AUTAUGAVILLE, Ala. —The screen door hangs open to Laura's Country Kitchen but the dining room is empty with no one to feed.
The abandoned one-story brick building is hidden in the brush, but there is no way to conceal the influence this place had on O.J. Howard.
When he was young, Howard's days began before sunrise on the dirt road from his parents' trailer, walking past an artesian well and into his grandmother's restaurant on Blossom Road....
TAMPA — Since being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot four years ago, Warren Sapp has traveled each August to Canton, Ohio, to join the game's greats returning for induction ceremonies.
But with each passing year, it seemed too many of his fellow NFL players were in failing health and slipping further into a fog as a result of head injuries sustained during their careers....
TAMPA — Since being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot four years ago, Warren Sapp has traveled each August to Canton, Ohio, to join the game's greats returning for induction ceremonies. But with each passing year, it seemed too many of his fellow NFL players were in failing health and slipping further into a fog as a result of head injuries sustained during their careers."I said, 'I can't do this. I can't stay on the sideline and watch Tony Dorsett and Willie Brown and all the great ones deteriorate before my eyes,' " Sapp told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday....
TAMPA — More than any other sport, availability is the most coveted ability in football. Spend too much time in the training room and you can not only lose a starting position, it can end your career.
With that in mind, for several Bucs players, 2017 will serve as a comeback. They are sometimes forgotten players, but come September, they could be making a memorable impact....
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston wrapped up his third NFL off-season Thursday and he is a far different player than the promising Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
The biggest difference? Winston is now aiming to become elite, according to coach Dirk Koetter.
"I would say Jameis is different in that he knows he can play in the NFL,'' Koetter said. "He knows he can be a successful player. Jameis, no one has higher expectations for his performance than he does. He's aiming to be elite, not just one of 32. And because he has such high expectations and we have high expectations, it's a never-ending process. We're hard on Jameis and he's hard on himself. Always improving but not where he wants to be.
"What's changed is when you come into the league as a rookie, even though you had great success in college, you're playing with grown men no and there's just a lot more thrown at you. The disguise is so much different. The way the defense looks. He's been 32 NFL starts, so experience is the best teacher. We've talked about this before. But the Tom Bradys and Matt Ryans of the world have got a lot of reps on Jameis. We called practice early there. Jameis is the one guy in the huddle who wanted to keep going.''...
TAMPA — This concludes the offseason portion of the NFL schedule. We're here to crown a champion. It's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There's no champagne or confetti to commemorate the occasion. Kona Ice snow cones will have to do. How better to cool off the league's hottest team in June?
That's how the Bucs celebrated becoming the new It team among pundits and HBO producers.
It officially ended Thursday when Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk combined to split the uprights with all four field goal attempts....
Expectations are good to have in the NFL. Following a 9-7 season in which they missed the playoffs by the third tie-breaker, the Bucs have become a popular pick to win the NFC South or even (gulp) a surprise team to reach the Super Bowl.
More than ever, the Bucs have embraced the expectations and national attention will be racheted up soon with the start of HBO's Hard Knocks in training camp.
But head coach Dirk Koetter spends a lot of effort making sure his Bucs players don't get over their skis. While admitting he has a good football team, he's quick to remind his team they haven't accomplished anything yet.
"We’ve got to control what we control. We can’t control – good or bad – what’s said,'' Koetter said. "The NFL’s popular. It’s great that you folks are here talking about us. It’s great that people nationally are talking about us. But there’s 31 other teams that got better. We’ve got to prove it on the field.
"I talk to the guys about it all the time, constantly reminding them – I think you guys are making too much of the Hard Knocks deal. Hard Knocks isn’t going to affect us one way or another. Now, the fact that people are talking about us – hey, you want to be talked about. It beats the alternative. There’s going to come a day where we have to back it up. That day’s going to come on September 10th, the first time it’s going to really count. We’re aware of it. Is it in the back of our mind? Yes. But that still comes back to controlling the things that we have control of, don’t worry about the things we don’t.”
Jameis Winston entering his third season, the addition of offensive weapons such as DeSean Jackson, rookie tight end O.J. Howard and receiver Chris Godwin are reasons for optimism, along with a defense that showed vast improvement the second half of 2016.
But the NFC South is arguably the league's toughest division with the NFL's last two Most Valuable Players who led their respective teams to the Super Bowl -- Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Panthers QB Cam Newton....
Wide receiver Chris Godwin has made more plays for the Bucs than any rookie since the draft. In fact, his size (6-1, 210 pounds) and ability to compete for the football drew comparisons Wednesday to former Falcons receiver Roddy White, who recently retired.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the former Falcons head coach, first raved about Godwin's ability to compete for the football. Head coach Dirk Koetter, who was Smith's offensive coordinator in Atlanta, drew the parallel to White....
TAMPA — All eyes will be on DeSean Jackson when he makes his regular-season debut with the Bucs. Given his speed and production as a receiver, well, get your popcorn ready.
But Wednesday, Jackson, a free-agent signing this offseason, turned his thoughts to another premiere. He is a producer of All Eyez on Me, a biopic of hip-hop artist, rapper, poet, actor and activist Tupac Shakur that opens in 2,450 theaters in North America on Friday....
"It's a big responsibility. I think Donovan has the correct makeup, the proper makeup to play that position.''
Dirk Koetter, Bucs coach
Slimmed down left tackle Donovan Smith still feels the enormous weight of his job. He is the man paid to protect quarterback Jameis Winston against the NFL's premier pass rushers. But it doesn't stop there. It means the fate of the Bucs' entire franchise rests on his performance on any and every given play....
TAMPA — The sleeper pick in the NFL draft for the Bucs this year may prove to be Penn State receiver Chris Godwin. Word of warning to the league's defensive backs: Don't rest on him.
DeSean Jackson has been electric. Mike Evans has lost a few pounds but still wins most routes. Adam Humphries is as reliable as the sunrise. But the pass catcher who has consistently made the most plays in the six full-squad workouts this offseason may be Godwin....
TAMPA — It's the most indelible image in Bucs history. Head coach Jon Gruden, raising the Lombardi Trophy in his right hand while embracing owner Malcolm Glazer after winning Super Bowl XXXVII. The confetti had fallen and Gruden had thoroughly thrashed his former Oakland Raiders team 48-21 on a cool evening in San Diego.
Less than a year earlier, Glazer had paid an enormous bounty to the Raiders to trade for Gruden — two first round picks, two second round picks and $8 million. Now here they stood, the kings of the NFL, an improbable season ending when the impossible happened....
It's the most indelible image in Bucs history. Jon Gruden, raising the Lombardi Trophy in his right hand while embracing owner Malcolm Glazer after winning Super Bowl XXXVII. The confetti had fallen and Gruden had thoroughly thrashed his former Oakland Raiders team 48-21 on a cool evening in San Diego.
Less than a year earlier, Glazer had paid an enormous bounty to the Raiders to trade for Gruden — two first round picks, two second round picks and $8-million. Now here they stood, the kings of the NFL, an improbable season ending when the impossible happened....