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Wednesday morning's padded practice was hot and sunny, with humid and muggy conditions and no breeze. It's a good thing that Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden gave his players the afternoon practice off as several of Buccaneers are having to constantly get IVs before, during and after practice during training camp.
Rookie guard Jonathan Clinkscale was taking some snaps at center during the individual session with the quarterbacks. The Bucs needed an extra center to take the place of Scott Jackson, who is still out with a broken hand and Clinkscale filled the bill.
A quick look at veteran right tackle Kenyatta Walker will tell you that he is in the best shape he's been in. His body used to look big, but a bit sloppy. Now after a long offseason in the weight room, Walker looks more sculpted and strong, especially in the shoulders and upper body. To be blunt, Walker looks like a player who is in his contract year (because he is), and has played very well in training camp thus far. The Bucs hope to take advantage of Walker's motivation this year for next year's payday.
Ball security was the theme for the offensive individual drills this morning. Wide receivers were working on a drill in which they had fellow wideouts come at them from behind and try to strip the ball and punch it out.
Tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks were going through a ball security drill in which they had to run, spin around and cover up the ball before getting whacked by two guys with blocking pads. The Buccaneers have done a very good job of eliminating turnovers on offense during the first week of training camp. The team, including Gruden, seems to have zoned in on the accountability concept and is making a real conscience effort not to turn the ball over.
Having said that, running back Derek Watson fumbled an exchange with quarterback Brian Griese during the middle of practice on the only 11-on-11 live goal line play today. Free safety Will Allen came in and scooped the ball up, which drew Gruden's ire and charged up the defensive coaches and their squad. After that fumble, a disgusted Gruden ordered his players off the field for the cool-down intermission.
"We fumbled the ball, okay?" Gruden said after practice. "Derek Watson got in a bad situation there, a horrific situation, an intolerable one. But yeah, I was glad to see our defense step up, although they were aided by a back [being] a little bit careless in that situation."
Back to the individual sessions. The receivers were working on their run blocking, and concentrating on staying square with the man they were supposed to block. Sometimes "blocking" can mean simply getting in the way of another player, and that can happen by squaring up on your opponent.
Receivers coach Richard Mann was stressing to his players to "Attack! Don't wait on him!"
It was good to see rookie receiver Larry Brackins take part in these individual drills, although he was held out of team sessions later in the morning. Brackins is pretty far behind after missing the majority of the first week of practice.
The Bucs offense was working on the "hurry up" drill during its period today. Griese does a great job of communicating to the backs and receivers with a loud bark and crisp hand signals. Third-year passer Chris Simms has also improved in this area from a year ago.
Gruden likes the practice tempo of the "hurry up" because there is no time to think about what play is being called. There is only time to react. "Let's see who knows this stuff," Gruden said at the start of the "hurry up" offense.
Veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard is proving to be a great addition to the team. He seems to have a firm grasp on the third wide receiver position right now. The Bucs were hoping that Edell Shepherd would be as good as he was last year in camp and really challenge Hilliard, but that hasn't happened thus far. Shepherd has a lot on his plate by playing a lot of special teams in addition to receiver, and hasn't made as many plays as he did last August. However, Shepherd seems to have a foothold as the team's fourth receiver at the present time as the team is waiting for younger receivers to emerge.
It will be interesting to see how the roster shakes out in the coming weeks. The Bucs plan on using a lot of two-tight end sets, so keeping four tight ends (and I'm not talking about Dave Moore, who is better served as a long snapper at this stage of his career), makes sense. But if Tampa Bay has success running three wide receiver sets in the preseason, the team may want to keep as many as six wide receivers. How effective these personnel groupings are in the exhibition season will ultimately dictate how many receivers and tight ends are kept around.
Want to know what the difference between a veteran and a rookie is? Wide receiver Joey Galloway had to double clutch a pass to make the catch, and was really ticked at himself for not catching it cleanly. He uttered what likely was a profanity and threw the ball down in disgust. That's the sign of a professional. A rookie is happy just to catch the ball after bobbling it.
In 9-on-9 drills, Jeb Terry was starting at right guard today. The battle at right guard has quickly turned into the battle to watch at training camp as Sean Mahan is off to a great start and has probably played a bit better than Terry has.
