The Buccaneers spent the final day of training camp preparing for Saturday's night game at Jacksonville, working out in shells (helmets, jerseys, shoulder pads and shorts). Head coach Raheem Morris said the team finished up strong by working on the team's core beliefs in addition to red zone, two-minute and third down drills.
"Third down was a big, obvious point that I wanted to get right this week," Morris said after watching the Bucs convert only 33.3 percent (5-of-15) of the team's third downs in the preseason opener at Tennessee. "We really wanted to emphasize it this week with our guys so we did third downs every day in practice. I thought we got a little bit better, but we still have a ways to go. We still need to get better and do different things. We really want to see that improve this week as far as the game is concerned."
Morris said he was pleased with how well his first training camp went at One Buccaneer Place, which was a departure from having camp in Orlando, where the team practiced each summer from 2002-08.
"I thought it was very productive," Morris said. "I thought it went very well. I thought camp ran pretty smoothly. I think we got rained out twice, but we handled that pretty good.
"It was a very productive training camp as far as how it was planned and how we got through it."
Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich, who is battling Luke McCown for the starting job, echoed Morris' sentiments.
"We had a good camp," said Leftwich. "There were a lot of guys putting in a lot of work. It will be good to finally sleep in our own beds and get out of the hotel rooms. We had a great camp, and we want to continue that."
Morris said he would update the team's injury status on Thursday, but center Jeff Faine didn't push it with his groin and was held out of Wednesday's practice along with wide receiver Kelly Campbell, who has been nursing a strained quadriceps.
BUCS ADD CARGILE, RELEASE HAWKINS, BYRD AND FILANI The Buccaneers signed safety Steve Cargile on Wednesday and released cornerback Mike Hawkins, who was claimed off waivers by Dallas earlier in the day. Tampa Bay also waived rookie safety C.J. Byrd, who was guilty of a 30-yard personal foul penalty at Tennessee on Saturday night, in addition to waiving injured receiver Joel Filani.
Cargile entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Dallas in 2004. he was signed by Tampa Bay on January 16, 2006 before being waived prior to the start of the 2006 season. Cargile has played in 15 games in Denver during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Byrd became a Buccaneer on April 30, 2009, followed by Filani, who was added to the roster on May 13, 2009.
MORRIS DISCUSSES SAFETY NET Tampa Bay has a pressing need to get its secondary right as soon as possible as it was announced on Wednesday that starting free safety Tanard Jackson has been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2009 regular season for violating the league's Substances of Abuse Policy. The Bucs expect to have either Will Allen or safety-turned-linebacker Jermaine Phillips fill Jackson's void at the start of the season.
"The plan is to go with Will Allen, who is playing really well for us," Morris said. "He's started for us for two or three years, and there is no excuses. Tanard is not going to make or break the Buccaneers. He can only help us when he gets back. He knows that. He understands that. He knows it was an important decision. He's very disappointed in himself. The organization is very disappointed in him, but at the same time, we love him. That's our guy. We're going to help him get better. We're going to help him get back. That's like my little brother. Shoot, I drafted him."
And what is the plan in case Allen needs to come out of the game or suffers an injury?
"I'll be pro-active instead of reactive," Morris said. "Do you want to move Flip back and insert your [Adam] Haywards or your Geno Hayes and some of those guys who played really well in training camp? … We get a taste of [Angelo] Crowell this week for the first time. I can't wait to see that. I'm very fired up about seeing that. That could factor in some how.
"Is Donte Nicholson going to step up and be the third [safety] or are we going to have to use Flip? We'll have to go find that out. Maybe it's Steve Cargile or one of these young guys."
Morris said that even though Jackson will be out of action for the first four weeks of the season that he will be seeing action on Saturday at Jacksonville and throughout the rest of the preseason.
"Yeah, he's still coming back. You've got to get his work in," Morris said. "You really would like to work those guys a lot so they can maintain their football [skills] because they are going to be out four weeks."
BUCS' QB QUANDRY COMING TO AN END Morris has remained steadfast in his decision to name a starting quarterback after Saturday's preseason game at Jacksonville. Tampa Bay's head coach said he didn't mind the fact that neither Leftwich nor McCown had stepped up earlier in training camp to assume the reins of the starting job.
"I had already made my mind up that I was going to make the decision on the third game and I wasn't going to make it before then because I thought if I made it before then, then I would be riding the emotional roller coaster," Morris said. "I felt if I made it in OTA days, that's the wrong decision to make because you can't hit them yet."
McCown and Leftwich had mediocre games in Tennessee with McCown completing 50 percent of his passes for just 19 yards and Leftwich completing only 42 percent for 61 yards. However, Leftwich did throw a touchdown pass and guided the Bucs to a field goal drive just before halftime to give Tampa Bay a 12-6 lead. Those scoring drives probably give Leftwich the lead heading into Saturday's contest at Jacksonville.
