As the Bucs try and rebound from a 3-13 season in 2009, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is focused on getting his team to practice better. That started this past week when Tampa Bay held their first three OTAs (organized team activities) of the offseason.
"The thing we talked about was our practice habits. They slipped a little bit as far as what we were used to and what we were accustomed to," said Morris. "We got our new coaches that have come back into the building that bring those things up. We had [defensive backs coach] Jimmy Lake establish that the other day, talking about practice habits and preparation in terms of how these guys run to the football. It showed this week. He gave clear, evident examples of how it shows up and how it helps.
"Timing and precision. It's just mixing the new guys in the building and the new guys from last year, and mixing them with some of the older guys that we have in the building. It's timing and precision with Josh [Freeman] at quarterback and receivers. It's the linemen and their communication as far as protections. On defense you want them to fly around and establish their identity."
One thing that will help the Buccaneers next season is the systems and playbooks they are practicing will be the ones used throughout the regular season. In 2009 Tampa Bay fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski at the end of the preseason. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates was relieved of his duties after the Bucs defense struggled in the first 10 games of the season.
The Buccaneers had drastic changes on offense and defense after Greg Olson took over as offensive coordinator and Morris as defensive coordinator. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said they were doing things on the fly last season
. This year Olson and Morris are carrying over what they started in 2009 and giving the Buccaneers months to master it in practice before having to execute it effectively when Tampa Bay hosts the Cleveland Browns on Sep. 12 in the season opener.
"It's not that it slipped last year, but you go back and turn on the tape and go back to 2007," Morris said. "You have to evaluate yourself. If you don't evaluate yourself, then you are in the wrong profession. You have to look at everything.
"You go upstairs and you watch tape and how you practiced in '07 when we were good, and in '05. You watch some '02 stuff and some stuff of [defensive tackle Warren] Sapp clips and how practiced and how he worked. That's the example of what it's supposed to look like. Then you go find the worst thing you can possibly find of those guys from the year before and you put it all together. Then it's a clear, evident message of what it looks like and what you want it to look like and how you become the best. I don't know if they slipped completely. I wouldn't say that. But in order to get better, in order to be better and have that hunger and commitment that we want we have to practice better. We want to re-establish our practice habits."
The Bucs were one of the youngest teams in the NFL in 2009, and will be again in 2010. Morris was asked if bad practice habits are something the coaching staff has to fight against with such a young roster.
"I don't know if it is fighting but it is just a know how, a want to, because everybody comes from different teams, organizations, different schools," said Morris. "When you put them all together they got to know exactly what they're coach wants, what their defensive coordinator wants, and what their offensive coordinator wants. I kind of gave them stuff today on defense when they celebrate knocking passes down. Why are we doing that? It is a [missed opportunity]. We want to pick them off. That is the ultimate goal for everybody."
PRACTICE QUOTES FROM 2009
Pewter Report went back in the archives to find some player quotes on the quality of the Bucs' practices during the 2009. During the season Morris did not speak as candidly about the quality of the practice sessions as he did this past week.
"Our practices have been up and down, and we need to make them more consistent," said Bucs center Jeff Faine around mid-season. "I think there's a lot of merit to the way you practice is the way you play. We have to go out there and keep improving in practices and games. We have to stop making so many mistakes. That's the bottom line."
The mistakes that Faine was referring to were some of the issues that plagued the Bucs on game days in 2009 including penalties, dropped passes, missed assignments, and blown coverages.
"It's a mix of everything," said Faine. "It's a combination of mistakes made, penalties made. It's a combination of youthfulness and a bunch of guys playing together that haven't played together over an extended period of time. We have to play almost perfect. We have to play where we're not killing ourselves with penalties, turnovers and blown assignments. A lot of those mistakes are being made at key times in games. The good news is we can control and correct all of those things, but it all starts on the practice field."
After six weeks of the season, Ruud could see that the quality of Tampa Bay's practices was not good enough, but was heading in the correct direction. Tampa Bay had their first win in Week 9 when they hosted Green Bay, and won two of their final three games to finish 3-13.
"I've seen improvement, but there's definitely been weeks where we didn't practice well enough," said Ruud. "I don't think there's any doubt about that, and I think we all knew it, too. I think most of us came off the field and thought, ‘That wasn't good enough.' The positive thing is I think we have been improving each week in the way we've been preparing and practicing. We have to stay positive. We have 10 more games, and we have to keep improving each week. The only way to do that is to practice better."
Ruud and Faine's comments were echoed by former Buccaneers defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson.
"You see some players out there [on the practice field] that are really tired of losing," said Wilkerson. "You can just see it on their face that they're tired of losing, so their focus is at an extreme high. Then you have some guys out there that really don't understand what it takes to be mentally prepared and mentally focused. If you don't do it well on the practice field you're going to make those same mistakes on game day."
MILLER LIKELY TO RETURN TO PRACTICE
One player who believes he is likely to be back at practice when the Buccaneers resume OTAs in June is defensive tackle Roy Miller. The second-year pro has been dealing with a pulled hamstring and was held out of this week's workouts. In 2009 as a backup to Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan, Miller led the defensive tackles with two sacks. He also had 54 tackles and one tackle for a loss.
Miller has been working hard this offseason to lose weight. After being drafted to play in Bates' system, Miller gained weight and played at over 320 pounds last year. With the Bucs going to a primarily one-gap defense under Morris, Miller has dropped 20 pounds so far this offseason.
"Roy is one of those guys where stuff happens so fast during the season you know he's playing well, but you don't know how well," said Morris. "Roy had the ankle and you think his play might have slipped a little bit, but you go back and look at tape and he jumps off the film. What he was able to do last year and how he ended that season was major part of it. He can jell with those new guys, and he is part of the youth movement as well. I told Roy really he was the first defensive player added with this new regime. He was that guy. I pulled him in my office and let him know we picked you because of your leadership, your background, you're serious, you're detailed, and that warrior type attitude. He was able to present that during the game as a rookie last year.
"Now he's coming into his second year and he's not an easy guy to keep off the practice field. He'll lie to your face because he wants to play. You got to love that and you got to respect that."
DOTSON BREAKING IN
The Buccaneers have been without starting left tackle Donald Penn throughout the offseason because Penn is unhappy with his contract. Tampa Bay has had second-year pro Demar Dotson replace Penn in a lot of the reps at the left tackle position. The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Dotson has a basketball background from college at Southern Mississippi, so the quick feet and athleticism transition well for him as an offensive tackle. Dotson is a true project player after he played only season of college football. Still he was able to make the Bucs roster in 2009.
"He made big strides last year coming in here having not played that much football and making the team," said Morris. "He impressed us enough to at the end of the year we started using him at tight end. He started going in as a sub. Putting him in at tackles some plays, and he slowly built the confidence in my mind and his coaches mind. For a coach you're always going to be a little wary to put in a Demar Dotson in, the reason being cause we coach them all over the field and putting rookies in. I know we all had fear putting Freeman in and playing him right away from the jump. You do put him in and you see him getting more comfortable. Now you're putting him in at left tackle and you see him getting better and better throughout the offseason and in the preseason."
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