A total of 53 players hit the practice field at One Buccaneer Place on Friday to partake in the first of three rookie mini-camp practices.

Ten of the players are 2007 draft picks. Another 10 are undrafted free agents the Bucs recently signed to their offseason roster.

Three players – wide receiver Chad Lucas, defensive tackle Darrell Campbell and offensive tackle Dennis Roland – spent time with the Buccaneers last year. but are allowed to participate in the rookie mini-camp because they are first-year players. Linebacker Evan Benjamin, who was signed in the offseason as a street free agent, also participated in the practice.

The remaining 29 players are on try-out contracts and are hoping to work their way onto the team’s roster before the Bucs report to training camp on July 26.

The Bucs held a two-hour practice, and head coach Jon Gruden gave his overall impressions shortly after Friday’s workout concluded.

“It was a good start,” said Gruden. “We have 53 first-year Buccaneers or first-day campers. We had some spotty execution at times and we looked pretty good at others. We do have some good, young talent here.”

Tampa Bay has several prospects participating in its rookie mini-camp. It also has what some would deem projects.

Wide receiver Justin Gatlin hasn’t played football since high school. He has, however, been using his legs to compete in other areas.

Gatlin, 25, is an Olympic gold medalist. He shared the world record of running the 100-meter sprint in 9.77 seconds with Asafa Powell.

It didn’t take Gruden long to notice Gatlin’s speed on the football field.

“He’s very fast,” Gruden said of Gatlin, who attended Tennessee. “That’s undisputed. I can honestly say that.

“He won a gold medal. That means you’re the fastest guy in the world. No matter what happens in Justin Gatlin’s life I’d say he’s pretty much done it all.”

But Gatlin’s speed might not necessarily translate into success on the football field. The Bucs are in the process of evaluating Gatlin in an effort to answer that question.

“If it can transfer to football you will have a real threat. If you can’t it just won’t work,” Gruden said in regards to Gatlin’s speed. “Here’s a guy that really hasn’t played college football. He’s played high school football. He won a gold medal and he wants to give this a shot. This is a good launching pad and a good start for him to see how quick he picks it up, how natural he is and how far he has to go at the same time.”

Tampa Bay’s 2007 first-round draft pick, defensive end Gaines Adams, made his debut as a Buccaneer on Friday.

Adams, who is sporting jersey No. 90, earned a reputation for being a relentless pass rusher by notching 28 career sacks at Clemson.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has been quick to remind the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft that the competition at the pro level is much tougher than it is in college.

“We got a pretty good look at him,” Gruden said of Adams. “He’s a talented guy. So are some of the guys he’s going to be going up against. He’s got to get himself off the NFL Network and get out of those fancy clothes he’s been wearing for the last two months and get his ass in gear here.”

Tampa Bay second-round draft pick, guard Arron Sears, isn’t hard to find on the practice field. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame stands out in a crowd and even a huddle.

But what Sears was able to do on the blocking sled and at the line of scrimmage on Friday was also impressive; according to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.

“He’s a good player,” Gruden said of Sears. “He was the best offensive lineman in the SEC the way we saw it. He’s an outstanding player. Sears can play left guard, right guard, left or right tackle. He’s a great kid. He’s got long arms and power. He’s really good on the perimeter. The thought of he, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood – three young guys – with some of our veterans gives us a good reason to be excited about our offensive line.”

Sears took a lot of reps Friday and is expected to win the starting left guard job as a rookie. The Bucs are so confident that Sears will solidify the left guard spot that they have moved Dan Buenning, who has started 23 games at left guard in two seasons, to center.

The Bucs have deemed the center position one of the most competitive position battles on their roster.

“He’s been out here working at center,” Gruden said of Buenning. “Buenning, John Wade, Matt Lehr and even Jeb Terry have been working at center. We’re going to have a lot competition at center, and it’s really going to be decided at the end of the OTAs in terms of how the reps are going to be dispersed in training camp.”

For 11 seasons, former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch patrolled the defense’s secondary and earned a reputation for being a headhunter near the line of scrimmage.

A six-time Pro Bowler, Lynch has played for the Denver Broncos since the 2004 season. He signed with Denver after being released by Tampa Bay.

The Bucs had high hopes for Lynch’s successor, Jermaine Phillips, but they’re still looking for a player that can fill Lynch’s shoes.

Tampa Bay might have found that player when it invested a second-round draft pick in Oregon State strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, who is already being compared to Lynch.

However, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t see many similarities between Lynch and Piscitelli, who still has a long way to go before he proves himself at the NFL level.

“Well, they’re both white,” Gruden said jokingly when asked about the similarities between Lynch and Piscitelli. “Those are the comparisons I see being made. If your name was something else I guess you’d be compared to somebody else. John Lynch was his own football player. To compare the guy to John Lynch isn’t fair to Sabby, I don’t think. He’s got to play the position he’s capable of playing it. They’re different kinds of guys. There aren’t a lot of similarities the way I see it.”

While he’s not Lynch, Piscitelli possesses attributes that the Bucs feel will help him have a successful career and make a name for himself in Tampa Bay’s defense.

“He’s a big safety and a charismatic guy,” said Gruden. “He’s a great communicator. He’s a confident player. He’s got good ball skills and he’s light on his feet for a big guy. He loves to compete and play – I can see that in his eyes.”

Tampa Bay fourth-round draft pick Tanard Jackson made a name for himself as a cornerback at Syracuse.

Now he’s working on making a name for himself at the pro level.

But before Jackson does that, he must first learn his new position, which is safety.

Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Raheeem Morris worked Jackson at safety at the Senior Bowl in January, and the Bucs are convinced his future is at the free safety position, although he could see some limited action at cornerback.

“He has a lot of adjustments to make,” Gruden said of Jackson. “Communication is much greater on the inside than it is on the outside. There are some situations where he’s a linebacker defender in eight-man fronts. He’s going to get an eye-to-eye view of Steven Jackson and Deuce McAllister and some of the bigger running backs in football. From a run entry standpoint, he has a lot to learn. But he does have speed and instinctive traits that you look for in a safety.”

Most seventh-round draft picks will be hard pressed to secure a spot on an NFL active roster.

While that might still be true for Chris Denman, who was Tampa Bay’s first of three seventh-round picks last weekend, the former Fresno State offensive tackle is one player that has already caught the eye of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, and it’s not just because of his 6-foot-6, 305-pound frame.

“He’s The Mortician, or that’s what they call him,” Gruden said of Denman. “He doesn’t say anything, so he’ll be a short, quick interview for you. He played heavier at Fresno State in his senior year than he did in his junior year, and I’m not sure why. For whatever reason, he tried to play bigger and I think it hurt him a little bit. He’s going to be hard to get out of here, though. He’s well trained. He’s big and physical. Every snaps means something to him.”

The Bucs invested a third-round draft pick in T Chris Colmer in 2005. Colmer has since been plagued by Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, which is a condition that affects the shoulder and upper arm.

While Colmer’s career might be over before it even started, the Bucs believe Denman is a versatile player that could help fill the void at backup right tackle and provide depth at some other positions along the offensive line.

“Possibly so,” said Gruden. “He’s a guy that can play inside or out. His natural position will be right tackle, but he’ll have the versatility to go inside and play guard. Between he and Arron Sears, we think we’ve added two young, physical prospects that can compete for playing time and compete to be on this football team.”

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