BATES PREACHES PATIENCE New Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates is in the process of implementing his defensive scheme in Tampa Bay.
He's met with players throughout the offseason, but Bates had the opportunity to take the players and his playbook to the practice field for the start of Tampa Bay's three-day mini-camp on Tuesday.
While his defense will carry over some aspects of former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's system, Bates' 4-3 scheme features terminology that is foreign to the Bucs players at this point.
Bates said it would take some time for the players to get comfortable in his defense.
"Number one we have to have a lot of patience as coaches and as players in terms of learning the new scheme," said Bates. "It's going to be a process. It should be a process where we see daily improvement. The biggest thing for the players is they can't get frustrated as far as learning the new scheme. It's a tremendous amount of patience, but we're taking steps initially to see what we have defensively in the scheme. We're just trying to build a base. Today we put in one coverage, two different fronts and no stunts. We're trying to learn and build a foundation on what we believe in.
"Coach Morris has given us the responsibility of putting in the scheme. We have carried over some from Monte. It was also Raheem's scheme for the last several years. There will be some carry over. It has been very interchangeable as far as him sharing ideas. We can go to Raheem if we need something. He has sat in on some of our meetings and has made great contributions, so it has been a good dialog between Raheem and our coaching staff."
Morris said he is happy to help make the transition from the Tampa 2 defensive scheme that was implemented back in 1996 to Bates' system.
"Coaches are all bilingual, so I'm pretty bilingual," said Morris. "I can relate things from Coach Gruden's offense to Coach Jagodzinski's offense. I can relate things from Monte Kiffin's defense to Coach Bates' defense. Players become a little bilingual, too, so you kind of teach them like that."
Fans were not allowed to watch Tampa Bay's two mini-camp practices on Tuesday, and the media was only permitted to observe parts of the voluntary workouts. Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud made it clear that last year's defense and Bates' scheme do not share a lot of similarities.
"It's a different defense," said Ruud. "It's a 4-3, but there are a lot of differences style-wise. It's just different. It's not the Tampa 2 everybody is used to here. It's detailed and requires you to play hard, but that's no different than Monte."
And like Kiffin, Bates, 62, brings enthusiasm and passion to the football field, according to Morris.
"I'm lucky enough to be 32 and be able to learn from a guy like Jim Bates," said Morris. "It's awesome. I enjoy it. He's exciting to watch on the practice field. I have to stop him from chest bumping. He might be chest bumping higher than me this year and take it over. It's a lot of fun to work with him."
CROWELL SIDELINED UNTIL MAY Tampa Bay had the opportunity to see some of its new players in helmets and jerseys for the first time Tuesday, but not linebacker Angelo Crowell.
Crowell, 27, was signed by the Bucs as a free agent with the Bills. While he is expected to compete with Quincy Black for the starting strongside linebacker job, Crowell, who was in attendance at the mini-camp, will have to wait to jump into the competition since he still is recovering from a knee injury he suffered during the 2008 season.
The Bucs are optimistic Crowell will be ready to go in about one month.
"We received a very favorable report yesterday from Todd [Toriscelli] and his training staff," Bates said of Crowell. "He should be ready to go by May for the OTAs. He's limited right now – we're holding him out of this camp just to let him rehab. He's on a regular routine with the training staff."
Added Morris: "We might be being a little cautious and holding him back a little bit. It's only going to be May when he gets back. We have time."
In other injury news, Bucs center Jeff Faine was held out of the afternoon practice, the reason undisclosed. Running back Cadillac Williams and cornerback Torrie Cox were at One Buc Place, but are still rehabbing their respective knee injuries from 2008.
BERBENICH MAKES SWITCH TO ASST. RECEIVERS COACH After beginning his coaching career with the Bucs as a quality control coach, Tim Berbenich was promoted to assistant running backs coach in 2008.
One year later, Berbenich has changed positions. He is now the assistant wide receivers coach, assisting Bucs WRs coach Richard Mann.
PHILLIPS IMPRESSES IN DEBUT AT LINEBACKER Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips made his official debut at weakside linebacker on Tuesday.
Phillips, who has played safety for the Bucs since entering the league in 2002, suggested the switch to linebacker is definitely different.
"It's been interesting," said Phillips. "I feel like I'm moving slow. I feel like I'm a linebacker already, but I'm still learning. It's coming, though. It was a smooth transition today. I lined up in the right places and things like that."
Ruud said Phillips was a natural fit for linebacker since his safety responsibilities often times required him to play near the line of scrimmage, among other things.
