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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Once targeted by the Bucs, Dalvin Cook thrills for Vikings

How good would the Bucs be with running back Dalvin Cook?

It nearly happened. Tampa Bay was set to select Cook in the first round, but Alabama tight end O.J. Howard unexpectedly tumbled to them with the 19th overall pick. Howard was one of the cleanest players in the draft due to his production and character and was projected to be gone with the first 10-15 picks.

The Bucs were very familiar with Cook, who as a teammate of quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State. Had he come to the Bucs, running back Doug Martin may not be on the roster instead of serving a three-game suspension. Cook lasted until the ninth pick in the second round, most likely due to some off-field concerns.

But Cook has quickly proven to be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. In his first game, Cook broke Adrian Peterson’s record for the most rushing yards by a rookie in his debut when he gained 127 yards in a 29-19 win over the New Orleans Saints. …

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Strange Case: Bucs could face nemesis Keenum again

The Bucs stopped Case Keenum on this two-point conversion last season, but he's beaten Tampa Bay in each of the last two years, throwing for four touchdown passes.

WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES

The Bucs stopped Case Keenum on this two-point conversion last season, but he's beaten Tampa Bay in each of the last two years, throwing for four touchdown passes.

Who, you might wonder, will be the first NFL quarterback to beat Jameis Winston three times?

The natural guess would be a division rival, and Carolina's Cam Newton and New Orleans' Drew Brees have beaten Winston twice already.

But the first quarterback this season with a chance to beat the Bucs for a third time in three seasons is ... Case Keenum?

If Sam Bradford's knee keeps him out Sunday as it did for the Vikings this past week, then the Bucs will face Keenum, who led the Rams to victories against Tampa Bay in each of the last two seasons.

Keenum has been sharp -- in 2015, he was 14-for-17 for 234 yards and two scores (a 158.0 QB rating) and last year, he was 14-for-26 for 190 and two touchdowns with an interception. His specialty? Beating the Bucs with the deep ball. …

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Tiki will join Ronde Barber on Fox broadcast for Bucs-Giants

Twin brothers Ronde and Tiki Barber, shown during a Bucs-Giants game in 2006, will be in the broadcast booth together as Tiki joins Ronde and play-by-play man Kenny Albert for the Bucs-Giants game in Tampa on Oct. 1.

TIMES ARCHIVES (2006)

Twin brothers Ronde and Tiki Barber, shown during a Bucs-Giants game in 2006, will be in the broadcast booth together as Tiki joins Ronde and play-by-play man Kenny Albert for the Bucs-Giants game in Tampa on Oct. 1.

FOX announced Monday night that former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will have a familiar face joining him as a guest analyst for the Oct. 1 Bucs-Giants game in Tampa: his twin brother Tiki, who will join play-by-play man Kenny Albert as the brothers watch their old teams play.

"I probably wouldn't want to be part of a three-man booth with too many people, but I'm happy to share the FOX booth with Tiki," Ronde said in a statement. "Tiki is a novice in terms of calling games, and there are so many different mechanics that go along with it. We have always shared our life experiences with each other, so he knows what he is getting into by virtue of me. He is very 'big picture' and not myopic when it comes to football. Because of his history in New York and mine in Tampa, we will be able to offer a different perspective to these two markets and a global viewpoint on both teams to any viewer." …

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Cannons will fire again when Bucs return to Raymond James

Ron Gutschmidt is perched on top of the Buccaneer pirate ship ready to activate the ship's cannons with the press of a button after a Buccaneer touchdown in this 2010 photo.

LUIS SANTANA -- TIMES (2010)

Ron Gutschmidt is perched on top of the Buccaneer pirate ship ready to activate the ship's cannons with the press of a button after a Buccaneer touchdown in this 2010 photo.

As good as the Bucs looked in their season-opening 29-7 win against the Bears on Sunday, fans couldn't help but notice that the success didn't sound the same at Raymond James Stadium.

The signature firing of the cannons from the pirate ship in the north end zone of the stadium -- a warning shot to mark the Bucs entering the red zone, and one blast for every point scored by the home team -- was never heard in Sunday's win. Fans were concerned enough that in looking for answers online, one of the most-read stories on tampabay.com over the weekend was an August story on the Redskins' Josh Norman asking why the Bucs can fire their cannons, but he can't make a bow-and-arrow gesture in celebration without a fine.

There's good news for Bucs fans -- the team said Monday night that water damage from Hurricane Irma impacted the electrical systems that control the cannons. Those systems are being repaired and the Bucs expect that the cannons will be fully functional for the Bucs' next home game, on Oct. 1 against the Giants. …

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Cameron Brate, Minnesota Viking? Bucs TE got first look there

Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, shown in a photo shoot for the Times' Bucs season preview section, got a look for the Vikings in rookie minicamp in 2014 before signing with the Bucs.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, shown in a photo shoot for the Times' Bucs season preview section, got a look for the Vikings in rookie minicamp in 2014 before signing with the Bucs.

