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Friday, Nov 24, 2017
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Bucs working to fix problem of dropped passes

TAMPA - Mike Williams spent the first few minutes of practice Wednesday straddling a sideline and catching passes from receivers coach Eric Yarber. First, he caught them with two hands, then with only his left hand and finally with only his right hand. He needed the work more than many Tampa Bay Buccaneers followers may realize. Williams, who led all NFL rookies in pass receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns last season, enters Sunday's game against the Saints in New Orleans as one of the league's least-reliable pass-catchers this year. "I've got seven dropped passes already, and that includes four in one game,'' said Williams, who has played in all seven Bucs games this season. "And that's all on me, really. I have to get up on that and find a way to fix it.''
Williams isn't the only Bucs receiver who needs to hold on to quarterback Josh Freeman's throws. Wideout Arrelious Benn and tight end Kellen Winslow have dropped three passes each, according to statistics kept by ESPN that also show the Bucs ranked tied for fourth-most in the league with 15 total drops. Based on Williams' accounting, the ESPN stats could lean toward the conservative side, as ESPN has Williams with just five dropped passes. Even so, Williams has the fourth-most dropped passes in the league, according to ESPN, which is not where the Bucs expect him to be. "We definitely have a couple more than we usually would have from a guy like Mike Williams,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "And we've had some key ones, some clutch ones. "We had one in that first series (against the Bears two weeks ago in London). I wouldn't say it's been a hindrance, but it certainly hasn't helped us with what we want to do, either.'' That first series in the 24-18 loss to the Bears is a prime example of how the drops are hurting the Bucs. On a first-and-10 play from the Tampa Bay 29-yard line, just four plays into the game, Dezmon Briscoe dropped a Freeman throw and the Bucs never recovered. "We just have to do a better job of making the play when it comes to us,'' Winslow said. "It's as simple as that, really. Nothing really has to be said because that's our job.'' It is also a defensive back's job to catch the ball when it comes to him, but since the start of the season the Bucs' corners and safeties have had problems carrying out those duties, as well. Though he didn't put a number on it, Morris said Bucs defensive backs have let far too many interception opportunities slip through their hands, and that has cost the team in the standings. "If we don't have all those missed opps against Detroit, we could have had a different result in that game,'' Morris said of the 27-20 season-opening loss. "And if we don't have all those missed opps against Chicago, we can change that game.'' Against the Bears, veteran cornerback Ronde Barber failed to hold on to a pass that almost certainly would have resulted in an interception returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Not surprisingly, Barber is at the forefront of the secondary's attempts to correct the problem. Along with corner Aqib Talib, who has dropped at least three interceptions, he's had some special footballs incorporated into the Bucs' practice routine. The balls have a number painted on one end and a letter on the other. During individual drills, the players are required to call out the number or letter they see when they catch the ball. The idea behind the drill is to help players improve their concentration by watching the ball into their hands, which is precisely what Williams said he's been failing to do. "It's been a lack of focus, that's it,'' Williams said. "I'm just not concentrating as much I need to. That's why I have seven drops. But I plan on having seven drops at the end of the season, too.'' Talib didn't make any such predictions for the secondary. He simply vowed to keep working on a problem that has been a major point of emphasis since the Bucs returned from their bye last week. "We talked about it as a unit at the beginning of the week, and we've put a lot of emphasis on those ball drills because we feel like if we put an emphasis on it, then it should stop,'' he said. "And it has to stop, because we feel like in a lot of the games we've played, if we had make a couple of those plays and not missed on those opportunities, it's a different game and we would have had a different result.''


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