Linebacker Ryan Nece, who usually backs up Derrick Brooks at Will (weakside linebacker), was starting at Sam (strongside linebacker) today in place of Jeff Gooch, who was sitting out with a tight hamstring. It is notable that Nece was starting ahead of Marquis Cooper, who is currently backing up Gooch on the strong side. Coop was running with the second-team linebackers, which consisted of Barrett Ruud and Josh Buhl.
During the 9-on-9 drills, nose tackle Damien Gregory had a couple of good plays where he penetrated into the backfield. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was screaming for his linemen to penetrate. Gregory was listening, as was Ellis Wyms, who made a couple of nice plays.
When Watson isn't putting the ball on the ground, which he has done a bit too much of lately, he does turn the corner with good speed. The thing I like about him is how quickly he squares his shoulders up and turns upfield when rounding the corner. So many back still are running at an angle as they round the corner. Watson doesn't, and he'll likely flatten more linebackers and defensive backs that way.
Rookie Hamza Abdullah came up from his safety position to drill Carnell "Cadillac" Williams near the line of scrimmage. Safety Jermaine Phillips made a similar play on Watson in the backfield, while Ruud laid a big hit on Michael Pittman in the backfield.
Rookie guard Doug Buckles and rookie under tackle Lynn McGruder got into a facemask-grabbing skirmish, but it was quickly broken up. McGruder wound up winning the play and the scuffle. The offense started off the period dominating, but the defense came back and was the stronger team at the end of the session.
Linebacker Byron "Bam" Hardmon began to "horse collar" tackle running back Earnest Graham before the coaching staff got on him during the play. "No, no, no! You can't do that anymore," yelled the coaches, who are aware of the new NFL rule change this year, which outlaws the "horse collar" tackle from behind.
Newcomer Sam Lightbody is every bit as tall as 6-foot-9. He is a long-bodied, long-armed prospect who looked decent in limited reps today at right tackle. After a two-day respite from training camp, I'll need more than one practice to gauge whether this guy can play or not.
The field goal session got off to a shaky start with Matt Bryant missing his first attempt wide right. However, he connected on his next five attempts. After two days of sub-par field goals on Sunday and Monday, Bucs kickers Bryant and Todd France, who did all of the kicking yesterday, are 12-of-13 over the last two days.
Moore was doing all of the long snapping today, and in case you were wondering, tight ends Alex Smith and Nate Lawrie were the wing players on field goal protection.
In 11-on-11 drills, under tackle Anthony McFarland flattened left tackle Anthony Davis on the first play. On the next play, Smith pancaked Nece, which was a good sight to see. Nece was called out by assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who told him, "Take the skirt off, Nece!" That play proved to be a wake-up call as Nece was on his toes the rest of the session.
Smith was a bit tentative in the run-blocking department during the first couple of days in camp, but after mixing it up with defensive end Dewayne White on Sunday, he has become much more aggressive in the trenches, which has pleased the coaches.
Other notables from the first 11-on-11 session include a sack by Simeon Rice against Griese and a violent collision between ballcarrier Mike Alstott and hard-hitting safety Kalvin Pearson.
Punter Josh Bidwell had a great day punting the football. His punts went for distance and hang time, while Brian Simnjanovski showed why he is strictly an extra leg in camp today. Fielding punts again were Williams, Hilliard, Shepherd, Galloway, DeAndrew Rubin and Torrie Cox.
I spent considerable time watching the offensive and defensive linemen square off against each other in 1-on-1 drills. After all, the offensive line must step up for Tampa Bay's offense to have any success this year, and suddenly, there are plenty of questions surrounding the defensive tackle position, too.
Nose tackle Jon Bradley beat center John Wade with a nice spin move off a hard bull rush. McFarland beat guard Matt Stinchcomb with a strong, inside rip move.
Wiry defensive end Bryant McNeal beat a fatigued left tackle Anthony Davis in two consecutive reps. Davis is pulling double duty and getting a ton of reps while Derrick Deese's foot injury has sidelined him.
Gregory continued to have a strong practice by winning both 1-on-1 matchups with Clinkscale. Once again, McGruder wound up on the ground, which has troubled Marinelli.