As the Bucs head to Minnesota this week for a game against the Vikings, tight end Cameron Brate can wonder what might have been.

Before he got to the Bucs as an undrafted rookie in 2014, he got a look at Vikings rookie minicamp, even completing one of his final exams to get his degree from Harvard with a proctor in the lobby of the Vikings team hotel. Minnesota didn't sign him, however, and he tried out for the Bucs, signed a contract and worked his way up with Tampa Bay and tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season.

"I don't think it would have gone as well if I'd stayed there," Brate said Monday of his weekend with the Vikings. "I can't imagine it. Things worked out here. I was there for three days. I'm happy with how everything has worked out."

Brate said he does remember another long shot from that rookie minicamp -- receiver Adam Thielen, who had been on the Vikings' practice squad in 2013 and participated in the minicamp. Much like Brate, Thielen had 20 total catches in 2014-15 before a breakout season last year, catching 69 passes for 967 yards and five touchdowns. …

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Bucs' Bernard Reedy cherishes debut, returner role

Lakewood grad Bernard Reedy, who made his NFL debut on Sunday, joined QB Jameis Winston in St. Petersburg on Friday in serving food at a giveaway in St. Petersburg for hurricane victims.

LARA CERRI | TIMES

Lakewood grad Bernard Reedy, who made his NFL debut on Sunday, joined QB Jameis Winston in St. Petersburg on Friday in serving food at a giveaway in St. Petersburg for hurricane victims.

Lakewood's Bernard Reedy had tried to earn his way into an NFL game for three straight years but Sunday he achieved that goal, handling the Bucs' punt and kickoff returns in their season-opening win against the Bears.

"It feels great. It's still surreal to be my first career regular-season game. It's priceless," said Reedy, who earned one of the last spots on the Bucs' 53-man roster as the team's fifth receiver.

Reedy only had one actual return, taking a punt 17 yards in the third quarter, and got seven snaps on offense as well, though he wasn't targeted for any passes. Reedy had worked as the primary backup on both punt and kickoff returns in preseason, and found out last week he'd take over for Adam Humphries on punts and Ryan Smith on kickoff returns.

"It's something I always dreamed of, returning kicks," said Reedy, thrilled his debut could come in a home win. "I was ready to go ... That's what you practice for, what training camp and preseason are all about is leading up to the regular season."

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Bucs offense was at its best vs. Bears in 2-minute drill

Bucs receiver Mike Evans makes a catch during Sunday's win against the Bears. His 17-yard catch just before halftime set up a 50-yard field goal as the Bucs executed their two-minute offense well.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs receiver Mike Evans makes a catch during Sunday's win against the Bears. His 17-yard catch just before halftime set up a 50-yard field goal as the Bucs executed their two-minute offense well.

As much as the Bucs offense missed out on some scoring with red-zone inefficiency in Sunday's 29-7 win against the Bears, the team's best execution might have come in the final minute of the first half in setting up a 50-yard field goal.

Up 23-0 already, given the ball at their 25 with 1:04 left, the Bucs could have easily just run out the half, content to go to the locker room with a dominating lead. Instead, they worked on that two-minute drill, with Jameis Winston completing four passes for 53 yards to set up the kick.

"It feels great. We wanted that two-minute opportunity," quarterback Jameis Winston said after the game. "We got a chance to run a play that we have never run in a real game before, with Mike Evans catching that ball, then getting out of bounds, so it was good to be able to work that and we saw how it did. I think that's the happiest I've ever seen Coach Koetter -- during that two-minute drive, on that final play -- than I have since I've been here." …

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Bucs' Mike Evans thrilled to draw single coverage from Bears

Bucs receiver Mike Evans gets his feet in bounds on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston in Sunday's win against the Bears.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs receiver Mike Evans gets his feet in bounds on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston in Sunday's win against the Bears.

It was an efficient debut for Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who caught a 13-yard touchdown pass and had seven catches for 93 yards on just nine targets in Sunday's season-opening win against the Bears.

What was encouraging, even exciting for Evans was how often he drew single coverage from the Bears defense, a testament to the improved options added to the Bucs offense that opponents must now account for.

"The last couple of seasons, the Bears double-teamed me crazy," Evans said. "I probably saw maybe one or two double-teams today. It was great. We had a lot of one-on-one opportunities. We have a lot of talent, so all we have to do beat the one-on-one matchups. I hope it's like this every week, but it's obviously not."