"I've always said he should just come play down here with me. He's only a few steps away," Ruud said of Phillips. "I told him now he can add a few pounds, eat all the cookies he wants and be fat and happy."
All joking aside, Bates came away impressed with Phillips after two practices.
"This is the first day, but we did have a few sessions with him two weeks ago," said Bates. "Today I paid a little more attention to Flip than I did the other players and I thought he got an excellent start. We didn't go against the run this morning, we just did 7-on-7 against the offense. He's picked it up well and done some things surprisingly well."
MCCOWN, JOHNSON SHOULDER LOAD AT QB With Griese missing voluntary workouts this week to be with his wife, who is eight months pregnant, in Denver, Luke McCown and Josh Johnson took all of the reps at quarterback in practice.
McCown, 27, suggested he could get used to taking the No. 1 reps at quarterback since he's been preparing to be a starter for a long time.
"Physically yes, mentally no," McCown when asked if he felt any different being the starter. "I've approached every day the same way that I did when I got here five years ago, that I was going to be the starter. I'm getting the opportunity to prove myself. I'm going to take every chance and opportunity to prove it."
While McCown has the opportunity to win the starting job in Tampa Bay, Morris stressed that there is open competition at quarterback.
"Luke has always had a little bit of a swagger to him. A little bit of quiet confidence," said Morris. "It is a little bit of cockiness. He's quarterback and is supposed to be, so it is just Luke becoming Luke, and Josh becoming Josh to be honest with you. Both of those guys are new in leadership positions. Kind of like I am a little bit. Maybe you guys didn't feel that coming out of me as a defensive backs coach, but now maybe you do feel it coming out of me as a head coach. I hope you feel it coming out of them as players.
"Last time I checked there was no time to bleed. We've created a competitive environment. Today was as competitive as it gets at quarterback. Equal reps I bet they are pretty happy about it. I bet his arm feels it pretty good tomorrow."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL Morris' goal is to make Tampa Bay a more physical football team. That philosophy has been adopted by every position and coach, including the defense.
Of course, playing physical football without full pads and in just helmets, jerseys and shorts (league rules prohibit contact in offseason workouts) can pose some challenges, but Bates and his defensive coaching staff can still accomplish quite a few things in mini-camp.
"It's awfully hard without the pads on, of course, but professional athletes do a great job of playing without pads as far as keeping their shoulders down and playing with a good knee base and bend, and working with the hands," said Bates. "We can find out how strong we are at the point, but we can't find out how physical we are until the pads come on. But we can still find out a lot about our team and learn as we go. We can get a lot done during this time.
"We can analyze work habits, techniques, but until you put the pads on, especially with defensive linemen, you don't know what you got. That won't happen until we get the true double teams and true zone blocking we'll get from our offense. But we can still judge athleticism, quickness, change-of-direction, what kind of effort we're playing with, so we can judge a lot right now."
The Bucs have suffered late-season collapses over the past two seasons, including a December meltdown that saw the Bucs defense surrendered over 750 yards rushing. Although it isn't easy being a physical football team, that philosophy certainly has its advantages.
"You're obviously going to be more tired from it, but hopefully it makes you a more physical football team," said Ruud. "That's what he's after. That's not to say we weren't a real physical football team last year, but a couple of teams, as you saw, took it to us a little bit. Hopefully we can be physical now and it will pay off later."
The Bucs offense will also be physical while operating out of a zone-blocking scheme implemented by Jagodzinski. That's just fine for WR Michael Clayton, who has established himself as one of the most physical receivers in the NFL.
"The aggressive style fits me perfectly," said Clayton. "We're going to be utilized heavily in the running game and also in the passing game. Deep, short, in the middle – everywhere. It gives everybody a chance to get involved."
MACK RUNNING NICKEL CORNERBACK As of right now, Bucs second-year player Elbert Mack is working as Tampa Bay's nickel cornerback behind Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber.
But Bates made it clear that Mack, entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2008, is in an open competition at nickel corner.
"Well we have a number of guys," Bates said of the competition at cornerback. "[Elbert] Mack is back there. Greg Fassitt. We have several guys that we are looking at. There isn't a true two-deep or three-deep right now. Of course some of the guys that have been in the league that are veterans they are starting out on number one, but it is wide open as far as positions. Some guys are set in their positions, have been playing there for years and our starters that will be hard to beat out, but the guys that are some of these wide-open positions to make our football team in a two-deep. It is wide open which I think gives everybody an opportunity when a new system comes in, and new coaches come in. We don't perceive that this guy can't play. It is a fresh start."
