The Buccaneers began their second day of a three-day mandatory mini-camp under nearly cloudless skies and warm April temperatures that approached the mid-80s. Despite the mild conditions for Florida, the blazing sun and humidity had Bucs players drenched in sweat just minutes into the 2.5-hour workout at the team’s headquarters and sent them frequently to the coolers for re-hydration.
The practice began with a team stretch period before the team broke into nearly an hour of individuals.
The quarterbacks began their afternoon with drop-back footwork agility drills practicing deep drops, then moving forward simulating stepping up in the pocket. Next, the quarterbacks took shotgun snaps and worked on quickly getting the ball out to a receiver on the sideline. In watching practice over the past two days it appears getting ball in the hands of playmakers as quick as possible will be philosophy of Jeff Tedford’s offense.
Wide receivers began their day on the goal line practicing quick first steps off the line of scrimmage. Wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker had his unit work off the line of scrimmage, but this time fighting off a cornerback playing press coverage. A standup bag was placed in front of the receivers where they were instructing to rip past the defender. Hayes-Stoker was repeating over and over to be violent getting past the bag. As usual, Vincent Jackson was always first to run drills and excelled, drawing limited correction from his position coach.
Tampa Bay's running backs were on the far southwest corner of the practice field and appeared to be doing some agility and shiftiness work mirroring each other. The running backs took turns holding bags and simulating a free blitzer, while the other back had to step up and pick up the simulated blitz.
The offensive linemen were sent to the far east section of the facility where they worked on staying low, dropping their hips and driving with a wide base.
The defensive linemen were split into two groups with Joe Cullen working with the defensive tackles and assistant line coach Mike Phair working with the defensive ends. Both coaches had the extra players simulating an offensive line where the coaches instructed the formation and the movement of the line to see exactly how the defensive linemen would react. Both were very specific to the players on their footwork and hand placement and also diagnosing the play quickly. It is easy to see why Rod Marinelli loves Cullen, as their vocal and fiery coaching styles are very similar.
During one of the water breaks, veteran Gerald McCoy took former Florida State star Everett Dawkins to the side and was seen giving him some pointers on his technique, particularly on what to look for on a specific play and also using quick feet to penetrate into the backfield. Moments like that answer any questions about McCoy's leadership. It is clear he enjoy taking the younger players under his wing with words of encouragement and experienced advice.
After the individual period, the Bucs took a short break before practicing special teams, spending a good portion of the allotted time on kickoff return. The Buccaneers ran a number of return combinations during the drill. The formation appeared to have a deep returner then a shallow returner line up around the five-yard line. Over the course of the drill wide receiver Skye Dawson, running back Jeff Demps and receiver Chris Owusu took turns fielding kicks with running back Bobby Rainey, receiver Eric Page and nickel cornerback D.J. Moore serving as the up-back.
After the special teams period, the Bucs broke into offensive and defensive groups where the coaches worked on some formation install. The period was slow as the coaches took time to make sure everyone was in place and understood their roles.
The first-team players from both units joined up and the Buccaneers offense went against the defense. On one of the very first plays running back Doug Martin broke free on a run and defensive end Adrian Clayborn raced 30 yards down the field to strip Martin from behind. Immediately the defensive players scooped the ball up, practicing a takeaway return.
In fact, all practice long, if a ball hit the ground on a fumble – or even an incomplete pass – the defensive players would practice scooping the ball and working on their return. It is clear Lovie Smith’s takeaway mentality is being established and he wants any ball that hits the ground to have 11 defensive players looking to recover the ball and return it.
Quarterback Josh McCown carried his stellar play from Tuesday over to Wednesday. McCown is playing relaxed and extremely confident and seems to have a very good grasp of the Tedford-designed offense. In fact, if you didn’t know it, you would think McCown has run this offense for years.
McCown also isn’t afraid to let the ball fly on deep seams, posts or go-routes. His accuracy over the first two days has been remarkable in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. A couple of reporters even commented that it doesn’t look like a mini-camp but more like a scripted pro day for an NFL draft prospect. There just aren’t many balls thrown by McCown that hit the turf, and if they do it is usually due to the receiver dropping it.
McCown also seems to have a knack for splitting defenses, getting the ball just over the linebacker but also in front of the safety. In two days, there have few, if any balls that have sailed on him, something that we saw frequently from former quarterback Josh Freeman. In fact, McCown looks remarkably sharper in practice than Freeman ever did.
Backup Mike Glennon doesn’t seem to have the same grasp, or confidence that McCown has, but still looked solid for the most part. The big difference in the two is McCown is willing to sling it all over the field and challenge small openings where Glennon tends to check down unless a receiver is wide open.
Third-string QB Mike Kafka also looked sharp in his limited role the last two days, and shows nice zip on his passes when given the opportunity. The quarterback reps seem to be around a 60-30-10 split with McCown getting the most, followed by Glennon then Kafka.
Jackson made a number of plays on Wednesday with a few drops mixed in. The Bucs veteran receiver appears to have a little extra bounce in his step, and his experience is allowing him to gain separation. Jackson and McCown seem to also be developing a solid chemistry as McCown tends to not only look Jackson’s way first, but also trusts Jackson will be where he is supposed to be. A number of the throws are timing throws where McCown lets the ball fly long before the receiver is out of his cut.
Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy appear to be battling to line up opposite Jackson at the other receiver position. Both split some first-team reps and both looked impressive on Wednesday with Owusu really standing out. Not many intended passes for Owusu hit the turf and the former Stanford receiver also showed some impressive speed at times, taking passes in stride and outrunning defenders. Murphy had a number of standout plays including a diving sideline Glennon pass late in practice. Murphy also showed some speed that was lacking in last season’s wide receiving corps.
Another receiver who has had a solid two days of mini-camp is former Hurricanes standout Tommy Streeter. Listed at 6-5, 215 pounds, you sometimes confuse Streeter with Jackson if you don’t catch the jersey number. But Streeter is a bit quicker and able to redirect his momentum to turn up field a little faster than Jackson. Streeter did have one critical drop late in the day on a perfectly thrown Glennon pass that was dropped after Streeter got behind cornerback Bobby Felder.
The defense made a few standout defensive plays on Wednesday, but the day was mostly won by the offense, which seems to be further ahead of the defense through two practices. Felder did have an interception and Banks nearly had one, but dropped it. Verner had a nice pass breakup on a pass intended for Owusu, and cornerback Danny Gorrer also broke up a pass in practice. Middle linebacker Mason Foster broke up two passes in practice, including one down the deep middle in Cover 2.
Tampa Bay linebacker Ka’lial Glaud did pick off McCown and return the interception for a touchdown as he stepped in front of a receiver, who was running a shallow crossing route. Glaud was also involved in the next play, which was perhaps the highlight of the day was a defensive miscue that had Glaud matched up with Jeff Demps, who was split wide as a receiver.
It was a total mismatch as Demps, a former Olympic sprinter easily blew by the linebacker, who was gassed after his pick-six on the previous play. McCown recognized the defensive personnel mismatch, and after allowing Vincent Jackson to run a skinny post pattern that created confusion by the safety, he hit Demps, who ran a go-route, in stride on a 60-yard bomb. Unfortunately, Demps allowed to ball bounce off his hands for an incompletion at the goal line.
Both Glaud and Demps yelled in frustration. Glaud yelled after getting burned and Demps yelled for dropping an easy touchdown pass. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was quick to correct the defenders, particularly the safety saying, “You have got to recognize that.”– Scott Reynolds contributed to this report
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