Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden told the media after Thursday’s morning practice that starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips had an excused absence. Second-year player Will Allen started in place of Phillips while Dexter Jackson started at free safety.

Gruden also gave a run-down of the team’s latest injuries.

“We excused Jermaine Phillips from practice today,” Gruden said. “He has a personal matter he’s attending to and he’ll be back sometime this afternoon. He’ll be ready to go tomorrow. Anthony McFarland, we held him out today to give him a rest. He’ll also be back practicing tomorrow. Juran Bolden, Jeff Gooch and Mike Pittman are okay, they just have some mild tightness in their hamstrings. We’re going to give them the day off of it and hopefully we can get them back on the field tomorrow. Larry Brackins returned to practice and was a little bit more full-speed. He’s got a long way to go. I was pleased with the work we got done today. The offense did very well in the two-minute drill. I was pleased with that.

“It’s good to have [Derrick Deese] back. Obviously, he’s a guy who has played a lot of football and he’s a good player, so it’s good to have him back out there. We do like the emergence of Anthony Davis, he is making it competitive.”

Brackins, a rookie wide receiver, has fallen behind due to a torn hamstring this summer that forced him to miss the mandatory mini-camp in late June and most of the first week of training camp in August. While Gruden was happy to see him fully participate in his first full practice on Thursday, he admitted that Brackins has a long way to go to get caught up to the rest of the team, and only a short period of time to do it.

“No, he’s a long ways off. He’s missed a lot of time,” Gruden said. “He hasn’t been able to do anything physically within the lines. I’m happy with what he’s done with the training staff, but guys aren’t going to make the team in the training room. They’ve got to get out here and get it done in between the lines. He’s got a long way to catch up, but he is putting forth effort and hopefully we can see progress here in the next 10 days. It’s critical for him.”

Brackins isn’t the only rookie who is in danger of falling too far behind due to injury that it could cost him a roster spot. On Thursday, Gruden called out rookie fullback Rick Razzano, who has missed the last six days of practice due to a hamstring strain.

“It gets deep,” Gruden said, of the hole Razzano is in due to missing a week’s worth of practices. “You can’t come in as a seventh-round draft choice, or any kind of draft choice, never practice and expect to make this football team. It’s too bad, but he’s got to get himself back out here in a hurry. Injuries are part of the game. In the meantime we’ll try to teach him the stuff the best we can so when he does come back he’s not real far behind.”

The Buccaneers signed fullback Steve Kriewald, who was a teammate at Nebraska with linebacker Barrett Ruud, on Thursday. Kriewald played in 48 games for the Cornhuskers and had 46 rushes for 267 yards and two touchdowns, along with seven catches for 57 yards and three scores.

On Thursday, Gruden was visibly frustrated with Razzano’s absence in practice due to a hamstring injury. The result has been that Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook have had to take an awful lot of reps in practice. The signing of Kriewald will help in that area and may serve as motivation for Razzano to come back from his injury quicker.

With Kriewald knowing the West Coast offense from Gruden protegé Bill Callahan at Nebraska last year, he should be able to step in quickly and help the team in practice.

After two consecutive practices of sub-par field goal kicking on Sunday and Monday, Tampa Bay kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France have put together three-straight practices of improved kicking. After two days of taking turns kicking, both Bryant and France turned in perfect outings on Thursday morning.

“Well, we’ve made them all except one or two [over the last few days],” Gruden said. “I think it is getting better. The snaps have got to improve, but I think the battery is getting better together. [Josh] Bidwell’s putting the ball down extremely well, I think Dave Moore at the end of the day is going to be a great snapper again for us, and I’ve been really pleased with the way these guys have kicked the ball through the uprights. We like that around here for a change.”

In retrospect, it has been no surprise that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a rough two years with losing records because the previous two training camps have been lackluster and full of injuries, holdouts and hurricanes. Thus far, the Bucs have remained healthy and void of the major camp injury, don’t have any holdouts or contract squabbles, and have yet to have a hurricane or inclement weather affect their practice schedule.

On Thursday, Gruden indicated that the 2005 training camp is starting off better than any in recent memory.

“I can’t say it’s the best, but it’s certainly been better than it has been in some time,” Gruden said. “We’re doing a much better job as a football team. There’s not complete dominance on one side of the ball all the time. There are flashes where [it appears] we’re going to be a pretty good football team. We still have plenty of areas to clean up and we’ve got to get some of our newcomers ready to play. You’re going to have a couple missed passes, you’re going to miss some things. But fortunately we’re in training camp. We’ve got another three or four weeks to address that and we’re doing everything we can.”

Gruden said that he senses his players are getting anxious to square off against another opponent after banging each other helmets every day for the past week. They’ll get their chance on Friday, August 12 as they kick off the preseason with an away game at Tennessee.

“It gets old after awhile to hit the same guy and have the same guy hit you,” Gruden said. “But I think professional football players understand that’s part of training camp. It’s unfortunate a little bit because the depth on your team isn’t what it used to be years ago. Some of these guys don’t get to become friends until training camp is over.”

Gruden noted that one major difference between this year’s practices and others he had since his arrival in Tampa in 2002 has been the heat. The Bucs have yet to have a rain out, and the practice temperatures have been in the high 90’s with a heat index in the low 100’s, which is part of the reason why Gruden elected to give his players Wednesday afternoon off.

“It’s a little hotter,” Gruden said. “I just can’t get over the heat index. That was new to me – the ‘feels-like’ temperature as they say on TV. It feels like it’s hotter, yes.”

A group of NFL game officials met with the Bucs today about some NFL rule changes, including the outlaw of the “horse collar” tackle. The officials worked the morning and afternoon practice and will be with Tampa Bay’s camp for a couple of days before moving to another team’s training camp.

When asked what movie the players saw on Wednesday afternoon in lieu of practice, Gruden said he wasn’t sure. “I didn’t see it. I don’t know what they saw but I did get a lot of complaints. It’s hard to please these guys no matter what you do. … But the big thing is these guys needed to put some fluids back in them and eat a good, solid square meal, and get some rest. They’ve been pushed very, very hard by themselves and by the coaches, and I think it’s smart to give a guy his space and let him have a little time to regroup.”

The Buccaneers had a 70-minute special teams practice on Thursday afternoon. uccaneers merchandise in the world.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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