Rookie Anthony Bryant had a strong showing today, pancaking left guard Dan Buenning. But Buenning rallied on the next rep and held his ground against the powerful nose tackle, whose weight is rumored to be around 350 pounds. Bryant flashes some real special ability, but must get himself into shape and be more consistent from down-to-down, which could take a full year as it did for defensive end Dewayne White in 2003.
You heard it first here - Bryant's nickname at Bucs training camp is "Bear" - as in "Bear Bryant," which is fitting since he played at Alabama where the legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant used to roam the sidelines. Bryant's teammates and the defensive coaches were all shouting words of encouragement to him as he squared off against Buenning, which helped get his motor going.
Buenning did have a good showing against Bradley and neutralized his bull rush by keeping a wide base in his pass protection set.
Stinchcomb got a few rare reps in at left tackle, which is the position he played in college, but was beaten soundly by both Rice and Bryant.
Wyms sat out the 1-on-1 sessions for precautionary reasons. Wyms had season-ending shoulder surgery last year and typically sits out 1-on-1 drills.
The weirdest looking set of 1-on-1's occurred when 6-foot-1 defensive end Greg Spires squared off against the 6-foot-9 Lightbody. Spires won due to his lower pad level, but Lightbody's wingspan kept him at bay for a second or two.
The morning practice really got interesting when the quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, running backs, defensive backs and linebackers ceased doing their own drill, began hooting and hollering, and hustled down the field towards the linemen, who were working near the end zone closest to the fans.
The offensive players lined up behind the O-line on the right side, while the defensive players lined up behind the D-line on the left side. Gruden stood in the middle of the cleared 10-foot area and called out individual players to match up in the "Bull in the Pen" drill, which is a 1-on-1 pass rush drill where everybody looks on. The trash talk between the offense and the defense was at a fever pitch as players were rooting for their respective sides.
First up was McFarland and Mahan, and McFarland used his blend of quickness and strength to power past the guard.
Next up was Bryant versus Clinkscale, who was badly outweighed and beaten by the "Bear."
The stakes - and the volume - were raised a bit when Gruden called for Rice and Davis to enter the ring. Rice tried a hard, outside speed rush, but was completely shutdown by Davis, which pumped up the offense.
Wade versus Hovan was the fourth matchup, with Wade barely squeaking out a win after struggling initially. The offense had gained the momentum.
By now, the scene resembled the beginning of a street fight as a wild, tight circle comprising of excited players and coaches formed around the dueling linemen. That almost shielded the view of the media and the fans as Stinchcomb beat McGruder in the fifth battle, despite a little bit of holding.
The final showdown called for Spires to battle Walker. Although some of the defensive coaches were crying that Walker jumped early and were signaling false start, the right tackle won a spirited, tight, pass-rushing battle against Spires, although the view was hard to see with all of the players and coaches in the win. PewterReport.com's unofficial scorecard said the offense won 4-2.
The players' spirits were lifted after that drill and then finished up practice with another 11-on-11 session. The defense was showing blitz on the first play, but Clayton didn't read it correctly and didn't run a hot route. Griese and Clayton weren't on the same page and an errant throw occurred and was almost picked off by cornerback Brian Kelly. Kelly bobbled the ball and Clayton almost caught it off the rebound before it hit the ground. Kelly had another pass breakup on receiver Derek Lewis, who was knocked to the ground and dropped the ball after getting thumped by Kelly's shoulder.
Rubin made a nice juke move on cornerback Ronde Barber, but Shepherd, who was trying to block downfield, couldn't sustain his block and what could have been a big play was only a modest gain. Shepherd must improve his blocking ability.
Graham fumbled the ball in 11-on-11, but the loose pigskin was recovered by the offense.
Williams and Clayton scored touchdowns in the 11-on-11 session, with Clayton's score coming when Luke McCown scrambled to his left on a play-action bootleg and found No. 80 wide open in the back of the end zone.
Terry and Lance Nimmo were getting some reps at right tackle in the 11-on-11 session.
Near the end of the morning practice, linebacker Shelton Quarles drilled Watson up the middle, and got a little payback for yesterday when Watson and Quarles collided and Quarles got his bell rung.
After talking to several veterans after practice today, they said that the team is having fun, buying into the team concept, developing camaraderie and establishing a sense of accountability. The Bucs can only hope this continues as training camp nears the end of the first week.
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