The Buccaneers had a solid outing along with a great fan turnout for their night practice at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. Find out which unexpected players stepped up and impressed under the lights in this behind-the-scenes practice report.
Tampa Bay’s fourth annual night practice started out with a bang as the cannons fired when players ran out onto the field and concluded the same way with a fireworks show over the stadium. As the Buccaneers took the field, they went up to their fans along the sideline walls and greeted their supporters with the same energy and excitement that the fans gave them, following a two-hour autograph signing session before practice. This event was all about the fans and the Bucs didn’t disappoint the more than 30,000 that came out to attend the event.
The team began practice with some group warm up drills followed by stretching and then right when the Bucs were about to get into seven-on-sevens the practice was suspended by NFL officials for about 30 minutes due to the inclement weather. Tampa Bay headed to the locker room to wait out the storm and once the team was cleared to go back out on the field, the players picked up right where they left off.
The first portion of offense versus defense work came in a run-only drill where the offense ran the ball right at the defense and Buc defenders got to focus on stopping the run. Doug Martin started off with a nice run through a massive hole created by guards Jeremy Zuttah and Carl Nicks. He burst through the hole and carried the ball for a big gain and that great play drew a huge applause from the fans.
Rookie linebacker Lavonte David then got his revenge on Martin a few plays later by exploding through the gap from his Will linebacker spot to stop Martin for a loss.
The next part of practice featured 7-on-7's and Martin took the starting reps at running back along with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams at receiver and Dallas Clark lining up at tight end. One of the first plays of this drill had Josh Freeman targeting Clark in the back of the end zone, but the 10-year veteran dropped the potential touchdown. Clark, however, made up for this drop a few series later by coming up with a great sideline catch in the back corner of the end zone with safety Larry Asante on the coverage.
Freeman next looked to Jackson on a fade route to the back of the corner of the end zone, but threw the ball low and allowed cornerback Eric Wright to make a play on the ball and bat down the pass.
“You’re not tired out there today,” Aqib Talib teased Wright after the play as the new cornerback had not seen a lot of action in the past few training camp practices.
Wright, 27, played both the slot and the outside cornerback position at Saturday’s practice. The former Detroit Lion made a few nice plays in run defense, but otherwise had an uneventful outing aside from his batted pass on Jackson. When the team went into nickel formations Wright manned the slot while Myron Lewis posted up on the outside.
The second-team offense received their chance next during seven-on-sevens and quarterback Dan Orlovsky started off by overthrowing Sammie Stroughter by five yards in the back of the end zone. Head Coach Greg Schiano then yelled, "10-yard line" and the team moved up to that spot from the 20-yard line. On the next play that paid off for Orlovsky, who was able to connect this time with Stroughter for a touchdown on a corner route to the back of the end zone.
That play was a bright spot for Orvlosky, who threw a few errant passes Saturday night. On one play, the Connecticut product misfired on a short checkdown pass that hit the ground and bounced to the receiver. He also overthrew receivers on multiple occasions. Orvlosky's best pass of the night was to Tiquan Underwood on a deep fly route in the end zone. The pass fell perfectly between the safety and the cornerback and left Underwood with an easy stroll into the end zone.
Freeman and the first team offense went back out on the field in the next series of plays and Freeman targeted his Pro Bowl weapon on a hook route, but Jackson dropped the pass after middle linebacker Mason Foster made contact with him. Cornerback Myron Lewis then hustled to the football and scooped it up, taking it back the other way.
"Good job, Myron," Coach Schiano said as he appreciated the effort Lewis made on the play to continue playing the ball.
The former third-round pick Lewis had a very good practice overall on Saturday. He saw a significant amount of time on the outside as a cornerback in the team’s number one defensive unit. During a later portion of practice with one second left in 11-on-11's, Freeman threw a fade route to Jackson in the corner of the end zone and Lewis had great coverage on Jackson to force an incompletion without drawing a penalty.
On another play, Lewis had great coverage on Jackson again on a deep fly route along the sideline. Jackson made a spectacular leaping catch, but Lewis’ great coverage forced him out of bounds resulting in an incompletion. Once again Lewis shutdown Jackson on a slant route across the middle of the field when he came from behind and slapped the ball away before Jackson could even get a hand on it on fourth down.
While the offense finished up 7-on-7's, the offensive and defensive lines worked on one-on-one and double team drills. Nicks was tremendous in the 1-on-1 drills in this portion of practice. Nicks fended off defensive end Adrian Clayborn on multiple occasions and didn’t let up any significant pressure the entire practice. On a double team drill, Nicks and Jeremy Zuttah forced nose tackle Frank Okam to the ground right off of the snap, which drew some applause from the fans.
Next up for both units after kickoff and punt return work were 11-on-11's. One player that stood out for their solid line play in this drill was backup offensive tackle Demar Dotson, who has been filling in at left tackle in place of the injured Donald Penn. Dotson did a nice job of stonewalling Clayborn on multiple occasions. Josh Freeman was only pressured a few times from the left side of the formation, and that’s because of the solid play by Dotson and Nicks.
The standout offensive play of this period came when Freeman connected with Clark on a 20-yard out route to the sideline and Clark, who was blanketed in man coverage by cornerback Leonard Johnson, made a great catch in traffic and took the ball up field for a big play. The best defensive play came courtesy of safety Ahmad Black, who made a splash play when he intercepted a tipped pass that was dropped by Wallace Wright. The play drew a nice applause from the fans at Raymond James Stadium.
Another note of interest involved the team's use of the 3-3-5 defense. David played the Mike linebacker position and called the plays in that defense and linebacker Quincy Black was used as a situational pass-rusher in the 3-3-5 formation.
Once the first- and second-team units wrapped up their 11-on-11 drill, the third team unit went into a full contact, live 11-on-11 period to end practice. This was the first time the coaching staff used headsets and communicated with each other and the players on the field. Quarterback Brett Ratliff moved the team into the red zone, but was unable to lead the offense into the end zone as a majority of his passes were inaccurate.
During this scrimmage portion of practice, veteran linebacker Adam Hayward took his pads off and headed to the team’s bench area. Coach Schiano, who was coaching the third team offense, saw Hayward take off his pads and left his post on the sidelines to talk the linebacker. Schiano told Hayward he should put his pads back on, and the six-year veteran wasted no time doing so.
After practice ended, the players made their way off the field and the bright stadium lights were dimmed as the crowd turned their attention from the field to the sky to watch another show that was even more explosive than the offensive performance they witnessed earlier. The Bucs are taking off practice on Sunday, but will return back out to the fields at One Buc Place on Monday morning.
- By Eric Dellaratta and Andrew Scavelli
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