On a warm, but fairly breezy Wednesday morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gathered on the practice fields to begin their second week of a three-day set of OTAs (organized team activities). The only notable absence was that of Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson. Head coach Greg Schiano was made aware of Goldson’s absence from the voluntary workouts.
Wednesday’s session is the only one the media is allowed to view this week. As usual, the Schiano-led practice began in up-tempo fashion and never slowed down.
Right off the bat, the loud and raspy voice of new special teams coach Dave Wannstedt could be heard barking at his special teams units. Soon Schiano’s voice could also be heard as they both worked closely instructing the punt and punt return teams where their landmarks were on the field.
It was clear that Wannstedt and Schiano share the same philosophies when it comes to practice intensity.
The Bucs then went into a game-scenario field goal situation, and despite the Connor Barth kick being good, Schiano yelled to his players to gather on him, irate over a mental lapse, as the tackle on the line of scrimmage failed to report as eligible.
“We do this every (expletive) day!” Schiano said. “Do your job! Do your job!”
New receiver Eric Page and running back Michael Smith were the primary return men on Wednesday. Running back Jeff Demps, who was acquired from New England in a draft day trade, will also factor into the mix when the preseason rolls around.
While the special teams practices were going on, the quarterbacks were working on a neighboring practice field on an interesting drill. The quarterback dropped back and a receiver was standing around 20 yards downfield, near the sideline. An assistant coach was positioned between the two, very close to the player and in the sight line of the quarterback, extending his hand in the air, simulating a cornerback.
The window to complete the throw was extremely small, but very much like in an actual football game. All the quarterbacks struggled early in the drill trying to fit the ball in a small window. Too short of a throw and it is knocked down or intercepted, and too long of a throw and the ball sails out of bounds.
The drill continued a bit differently next as the quarterbacks worked on the back-shoulder throws, something that Josh Freeman and the Bucs – in PewterReport.com’s opinion – should utilize more.
Former Bucs QB Brad Johnson was a master at the back-shoulder throw during his tenure in Tampa Bay, particularly in the red zone, including tossing a touchdown to Kennan McCardell in the Super Bowl XXXVII victory over the Oakland Raiders.
With the vertical passing success that Tampa Bay had in 2012, opponents will be wary of giving up the deep balls and will most likely be playing the outside a bit more in 2013, leaving that route and throw more open.
Despite Schiano admitting he may back off on some of the “toes on the line” mentality displayed last season, one thing hasn’t changed – the continued emphasis on basic fundamentals. Receivers and tight ends worked on ball security through two separate circuits on Wednesday. One had the pass catchers making a grab, then running through a gauntlet of assistants attempting to strip the ball with their hands and also blacking bags.
The other drill had the same players simulating being tackled (key word “simulated” – as to not violate NFL rules on contact) and flipping on a mat while making sure to secure the ball. The few players that didn't do the drill properly gave themselves a self-imposed punishment of 10 pushups.
The Bucs defensive players were also going through a similar circuit, including a drill that taught the players how to defend a stiff arm and push it away, wrap up and make a simulated tackle. The defensive players also worked on a pass rush drill in which they came at a coach who was playing quarterback and stuck a hand up and waved it in his face in an attempt to bat down a pass.
During the course of Wednesday's practice, the offensive linemen primarily stayed on the south end of the practice fields. It was hard to see from the media viewing point, but it appeared that the group spent part of the morning using the chutes to work on staying low in their stance. The line also worked on the single blocking sleds, giving each lineman several reps to work on basic technique. The linemen also worked on double teams, then having the outside player releasing to the next level, which was a fellow lineman simulating a linebacker.
New Tampa Bay receivers coach John Garrett may lack the off the wall intensity that former coach P. J. Fleck had, but is also a very detail-oriented coach that demands his players perfect their technique. Even something as simple as how they place their feet and explode out of their stance was emphasized in Wednesday's practice. Garrett was constantly reminding the receivers to keep their "eyes up!" during drills.
Another assistant coach who is a very fine technician is safeties coach Jeff Hafley. He’s not as loud as former fiery defensive backs coaches like Herman Edwards, Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris, but he’s effective and doesn’t let his players’ technique slide during practice.
Ahmad Black is the smallest safety at 5-foot-9, 184 pounds, but he has the fastest and smoothest backpedal. Aside from Black, the Bucs have some serious size at the safety position with Mark Barron checking in at 6-2, 213 pounds and Goldson standing at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, in addition to Sean Baker, who is 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, and Nick Saenz, who looks bigger than his 6-foot, 190-pound frame would indicate.
The Buccaneers have added some size to the cornerback position in 2013 with 5-foot-11, 182-pound Braden Smith and 5-foot-11, 190-pound Deveron Carr being the smallest newcomers. Second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, and Rashan Melvin, who is 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, are even bigger.
The defensive backs worked on press coverage hand techniques and footwork during the individual sessions. The DBs would press other DBs, who were simulating wide receivers, and then transition into zone coverage. Banks, who played a lot of press technique at Mississippi State, looked like a natural in this drill. Banks has long legs, but demonstrates great knee bend.