Asked about Evans' touchdown catch for a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he saw what Jameis Winston saw and acted on.

"I saw one-on-one coverage," Koetter said. "I figured that's where Jameis was going to go with the ball. That's something we work on a lot, and Mike and Jameis have put a lot of time in that red-zone fade ball. We don't get single coverage on Mike very often, so when we do, we're happy to see it." …

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Bucs' Robert McClain savors first career TD on pick-six

Bucs nickel Robert McClain pulls away from Bears receiver Kendall Wright for his first career touchdown on a 47-yard interception return in Sunday's win against Chicago.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs nickel Robert McClain pulls away from Bears receiver Kendall Wright for his first career touchdown on a 47-yard interception return in Sunday's win against Chicago.

The Bucs are Robert McClain's fourth NFL team and his third in the past year, but Sunday gave him a memorable first -- his first touchdown, intercepting a Mike Glennon pass and returning it 47 yards for a touchdown as the Bucs pulled away to a 29-7 win over the Bears.

"It's been a while -- I have dreams of just getting my hands on the ball," said McClain, who jumped in front of a pass intended for receiver Josh Bellamy. "That's all I wanted. If you're on defense, you just want to get your hands on the ball. I'm happy I got that pick and made that play, but there's a lot of stuff I still have to work on."

McClain, 29, beat Bellamy down the sidelines, but nearly was brought down by receiver Kendall Wright, who dived at him inside the 10 but couldn't tackle him, allowing him to celebrate in the end zone.

"I was thinking about him the entire time -- this one guy right behind me, and as long as he doesn't tackle me, I'm getting this. I just wanted to stay in-bounds," said McClain, who kept the game ball from his touchdown in his locker.

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Bucs' Ryan Smith gets another win against Bears rookie

Bucs linebacker Cameron Lynch, right, pounces on a loose ball after Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith forced a fumble from Bears rookie Tarik Cohen on a first-quarter punt.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs linebacker Cameron Lynch, right, pounces on a loose ball after Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith forced a fumble from Bears rookie Tarik Cohen on a first-quarter punt.

The Bucs were only ahead 3-0 and punting in the final minute of the first quarter when cornerback Ryan Smith saw the punt bounce again and again and wondered: Would Bears rookie Tarik Cohen really try to field the punt?

"I didn't think he would go for it, but when he did, I made a play," said Smith, who knocked the ball loose, and linebacker Cameron Lynch jumped on the loose ball at the 13-yard line, setting up a Jameis Winston touchdown to Mike Evans on the next play for a 10-0 lead.

Smith and Cohen go way back -- both are from rival I-AA programs, with Smith at North Carolina Central and Cohen at North Carolina A&T. Smith beat him twice in college, the first time pouncing on a Cohen fumble at the 1-yard line to thwart a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. He said he liked facing Cohen again, even if it wasn't completely reciprocated.

"It was cool going against him again. After the game, he said he was tired of seeing me," Smith said. "He's my boy though. It was good seeing him out there. I made a play, but I'm just doing my job." …

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Kwon Alexander gets INT, leaves with hamstring injury

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, shown in training camp, left Sunday's season opener with a hamstring injury in the second quarter.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, shown in training camp, left Sunday's season opener with a hamstring injury in the second quarter.

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander left Sunday's season opener against the Bears with a hamstring injury, and his return was listed as doubtful.

Fortunately for the Bucs, it's the kind of game where you can rest starters if necessary -- they're up 26-0 at halftime, with Alexander getting the first of four Bucs takeaways when he intercepted a Mike Glennon pass on the opening drive.

Glennon, the former Bucs backup, went 6-for-6 to open the game, but Alexander intercepted a pass intended for Dion Sims in the red zone.

Alexander had been sidelined for two weeks in preseason with a hamstring injury -- it's unknown if the two injuries are related. The Bucs shifted rookie Kendell Beckwith to middle linebacker, inserting Adarius Glanton in at strongside linebacker.

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Kwon Alexander active as Bucs open season vs. Bears

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, shown in training camp, is active and playing for Tampa Bay in today's season opener after being limited by illness in practice this week.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, shown in training camp, is active and playing for Tampa Bay in today's season opener after being limited by illness in practice this week.

If there was any doubt that Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander might be sidelined by the illness that limited him in Thursday's practice, that fear is gone, as Alexander is active and playing in Tampa Bay's season opener against the Bears.

The same is true for backup offensive lineman Evan Smith, who was also limited by illness in practice but is dressed as the Bucs' top reserve at center and guard.

