The Florida furnace at One Buccaneer Place was turned up full blast on Tuesday as the Buccaneers kicked of the second practice of their three-day mandatory mini-camp. With nearly zero clouds to provide any shade, the Buccaneers players and coaches were dripping with sweat from nearly the second they walked out of the air-conditioned facility onto the practice fields around 10 a.m.
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said the heat took its tool on several players including Da’Quan Bowers and Mark Barron.
“It was just the heat and we have a little bit of a stomach bug going through the team, compile that with the heat and it can be a little bit troubling,” Schiano said following Tuesday’s workout.
Schiano should be commended for dropping some excess weight this offseason, displaying a much slimmer physique. Schiano hardly had a spare minute last year in making the transition from college coaching to the NFL and having to implement his system to new coaches and a roster full of new players to him. Schiano has been diligently working out this spring and has dropped in excess of 20 pounds.
Tampa Bay started their second day of mini-camp like all the previous day, and also the OTAs over the last month, working on special teams, including quite a bit of time on their onside kick drills. But after team stretch the structure of the practice took on an entirely different look as opposed to previous ones the media has been allowed to view in 2013.
“It was more what we call “play-its” where it is playing the game,” Schiano said. “And what we did was just broke it into situations but played the game. Some of it was just run the field, other was just third down, just red [zone] area, two-minute [situations] But more – not team periods with guys behind – everybody off the field, coordinators calling the plays. We still did our teach period in between it. But just get a feel for that.”
In one of the first “play-in” periods, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan took time to praise quarterback Josh Freeman for reading the defense correctly on calling the right audible as the offense was practicing coming out of its own end zone. Freeman struggled with his accuracy somewhat on Tuesday, but was much better on Wednesday. He did a much better job seeing the field, locating open receivers and being decisive with the football.
Freeman has also been much more loud and vocal at the line of scrimmage this offseason. Known for being soft-spoken off the field, Freeman has turned it up audibly on the field and has a much more commanding presence in the huddle and at the line while calling plays and audibles.
Second-year running back Mike Smith continued get reps with the first team in nickel offense on Wednesday. The plan is to have Doug Martin be a three-down back in 2013, but there will be times when Martin will need a breather, so the Bucs are looking for a capable back that can come in and pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield. Through two days, Smith has gotten the reps with the starters in that situation.
Martin is one of a number of players who has grown tremendously over this time last year. Having a terrific rookie season, culminating with a Pro Bowl does wonders for a player’s confidence, and that appears to be the case for Martin. The former Boise State star has done a great job of following his blocks, hiding behind his linemen, then kicking in that extra gear that was displayed in a number of games last season. PewterReport.com will be the first to admit that we had some questions about Martin after the first few games, but after the bye-week the small in stature, but big in heart Martin exploded on the scene. From the early looks this year, it appears Martin can be even better in 2013.
Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks doesn’t look lost on the field at all. There are times when the Mississippi State product looks like a seasoned veteran, including when he dropped in zone coverage and picked off an overthrown pass from Mike Glennon that was intended for wide receiver Kevin Olgetree. Glennon and Olgetree were not on the same page on that play, but Banks was alert and made them pay with a leaping pick.
Not much has been written about second-year linebacker Lavonte David, but he appears to be doing everything right. David blitzed off the left side of the defense and got a sack on Freeman during an 11-on-11 period on Tuesday.
Defensive end Aaron Morgan, who sees the field in pass rush situations, had a nice play on fourth-and-5 when he dropped into zone and broke up a Freeman pass. Morgan broke up another Freeman pass at the line, and rookie nose tackle Akeem Spence also got into the act by deflecting a Glennon pass attempt to tight end Tom Crabtree at the line of scrimmage.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was very active on Wednesday, penetrating the line of scrimmage on several occasions and putting pressure on Freeman. In all fairness, it should be noted that the defensive line has a distinct advantage over the offensive line in the offseason as there truly can’t be any blocking during mini-camp or the OTAs (organized team activities). However, the defensive line in general seems to be playing faster and the players are more decisive in their movements because they have a much better grasp of the defense.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson continues to dazzle this offseason and made a ridiculous leaping catch over cornerback Danny Gorrer in practice. Gorrer did everything right on the play in terms of coverage, but the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson used his size to leap up and take the ball away from Gorrer’s outstretched arms.
Glennon struggled with two fumbles on Wednesday during the same 11-on-11 period. He dropped a shotgun snap after he took his eyes off the ball to read the coverage downfield.
A few moments later he fumbled a handoff with a running back on a delayed draw out of the shotgun. That caused Schiano to go momentarily ballistic.
“Nothing’s more important than the ball, Mike!” Schiano screamed before walking over to Glennon and patting him on the butt and telling him to get it going.
After practice Schiano as asked about the turnover.
“We have 90 guys so, and you have all different mixes,” Schiano said. “The one that we cannot do is put the ball on the ground. You are going to drop some passes, especially with all the [young] guys we have but we can not put the ball on the ground on handoffs so that is unacceptable. That was the only thing I was really concerned with today.”
Seldom-used running back Brian Leonard and Matt Brown took reps with the second string in nickel offense situations. Sixth-round draft pick Mike James has yet to see significant reps on offense throughout the offseason, and it appears heading into training camp that Smith has a grip on the backup running back job for the time being.
Freeman ended his practice time with precision throws in the red zone period. Tampa Bay’s starting QB threw a strike to Jackson in the back left corner of the end zone as he had a step on Gorrer for a touchdown. A few plays later, Freeman zipped a quick slant pass to Jackson for a touchdown in front of cornerback Leonard Johnson.
Freeman’s final throw during practice was a laser beam to Olgetree in the back of the end zone a few inches in front of free safety Dashon Goldson, who was peeved that he was unable to break up the scoring strike.
Former Rutgers wide receiver Tim Wright, who is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has switched to tight end and has taken the number 81.
Defensively, Goldson has been all over the field since arriving in Tampa Bay. For a player who is still learning the system, the former 49er doesn’t appear to be struggling to grasp of the concepts of the Sheridan-Schiano designed defense. The Bucs have been bringing Goldson, Barron, Keith Tandy and Ahmad Black up in the box frequently in OTAs and training camp, and the addition of Darrelle Revis will allow the Bucs to take more chances with their safeties. The Buccaneers blitzed from the safety position on a number of occasions in 2012, but with little results in terms of sacks, and in the meantime, opposing teams took advantage the one-on-one matchups on the outside to exploit Tampa Bay’s corners.
Another player who had impressed and has shown great improvement over last offseason is Leonard Johnson. The local product is entering his second year and that wide-eyed what is coming next fear is gone from Johnson’s face. The transformation is amazing when you think back on last season. At this time last year, Johnson was just attempting to make the roster, now the second-year corner is battling Eric Wright to be a full-time starter. Johnson has been steady and solid over the last few weeks, rarely getting beat and when he does make a mistake, he is usually recognizing what he did wrong long before defensive backs coach Tony Oden is even able to make it out on the field to correct him.
The Buccaneers will wrap up the last day of mini-camp on Thursday then will have a break until training camp begins the last week in July.– Scott Reynolds and Mark Cook contributed to this report
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