The Buccaneers held their first of 14 organized team activities at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday.
The Bucs are scheduled to hold two more OTAs on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The rest of the OTAs will be held between now and June.
The team has also scheduled its rookie mini-camp for the weekend after the 2007 NFL Draft and its team mini-camp for June 19-21. Both of those particular mini-camps are mandatory.
Tuesday’s OTA was voluntary, and a couple players’ absences were noteworthy.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly did not participate in Tuesday’s OTA at One Buccaneer Place. Kelly, who is recovering from surgery to repair a toe injury that ended his 2006 season, is not happy with his contract, which calls for him to have a $4.4 million salary cap value in 2007.
Kelly, 31, has two years remaining on his current contract. The Bucs can create approximately $2.7 million in cap room by releasing or trading Kelly. However, that scenario could be deemed unlikely, as he has already received a $1 million roster bonus this offseason.
Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was also quick to point out how the former USC Trojan has missed several OTAs in the past due to the fact that he lives in California.
“Brian Kelly is out with his family right now,” said Morris. “All of this stuff is voluntarily. BK is what he is, and he’s doing what he does. He has not been here for meetings and he has not been here for voluntarily workouts.
“I think he’ll be here when he has to be here. These guys have a long season and a long offseason. A lot of these guys like to be around for the competitive nature. BK is not like that. He’s always liked the west coast and has always been out there. If he shows up, that’s great – I’ll coach his butt off. If he doesn’t, I’ll coach the guys in line.”
Another player that did not participate in Tuesday’s OTA was middle linebacker Shelton Quarles.
Quarles, 35, has spent the past few months undergoing medical tests to determine his playing health for the 2007 season. It is not clear which injuries are being evaluated, although other media outlets have reported concussions and a hip ailment as possible concerns.
Bucs linebackers coach Gus Bradley said he wasn’t aware of Quarles’ current health status or whether the linebacker would be back with the Bucs in 2007.
Quarles was due a $1 million roster bonus on Mar. 1, but it got pushed back to May 1 while he is being evaluated. Quarles is scheduled to have a $4.075 million salary cap value in 2007.
The Bucs can create approximately $3.3 million in cap room by releasing Quarles or having him retire. Either move would also pave the way for Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay’s 2005 second-round draft pick, to become the Bucs’ starting middle linebacker.
In the meantime, several new Buccaneers made their debuts on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday.
Defensive lineman Kevin Carter, who has recorded 97.5 career sacks since entering the NFL in 1995, signed with the Bucs this offseason as a free agent.
The 6-foot-6, 305-pound lineman is looking forward to helping Tampa Bay’s defense, which failed to finish ranked in the top 10 for the first time in 10 seasons in 2006, return to form.
“I was talking to Derrick [Brooks] and Ronde [Barber] and guys are really conscious of establishing this defense again,” said Carter. “Last year, our standards dropped a little bit, and we need to get that back. That’s what we’re focusing on right now.”
Carter, 33, is considered a versatile player that can line up at either defensive tackle for defensive end. So, which position did Carter play on Tuesday?
“I played more three technique today, but I could play more defensive end tomorrow,” said Carter. That’s not really my call to make. Wherever Coach Kiffin tells me to play, that’s where I’m going to go.
“I really don’t know [where I’m going to play] just yet. We’re just trying to see where I fit in. I welcome the chance to play the three technique or defensive end. I’m just happy to be here and be part of this team.
The seasoned veteran said he doesn’t have a preference in terms of where he plays along Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
“I’m comfortable either way,” said Carter. “In my 12 years in the league, I’ve played end, tackle and pretty much everything else. I’ve pretty much done it all, so I’m comfortable playing anywhere they want me to.”
Newcomer Patrick Chuwurah, who played mostly linebacker in Denver, will play almost exclusively at defensive end for his former defensive coordinator and new Bucs defensive line coach Larry Coyer.
“In my eyes, I’m both,” said Chukwurah. I’m wherever they need me. If they need me at defensive end, that’s what I’m going to do. If they need me to play a little bit at linebacker, that’s what I’ll do, too. Right now, I’m primarily working with defensive ends so, label me a D-end right now. That’s what I’m most comfortable doing – getting after the quarterback and rushing the passer.”
Bucs linebacker Cato June is also a versatile defender. He played safety in college and linebacker for the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.
On Tuesday, June revealed that he is competing with Ryan Nece and Jamie Winborn for the starting strongside linebacker spot.
“I’m lining up at the Sam, which is essentially the same position I played in Indy,” said June. “In Indy they called it the Will, but here they call it the Sam, but it’s the same thing.”
Although he signed a two-year contract with the Bucs last month, June has not been guaranteed a starting job on Tampa Bay’s defense. He expects to compete for that right.
“It’s always a competition,” said June. “The best player will play.”
While he played safety at Michigan, June said he does not anticipate playing in Tampa Bay’s secondary and plans to focus on competing at the strongside linebacker spot.
“I’m pretty much a linebacker now,” said June. “I don’t see myself playing safety with a number 59 jersey on. I’m here to learn the Sam linebackers position in this system, and that’s what I think I’m going to be.”
Speaking of the safety position, Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who replaced Greg Burns in January after a one-year stint as Kansas State’s defensive coordinator, addressed the Bucs’ decision to not sign a veteran safety to compete with Jermaine Phillips or Will Allen, both of whom struggled in 2006.
While the Bucs likely will select a safety in the 2007 NFL Draft, Morris feels he can help Phillips and Allen can solidify their respective positions in Tampa Bay’s secondary.
“When I left in ’05 we liked those safeties a lot,” said Morris. “They played well then, and I know they had a down year last season. They know they had a down year last season. It’s our job as coaches and their jobs as players to fix it.”
Morris was groomed by former Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin, who was recently hired as Pittsburgh’s new head coach. Both coaches are considered detail oriented, and Morris suggested Tuesday that some of the Bucs defensive backs might have not focused on the details enough in 2006, which was the same season the Bucs lost Tomlin and Morris to promotions.
“Not to say anything about what the coaches did here before me because I think those guys were good coaches. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been here,” Morris said of Greg Burns, who was fired after one year as Tampa Bay’s DBs coach. “But the small details and things like that that were important to Mike [Tomlin] and I probably slipped away a little bit last year. They tried to establish a whole new deal with what might have been important to them. Whether or not they got the time to do that is not for me to say. But with me being back, it’s kind of like muscle memory.”
In a related note, the Bucs flirted with the possibility of moving 2006 fourth-round draft pick Alan Zemaitis from cornerback to safety last year.
While the Bucs believe Zemaitis, who was inactive for all 16 regular season games while nursing a shoulder injury last year, is capable of playing safety, Morris wants to see what he can do at cornerback first.
“I feel like I have a draft pick right now,” Morris said of Zemaitis. “He’s my toy right now. Never really got a chance to see him last year, and nobody else really did either. I’m getting a good look at him right now.
“To be fair to the kid I wouldn’t want to say [Zemaitis could move to safety]. That’s not to say he couldn’t play it, but you have him out there healthy now and you drafted him as a corner, so let’s see what he can do. He came into a situation where he was hurt last year. I want to see if the kid can play corner.”
In other news, the Bucs released defensive tackle Lance Legree on Tuesday. Legree signed with the Bucs as a free agent last month.
The NFL is scheduled to release Tampa Bay’s 2007 regular season schedule at 1:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
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