SIMS, HOVAN RUNNING FIRST-TEAM DEFENSIVE TACKLE Veterans Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan are running first-team at defensive tackle right now. They no longer play the "under tackle" and "nose tackle" positions that existed in the Tampa 2 defense under Kiffin.
But like every other position on the defense, the competition at defensive tackle is ongoing.
"It is wide open right now," Bates said. "We are starting right now with Ryan [Sims]. Ryan is starting opposite Chris Hovan. They are all doing a good job. It is the first day and they've been working hard in the offseason these last two weeks and being in with the weight coach. They are all doing a good job for the first day. I was impressed with the work habits, and that was the biggest thing to show to Raheem, myself, and all the coaches. We want to see the work ethic and build the tempo, and we were encouraged the way they came in. Not in the greatest of shape but they pushed through practice and were working on fundamentals. We were well pleased for a first practice.
There's a chance more competition will be added to defensive tackle through the 2009 NFL Draft in April, but Bates made a point to suggest the Bucs' options of finding a rookie that could come in and start as a rookie is unlikely.
"It is like every year there is always a shortage of tackles," Bates said. "There are not that many on the defensive line overall. Some years there have been more defensive ends, and in college with a lot of teams running 3-4 there is a lot of outside linebackers defensive end types that can do a lot of things. There have been a few more of those over that last few years in the draft. Defensive tackles is always a need on all teams there aren't that many that you say these are high quality draft picks."
NEW LEADERS EMERGING When the Bucs released linebacker Derrick Brooks and Cato June, running back Warrick Dunn and wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, the team created voids at the leadership position.
"You can never pick leaders. Leaders pick themselves," said Morris. "They naturally lead and people naturally follow. My leaders will evolve. They will be here when it's time for them to come. This is our team. This is our team. Fifty-five was a great leader around here for a long time. We all know that and we respect that. He's actually still here in some sense. I still feel him. We all feel him. We love him, but leaders evolve."
The good news for the Bucs is several players are already attempting to fill the leadership void in Tampa Bay's locker room.
"I feel like I'm one of the oldest guys in this locker room, and that's one of the reasons why they kept me here," said Clayton. "What I know and my mentality, a physical football team is what Raheem wants, and that's what I deliver. I'm basically rallying the troops to have that mindset to be as physical as possible heading into each and every Sunday. That's one of the reasons why they kept me here, and I'll definitely fulfill that role."
Added Ruud, who is now the leader of Tampa Bay's defense: "I think in the NFL there is always leadership by committee. Derrick was definitely the biggest voice of the team last year because of his experience, but this year I do think it will be a little bit more of a group of guys trying to lead."
BATES EXPECTS BIG THINGS FROM ADAMS Tampa Bay's new defensive scheme puts defensive ends in position to get after the quarterback by having defensive tackles occupy interior offensive linemen and defensive backs play press coverage.
That should bode well for Gaines Adams, who has just 12.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Bucs since entering the league as the fourth player taken in the 2007 NFL Draft.
"Gaines [Adams] it is wide open for him as far as the ability level," Bates said. "You can't ever say until after you go through a season with a young man, but we've had tremendous success with guys, like I think I mentioned at the first press conference, Jason Taylor went from 2.5 sacks to 14.5 to 17. Gaines had five or six last year. There is no reason why he can't be a big time sacker in this league. Through our experience the second year going into the third year is the biggest jump in production.
"I think it is because of the maturity level of defensive linemen especially. What they learn, how to practice, how to go through a 16 game season, how to keep their body in total shape. If they have the ability and they are willing to be coached and they are hard workers the biggest jump that I've seen in football over the years, this isn't every individual, but is in the second to third year."
Adams and Stylez G. White will have competition from DE Jimmy Wilkerson, who notched five sacks in his Bucs debut last year. While he was just getting comfortable in the Tampa 2 scheme, Wilkerson said the addition of Bates and his scheme are positive in nature.
"I look at it as a good thing," said Wilkerson. "Everybody that comes in here now is on a level playing field. We're all learning together right now."
Wilkerson has already caught Bates' eye on the practice field and in reviewing tape from last year.
"Yes very much so," Bates said. "Just watching the tape from the season he is a very good football player for us. He can play defensive end, he can play inside and be an excellent rusher. There is a lot of versatility that Jimmy brings to the table."
