The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held two of the four mandatory mini-camp practices they have scheduled this week at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday.

While the mini-camp practices are normally open to the media and closed to the public, Tuesday’s workouts were closed to both.

“We have 102 guys in the woodshed, and there’s a lot of media and we don’t want anybody to get killed,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said jokingly when asked why the mini-camp practices were closed to the media this year.

Among the players absent from Tuesday’s mini-camp practices were fullback Mike Alstott, who was excused for personal reasons, running back Charlie Garner, who is rehabbing the knee injury he suffered back in Week 3 of the 2004 season and tackle Todd Steussie, who will likely become a salary cap casualty between now and the start of training camp.

“We excused him today for personal reasons,” Gruden said of Steussie, who has also missed the past two weeks of OTAs. “That’s really all I can comment on right now. We’ll update you as soon as we have more information.”

Gruden said the Bucs will indeed have to make some roster cuts before they sign their 12 draft picks unless some of the veteran players, including linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and/or defensive end Simeon Rice, restructure their contracts.

“There are going to be moves,” said Gruden. “Some moves obviously will be salary-cap related. If you understand our [cap], you understand that. And again, we’re going to try creatively to add more players to this team as players become available. When the rookies begin to sign their contracts, salary cap situations change around the league. Who we have now is who we have now, and we’ll be looking for more players to give us a better opportunity to win. That won’t change. At the same time, we’ll have to make some salary cap moves, I’m sure, at some point.”

Several players, including wide receivers Michael Clayton (knee), Joey Galloway (groin) and Larry Brackins (hamstring), center John Wade (knee), tackle Kenyatta Walker (knee) and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (shoulder) were limited on Tuesday but are expected to be ready to go for training camp.

The Bucs have been working on accomplishing several things this offseason during OTAs, and Gruden is hoping that team camaraderie is something his players come away with after the Bucs wrap up their three-day mandatory mini-camp on Thursday.

“Unity more than anything,” Gruden said when asked what he hoped his team would accomplish this week. “Get our team for a couple double-days right out of the break. Enjoy your time off, yet when we get ready to go we’re going to practice twice the first day, twice the second day and twice the next. We’ve got a lot to prove. We certainly don’t need a lot of radio shows and predictions and things of that nature. Maybe that’s the reason for not having the media accessible at this stage. We’ve got to work our way out of the hole that we’re in, and we’re looking forward to that.”

The Bucs will hold Wednesday’s mandatory mini-camp practice from 10:00 a.m. to noon at Raymond James Stadium.

Although he hasn’t sported pads yet, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden apparently likes what he’s seeing from Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.

“He’s done well,” Gruden said of Williams. “He’s somebody who we like a lot. He’s been here every single day. He’s worked hard and his conditioning is top-notch. He’s not intimidated, he plays hard, he plays the game. We’re pleased with where he is and yet respectful of what he needs to do to get ready to play.”

Williams’ plan this week is to absorb everything Tampa Bay’s coaches are throwing at him so he can be that much more prepared for training cap in late July.

“I’m doing a little bit more with the one-man-pit,” Williams said of Tuesday’s mini-camp workouts. “We’re on the field a good bit. This is the last week so they’re kind of putting me out there in that fire right now.”

Brian Griese will enter the 2005 season as Tampa Bay’s starter. What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Griese was the team’s third-string signal caller. According to Gruden, Griese has shown significant improvement this offseason.

“I think he’s much further along, not only as a performer but as a leader on the football team, particularly with the offense,” Gruden said of Griese. “That’s one of the things Coach Walsh did when he was here, spent private time with Brian and with the quarterbacks. He’s a very impressive guy, now. He’s deadly accurate. You don’t throw for 70 percent in pat-and-go unless you’re decent, but to do that in the NFL is a great accomplishment. Certainly, he’s much more in tune with what we’re doing. Last year, he was taking 20-25 percent of the reps, where this year he’s taking almost double that.”

Griese, who has added 10 pounds of bulk this offseason per the request of Coach Gruden, hopes that his progress as a player will translate into more wins for the Bucs this season.

“I am just looking forward to getting back out there and improving as a player,” said Griese. “I have a little better understanding of the offense and hopefully I can take it to the next level and help other guys learn the offense. My sole focus is hopefully getting this team back to the playoffs.”

According to Griese, there are several players who have improved and should help Tampa Bay, particularly on offense, this season.

“There are a lot of guys that have impressed me through the whole offseason, not just today,” said Griese. “There are some guys you may not have heard of like (wide receiver) DeAndrew Rubin, who has been making plays, (tight end) Nate Lawrie is getting better. (Running back) Earnest Graham has had a great camp.”

Newcomer Juran Bolden hasn’t received a whole lot of press this offseason. However, Bolden, whom the Bucs are hoping can solidify the team’s nickel cornerback spot this season, is apparently earning the respect of his new teammates, especially his fellow cornerbacks, like starter Ronde Barber.

“He’s good,” Barber said of Bolden. “Juran brings a lot to the table. It’s amazing that he’s bounced around as much as he has because he’s so talented. This business can be cruel sometimes, and hopefully he fits in with us. Judging by where he is now, I think he will.

“He’s got the attitude and mentality to be a Buc corner. I think he’s fitting in just fine.”

The Buccaneers have ranked dead last in the NFL in field goal percentage for two straight seasons, mostly due to the collapse of kicker Martin Gramatica, who is no longer with the team.

While Tampa Bay is hoping that the competition between kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France will ultimately produce a kicker whom the Bucs can rely on to win games this season, Gruden said there were some other areas of concern.

“We have to kick better,” said Gruden. “We have to make field goals. We were dead last in field goal accuracy two years in a row. That’s a dubious distinction. I don’t know anybody who wins a golf tournament that’s last on the tour in putting. You’ve got to make good on your scoring opportunities. It was borderline ridiculous at times last year. We have to do a much better job. Certainly, our offensive line has to play better – from left tackle to right tackle. Hopefully continuity at left tackle will help us with Derrick Deese coming back, and we think Kenyatta knows our stuff. Hopefully some of these young guys can pick this up and emerge and help us out. We’ve got to start better on defense. We can’t come out and give up an opening touchdown in nine or ten games. We’ve got to start faster because we are capable of doing that. We’ve got to minimize turnovers. We’ve turned the ball over in sometimes tragic and horrific situations. Those are the four things that we are hitting as hard as we can.”

As for the competition between Bryant and France, Gruden suggested that he didn’t have a preference in terms of who wins the job as long as they can do the job, and do it well.

“I don’t really care who the kicker is,” said Gruden. “I’d rather know how he’s kicking. I’ve been through this before. [Sebastian] Janikowski came in and answered the bell for us in Oakland and made a big difference. We had a bunch of tight games, we were 8-8. We made a change at that position and he alone catapulted us to some tight victories. Hopefully, one of these two guys can come out of the crowd and separate himself and distinguish himself at a position where we need that.”

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