One player that struggled with the technique was Melvin, who has a similar frame to that of Banks. The rookie has to do a much better job of bending his knees and sinking his hips when transitioning away from the jam.
During the first 7-on-7 drill, cornerback Leonard Johnson stepped in front of wide receiver Vincent Jackson and picked off quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman would extract some revenge two plays later against a two-deep zone coverage as he found receiver Tiquan Underwood for a touchdown bomb that covered more than 50 yards. Underwood pulled away from Barron at the last minute to haul in the deep pass.
While Freeman probed the defense with deep passes, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who took second-team reps on Wednesday ahead of Dan Orlovsky, stuck with underneath passes and rarely threw the ball downfield except for an intermediate strike to wide receiver Chris Owusu.
Orlovsky had one of his passes broken up by cornerback Anthony Gaitor, but found David Douglas open on the left side of the field for a deep touchdown as he pulled away from Melvin, who had an apparent lapse in coverage.
During the 11-on-11 drills, middle linebacker Mason Foster fell into running back Doug Martin and took him to the ground accidentally. That prompted Schiano to scream, “Stay up! Stay up! Help the guy up!”
Although defensive end Adrian Clayborn participated in most of practice, he sat out the 11-on-11 session and was replaced by Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Black started at free safety in place of the absent Goldson, and Dekoda Watson was the starting strongside linebacker in place of Quincy Black, who was cut earlier in the offseason.
After catching a deep touchdown bomb from Freeman earlier, Underwood hauled in a nice deep slant pass across the middle from Glennon. Mike Williams taught Banks a lesson on an end around as the rookie from Mississippi State blitzed from the right side of the formation, but didn’t have proper contain and allowed the Bucs star receiver to get around him for a big gain.
Glennon showed good pocket poise, but has to do a better job of getting rid of the ball faster. The Bucs’ third-round draft pick was sacked (simulated) by rookie defensive ends William Gholston and Steven Means on back-to-back plays.
Second-year player Najee Goode took all of the second- and third-string reps at middle linebacker behind Foster in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills on Wednesday. In the second series of 7-on-7 drills, second-year player and Goode’s former teammate at West Virginia, Keith Tandy, picked off Freeman to start the session.
Freeman would rebound and throw a deep slant to Jackson that he dove down to get. The 6-foot-5 Jackson impresses with his agility and ability to dig low throws out of the ground before they hit the grass despite his size.
Underwood made a similar diving catch on the same type of route on a pass from Freeman a few plays later. Freeman continued to look sharp throwing a nice ball to Kevin Olgetree on an intermediate crossing route. Olgetree also had a great catch on a pass that was thrown behind him from Orlovsky and also hauled in a short touchdown catch from Freeman.
Despite getting arrested earlier in the week for public intoxication, backup safety Cody Grimm was on the field on Wednesday and had a sensational practice with a couple of nice pass breakups on deep, downfield throws, and also an interception of an Orlovsky pass that was tipped by Saenz.
Glennon was sacked on another play near the goal line by Means, who rushed from the right end position, but threw a nice, short, high-velocity touchdown strike to Jackson.
The Bucs’ regular starting defense consisted of Te’o-Nesheim and Da’Quan Bowers at defensive end; Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence at defensive tackle; Watson, Foster and Lavonte David at linebacker; Johnson, Banks and Eric Wright, who played in the slot, at cornerback and Black and Barron at safety.
Tampa Bay’s starters on offense consisted of left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Ted Larsen, center Jeremy Zuttah, right guard Jamon Meredith, right tackle Demar Dotson, tight end Luke Stocker with Williams, Jackson and Olgetree at wide receiver, Freeman at quarterback and Martin at running back.
When the Bucs were in dime defense Aaron Morgan manned the right defensive end spot opposite Bowers with McCoy at nose tackle in Tampa Bay’s three-man line. Foster and David played linebacker in dime defense with Barron and Wright in the slot, Johnson and Banks outside at cornerback, and Black and Tandy playing safety.
Tampa Bay’s second-string dime defense consisted of Means playing right defensive end opposite Te’o-Nesheim with Pep Levingston lining up at nose tackle in the three-man defensive line. Watson and Adam Hayward were the second-string linebackers with Tandy and Gaitor in the slot and Myron Lewis and Danny Gorrer outside at cornerback, and Grimm and Baker at safety.
The Bucs’ second-string offense on Wednesday consisted of Dotson playing left tackle, rookie Jace Daniels at left guard, Cody Wallace at center, rookie Adam Smith at right guard, Mike Remmers at right tackle, Tom Crabtree at tight end, Smith at running back, Glennon at quarterback, and Underwood, Owusu and Douglas at wide receiver.
One other personnel note, 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end Ernest Owusu spent some time in practice working out with the linebackers on Wednesday and didn’t look out of place.– Scott Reynolds and Mark Cook contributed to this report
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