The Bucs' inactives are largely as expected -- DE Jacquies Smith and LB Devante Bond are recovering from injury, and the rest are healthy scratches: TE Antony Auclair, C Joe Hawley, OT Leonard Wester, DE Will Clarke and DB Javien Elliott.

That means WR Bernard Reedy is active and the Lakewood grad can make his NFL debut -- the team's top four draft picks are also set to make their debuts in TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin and LB Kendell Beckwith.

Safety T.J. Ward, signed last week after he was cut by the Broncos, is one of eight veterans that can make their Bucs debut, along with WR DeSean Jackson, G J.R. Sweezy, DT Chris Baker, DB Robert McClain, K Nick Folk, LS Garrison Sanborn and backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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Fertile ground: 11 NFL players from Tampa, 10 from Pinellas

Clearwater's Jeremiah George and Lakewood's Bernard Reedy, shown in 2009 as the Times' Pinellas County defensive and offensive players of the year, are among 23 players from Tampa Bay high schools to make NFL rosters on the opening weekend of the 2017 season.

SCOTT KEELER | TIMES (2009)

Clearwater's Jeremiah George and Lakewood's Bernard Reedy, shown in 2009 as the Times' Pinellas County defensive and offensive players of the year, are among 23 players from Tampa Bay high schools to make NFL rosters on the opening weekend of the 2017 season.

Each year, the NFL sorts the opening 53-man rosters for all 32 teams to find out which hometowns produce the most NFL talent, and Tampa now has 11 players from their high schools, tying for the seventh-most of any cities across the country.

The NFL counts a player's hometown as the city where his high school is located -- in theory, you could include Riverview grad Jahleel Addae as a 12th player from Tampa, as he lists himself from Tampa on his Twitter bio, but the NFL counts him from Riverview.

South Florida dominates the NFL list -- Miami has 25 players and Fort Lauderdale 15, with Houston ranking second with 17. The only other cities with more NFL players than Tampa are Cincinnati (14) and Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., with 12 each.

Which NFL team has the most locals? The Chargers have four -- Addae, Admiral Farragut's Rayshawn Jenkins, Hillsborough's Nigel Harris and Indian Rock Christian's Sean Culkin. It's cool to see the Bucs have the second-most with three -- Wharton's Vernon Hargreaves, Lakewood's Bernard Reedy and Jesuit's Garrison Sanborn. …

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Koetter: Robert McClain will start at nickel for Bucs

The Bucs' Robert McClain, shown in preseason, has won the battle for the team's starting nickel defensive back, coach Dirk Koetter said Friday.

MONICA HERNDON | TIMES

The Bucs' Robert McClain, shown in preseason, has won the battle for the team's starting nickel defensive back, coach Dirk Koetter said Friday.

In one of the more closely contested battles of the Bucs' preseason, veteran Robert McClain will open the season as the starting nickel defensive back, coach Dirk Koetter said Friday night on his weekly radio show.

McClain, who played for the Falcons when Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith were in Atlanta, beat out second-year pro Javien Elliott, who finished last season as the nickel after Jude Adjei-Barimah's four-game suspension. McClain, 29, started six games with the Panthers last season and brings more experience to the position.

"We had a big battle at our nickel corner, and Robert McClain is going to get the start for us," Koetter said on his show. "Shoot, I've been with Robert for a long time. He played for us in Atlanta, always one of my favorite players. ... Bobby's one of those guys that's always going to give you everything he has."

The Bucs may not line up in nickel defense as much Sunday -- the Bears have injuries at receiver and if they're not lining up often in three-receiver sets, the Bucs are likely to stay in their base defense, where rookie strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith is on the field instead of a fifth defensive back. …

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Koetter: Bucs couldn't anticipate long delay before opener

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, shown laughing with Mike Evans in training camp, said his team would have planned its preseason differently had they known they would not be playing in Week 1.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, shown laughing with Mike Evans in training camp, said his team would have planned its preseason differently had they known they would not be playing in Week 1.

Nobody has suggested the Bucs should have somehow anticipated the chaos of the past two weeks, with their season opener at Miami postponed until November by Hurricane Irma and players spread all over the country last weekend before returning Tuesday to prepare for this week's opener against the Bears.

But Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was a bit defensive in addressing the delay before Sunday's game -- as much as a full calendar month since the last playing time for some players -- by reminding that his team would have handled playing time for starters in the preseason differently if they'd known what was ahead.

"We would have planned training camp totally different had we known we were having a bye Week 1," Koetter said. "We wouldn't have done it that way. Maybe we would have played our guys in preseason (finale). You've got to remember: We didn't know that. We didn't know any of that. We found that out on (last) Wednesday, the last day we kissed them goodbye. Every time I've been there, you've known your bye week about eight months in advance. We knew ours about one day in advance." …

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