard as the top tight ends in this draft class.

Our NFL Draft Q&A series continues with Miami tight end David Njoku, who is challenging Alabama's O.J. Howard as the top tight ends in this draft class, despite being playing only two seasons with the Hurricanes. He had only one touchdown as a redshirt freshman in 2015, but scored eight this past season, showing off his athleticism on a 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame. You'll see him pop up at the end of the first round in some mock drafts, and he took a minute to talk about preparation for next week's NFL combine ...

Q: Where are you training to get ready for combine and pro day?

A: "I'm training at Core Fitness in Miami. We have Stacy Coley, our receiver from University of Miami; Corn Elder, the cornerback; Jamal Carter, safety; Stan Dobard, a tight end from Miami, (corner) Larry Hope, who left Miami and transferred to go to Akron; Brandon Radcliff, running back from Louisville."

Q: What are the things you've focused on most as you prepare for the combine?

A: "Every aspect. They don't just focus on one thing, so I'm working really hard down here to be a better me and see how far I can go." …

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Jameis Winston taking online classes toward degree at FSU

As part of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston's appearance at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, he took questions from a panel of five young journalists from the "Manatee Messenger," the school's student paper. The kids came up with some fun questions that yielded some insightful and even newsy answers from Winston:

-- Winston said he's taking classes online this spring to get closer to earning his degree from Florida State. He took some last summer and is doing so in spring and summer this year -- he later said he's still about 26 credit-hours short of his degree, but committed to getting it.

"I'm taking classes right now. I'm focusing on graduating college. That's a big accomplishment," Winston told the students. "I've got to get my mama that degree. How many of you are going to get your mama that degree?"

-- Winston had a bad misstep ("a poor word choice," he admitted) in what Tom Jones wrote about in today's paper, but it's important to reiterate that most of what he said was on point in giving the students -- boys and girls -- a positive message about believing in themselves. …

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