The Buccaneers welcomed 85 players to the Tampa Bay for a rookie mini-camp and rookie tryout. PewterReport.com was there, and offers a glimpse inside of Friday's practice at One Buc Place.
Although it is still nearly three months until the start of training camp, Mother Nature wasn’t doing the Buccaneers rookies draft picks and undrafted free agents any favors. An early afternoon rain shower gave way to the famous Florida humidity and the busiest assistants on the fields were the ones in charge of the water bottles.
All in all, 85 former college football players were on the fields behind One Buc Place on Friday trying to prove they were worthy of their draft status, or just worthy of a roster spot. Head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik welcomed in their six draft selections, 13 undrafted free agents and 10 who were 2012 free agents. That left 56 free agents on the field who are competing in a tryout to be signed as a free agent.
As the first horn sounded at 3:55 on the dot, the intensity picked up a notch from the warm ups. The offense and defense split up, with the offense taking the far west practice field and the defense working on the middle one.
The defensive players began a series of team drills starting with an 11-man look. One of the assistant coaches acted as a quarterback and the defensive linemen immediately dropped to their stomachs when the ball was snapped. The linebackers and secondary dropped back into coverage and the assistant coach lofted a duck in the secondary. The defensive linemen popped back up and the entire 11 formed a convey as the intercepting member of the secondary returned the pass for a touchdown.
Anyone who thinks Schiano’s attention to details would be relaxed in 2013 is crazy. Schiano barked at the defenders to get outside the numbers and yelled, “Get to the sideline, get to the sideline, now up the sideline outside the numbers!” Schiano was specific on exactly how he wanted the interception to be returned and how the other defensive teammates were to surround the defender as he ran the ball to the goal line.
The defensive players were shuttled on and off the field in two different groups and assistant coach Bryan Cox yelled to each group to have an “Attitude!” the players didn’t jog, they sprinted from the huddle to the sidelines.
After that drill, the defense broke off into individual groups by position. Assistant secondary coach Jeff Hafley had the cornerbacks and safeties work on their backpedal and turn-and-drive skills. Hafley directed each cornerback or safety by moving the football and the defender had to react to the direction given. Each one then sprinted directly towards Hafley who threw the ball into their hands or had then turn and adjust running towards the sideline. Tryout cornerbacks Justin Green from Illinois and safety Jon Lejiste both had acrobatic catches on wobbly and widely thrown balls.
On the far side of the middle field the defensive linemen went through an entire period of bag drills. The linemen lined up in their stance firing off the football swatting, swimming and attacking standup bags. Over and over, the players worked on basic fundamentals and technique with occasional one-on-one tutoring from the defensive coaches.
The linebackers also worked on the far side of the field, first on dropping into coverage then some pursuit drills. Due to the fact they were the farthest groups from the media viewing area it was difficult to see who specifically stood out.
One of the most exciting drills of any practice is the one-on-one battles between the offensive and defensive linemen. Friday was no exception as both groups had something to prove and were eager to show the coaching staff they deserved their draft status or they deserve a contract after three-day the camp concludes.
Rookie fourth-round draft pick Akeem Spence, although not PewterReport.com’s favorite selection, was probably the most impressive of all of the afternoon’s pass rushers. Spence showed incredible strength and power on a number of one-on-one battles Friday. One more than one occasion Spence, despite being held and nearly tackled, still bullrushed himself into the blocking dummy that was set up to represent the quarterback.
Fellow rookie William Gholston was also impressive showing a high motor and a violent demeanor. Gholston also showed a variety of pass moves, including a power rush and also a great counter inside speed rush.
The effort award of the day goes to fifth-round draft pick Steven Means who, although not as polished as some, had no quit. At times some of the passrushers, after getting stonewalled by the offensive players, seemed to stop not sure what to do next. Means willed himself to the quarterback on several of the battles refusing to give up.
Despite being tired and dripping in sweat Means was all smiles after practice.
“Football is football,” Means said. “The level of intensity is different from college, but once you are out here getting after it – you just get after it.”
Means is also already a fan of Schiano.
“Great coach,” Means said. “Great guy. Serious and ready for business, but he knows when to lighten up a little bit and when to tell jokes, but definitely serious.”
Two other players who showed great hustle and effort was tryout defensive ends Louis Nzegwu (Wisconsin) and J’Vonne Parker (Rutgers). The two didn’t win every battle but showed great effort and motors. Both are longshots, but so was George Johnson in 2011 and Leonard Johnson last season.
As far as Tampa Bay’s second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, the former Mississippi State star spent a majority of practice working directly with new DB coach Tony Oden off out of view for the most part.
Banks, like Means, was complimentary of his new head coach.
“Coach (Schiano) is like my college coach,” Banks said. “He is a guy who has a passion for the game. He loves the game. He is not just a big “rah-rah” guy, but when he means something he means it. I got a lot of respect for how he is running these practices. He is making a lot of work out of us and just glad to be out here.
“Practice was great. Coach had an up tempo practice like I expected. Like I said, he is like my college coach. Coach Mullen wanted an up tempo practice and Coach Greg he wanted an up tempo practice. I like it. I am used to it. That’s what I know hard work.”
The Bucs will be back on the practice field tomorrow for another session and Pewter Report will be there to cover it.
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