"Well, it's hard to say because they've both played well in different situations, in different styles," Morris said. "I think we just need to get them in the game and finish it out – when all the bullets are flying, it's live and it's all going. That's what they started to do last week and we've got to do it now. They can only get better from here, all these guys. They've all stepped up so much you can't see separation because of that. We've got a smart group. I don't have one guy in that room that I need to say you need to study more, you need to get with your coach more. The rookie, the second-year guy, Luke to Byron, they're all locked in and detailed. If you go back and look at their draft status coming into the league, that was their niche. That was the thing they had, except for Freeman because nobody knew about him except for me. That's what makes those guys special. That's what makes guys want to be really good, really great. We've just got to see which one is going to be the leader of Buccaneer nation."
Morris said that Freeman has grown by leaps and bounds since he saw him last in 2006 when Morris was Kansas State's defensive coordinator and the quarterback was a wide-eyed true freshman.
"He's obviously developed more maturity," said Morris. "I saw a more giggly Freeman as a freshman. He's stayed sharp. When I was at Kansas State, the only knock I had was he befriended everybody, but whatever. Since he's been here he's really been on the details. I think at Kansas State he really felt like he was better than everybody there. His arm was stronger than everybody's, so that was the deciding factor. Here he respects things he sees from Luke McCown's game. He respects Byron and he sees stuff he likes from Josh [Johnson]. That's the type of maturity I'm talking about. He's recognizing the talents of the guys around him and stealing as much from them as he can." Morris indicated that he is responsible for making the final decision on which quarterback starts, but that he will not make the decision unilaterally.
"There are a bunch of people, a bunch of smart people, inside this building that I'm going to listen to before I sit down and make any decisions regarding the roster," said Morris. "I don't sit inside a room by myself and run the Bucs organization. I will take all the opinions I can get before making decisions. I'm going to use all my information."
Not only will the Buccaneers be deciding on the team's starting quarterback next week, but Tampa Bay will also be finalizing the 11 starters on offense and defense as well.
"Realistically, when you think of the third [preseason] game, your whole team is decided [in terms of starters]," Morris said. "When you get to the third week and you see the starters run out there that's usually the guys that run out of the tunnel for you against Dallas."
SEVERAL BUCS IMPRESSING MORRIS While almost every player in training camp has flashed talent at times, a few stood out to Raheem Morris during his first training camp as Tampa Bay's head coach.
Bucs rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller is one of those players. The third-round pick out of Texas entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder because he felt he should have been drafted higher.
That motivation has shown up on the football field, where Miller is competing for playing time with starting defensive tackles Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan.
"He's been impressive,' Morris said of Miller. "It's dangerous when you talk about D-linemen because you can talk about them in shorts or you can talk about them in full pads. He's been showing up, and when he puts on the pads everybody wants to talk about him. In my mind he's going to be in the three-man rotation at defensive tackle. There still are people pushing him. Dre Moore is fighting there, too. He's been impressive on special teams, too."
On the offensive side of the ball, rookie offensive tackle Demar Dotson has caught the eye of Morris and Tampa Bay's coaching staff. The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Dotson is a former basketball player out of Southern Miss that reeks of athletic ability.
"I have to give all the credit in the world to our scouting department," Morris said of the Bucs' ability to sign Dotson as an undrafted free agent. "Those guys go out, collect that info all year while we're studying [opponents] and then they come into the facilities and fight for their special guys. I'm not sure who had Demar Dotson's area at the time, but whoever it was did a good job fighting for him to get him in this building."
WINSLOW EMERGING AS A LEADER Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow has turned in an impressive, but fairly quiet training camp, and that's the way he and Tampa Bay like it.
Winslow, whom the Bucs acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns this offseason, will be a key weapon in Jeff Jagodzinski's offense,
Morris has criticized Winslow for not keeping his emotions in check on the football field. In addition to catching balls and not riding an emotional rollercoaster, Morris expects Winslow to take on a role as a leader, too. So far, Winslow has done just that.
"He's normally a quiet guy," Morris said of Winslow. "I have seen a guy find his spot and role on our football team. He tries to be a leader, and just because he's so talented doesn't automatically make him a leader. He needs to be led a little bit. I've seen him make Jerramy Stevens better a little bit, just the same way as I've seen Stevens make Winslow better.
"When you see things you don't like you just address it. When you let it go that's when things start to accumulate, so you have to address it, and that's what I do. Otherwise they don't even know they're doing something they don't like. He knows what I like and what I don't like. If I have to I'll tell him again. And if that doesn't work then I will bring in my little fine guy. I'll fine you with a smile, that simple."
FREE PRESEASON TICKETS, ANYONE? At the team's final training camp practice, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik is handing out free tickets to Tampa Bay's preseason home opener against Miami on Thursday, August 27. Dominik, who is also signing autographs, is only dishing out the tickets to fans who promise to come to the game.
Could this be a sign that blackouts may be coming for the Buccaneers this year? Despite an incredibly aggressive season ticket and individual ticket push this summer, the Bucs have not announced any sold out games yet.
That's surprising considering that the 2009 season opener on Sept. 13 is at home against Dallas, which is a marquee NFC team. Also surprising is the fact that the Bucs' first "throwback game," in which the team will wear its 1976 Buccaneer Bruce creamsicle uniforms on Nov. 8, is not sold out.