BUCS USING THIS MINI-CAMP TO EVALUATE TALENT Aside from installing new offensive and defensive schemes, the benefit to having an extra mini-camp due to a head coaching change is the opportunity for the team to review the team's personnel prior to the draft. Morris said that aside from getting timing and precision down on offense and defense that each player is being evaluated, too.
"You want to re-evaluate players every year," Morris said. "You try to make it as even a playing ground as you can. I have to re-evaluate (cornerback) E-Mack (Elbert Mack). I have to see if he's going to be a guy. I have to re-evaluate (cornerback) Ronde (Barber). I have to see if he's still going to be a guy. We have old to young competing and I'm loving it."
Morris was asked to comment on several players that have yet to live up to their full potential in wide receivers Michael Clayton, who was re-signed this offseason, and Dexter Jackson, last year's second-round pick, who was inactive for the last nine games of the season.
"Michael Clayton, for example, hasn't lived up to your expectations, but the reason we signed him back was because he lived up to ours," Morris said. "You go look at pound-for-pound receivers in the league blocking downfield and creating big plays and putting their face on people and being physical, tough and violent. That's Michael Clayton. Does he have a little bit more in the tank? I hope so. I think he does, too.
"Dexter started off the season not so well. He had his helmet taken away from him. He came back and all I've seen him do is work. You want to talk about individual guys, he's been out here every day on his own, in the weight room, running by himself and doing everything he can. He made a big play today in practice. I'm excited for Dexter and what he can do."
Another player that Morris discussed when singled out was defensive end Gaines Adams, who had six sacks during his rookie season with only eight starts, but had just 6.5 sacks last year despite starting all 16 games.
"Gaines is about ready to reach his plateau," Morris said. "He started off his first eight games of the season fast, exciting, explosive – scoring touchdowns. We were all excited about him. He didn't finish so fast – just like the rest of our team. Gaines is a part of that team and a part of finishing strong that we talked about in our first press conference."
MORRIS DISCUSSES SEVERAL TOPICS IN FIRST MINI-CAMP PRESS CONFERENCE In his first media-wide press conference since the day he became the Bucs head coach on January 17, Morris was asked about several different topics from the reporters in attendance.
On franchise-tagged wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who has been reportedly upset by not getting a long-term deal, Morris said: "I would not say he was unhappy. Obviously, he wants to be a long-term deal guy. But I feel good about it. He felt good about it from day one. Immediately when I hit him with the franchise tag I dropped him a phone call. I said, ‘Hey, dude. Don't be mad. I'm not letting you get out of Tampa. We'll still try to work out a deal. That's how we're dealing with it. Move on.' He came in here bouncing around at practice. I feel good about it."
On what he learned as a head coach in his first mini-camp practice, Morris said: "Today I learned something as a rookie head coach. I had a nice 20-minute special teams period. I'm probably going to cut it down to 15 tomorrow. You learn stuff every day and you grow from it. You want to give people the opportunity to teach and I have some really good teachers on my staff."
On listening to hip-hop music during practice and defensive coordinator Jim Bates requesting some country music be mixed in, Morris said: "It depends on what we look like on defense after a while," Morris. "You want to cater to your guys. Right now we're going with a little bit of Raheem music. I need a lot of bounce. I'm doing a lot of walking in individuals, so I need to figure out where I need to be."
On Tampa Bay's decision to move training camp back from Orlando to Tampa, Morris said: "It was great because they gave me the ability to help them with it. We agree on everything, we agree to disagree. We get together, me, Mark Dominik and the Glazers. We want to bring back the community to Tampa. We kind of lost some of that a little bit, and some of [the fans] don't know our younger players because of it. A lot of our fan base doesn't know the Barrett Ruuds of the world. They haven't got a chance to touch ‘em, come see them at work each day. The reason Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham were so great is because they trained at the University of Tampa and people got to see them at work. They felt good about them. They felt like they could touch them and they felt like they knew them. Even Warren Sapp [laughs]."
On his expectations for the Bucs, who are considered one of the youngest teams in the NFL, Morris said: "I see us championship searching. Whenever I stop championship searching I will step off this podium and I won't talk to you guys anymore. We are championship searching every year. All championships, divisional, NFC and Super Bowl. If it wasn't realistic this year I wouldn't be standing here."
When asked about the handicaps for a first-year head coach, Morris said: "I have to make decisions, and that's the place I'm put in. If I worry about things then I won't make good ones. I can't second-guess myself after I make them. I'll make some wrong ones. Sure I will. But I'll keep making them. Hey, [Michael] Jordan missed some jump shots in the fourth quarter, too."