Less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Simeon Rice, head coach Jon Gruden had to answer questions about that difficult decision on Friday. Gruden did his best to make a positive out of what some view as a bad decision. Rice, who had just two sacks in eight games last season, made no secret about his displeasure over how his tenure with the Bucs came to an end.
Gruden was hesitant to put too much pressure on Gaines Adams, the No. 4 selection by the Bucs in this year’s draft, but let it be known that Adams will see playing time. The Bucs cutting Rice had just as much to do with Adams’ selection as it did with Rice’s shoulder injury. Gruden made it clear that it’s time for the Bucs to move forward and get ready for the 2007 season.
“I think anytime you release a player that has played as well as he has for as long as he has, there’s going to an adjustment,” Gruden said. “But I think we just need to move forward and we wish Simeon the very best.”
Veteran players Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber were understandably shocked by the news of losing a long-standing teammate. Barber realizes that football is a business and this was a business decision for the Bucs. Barber, however, made it a point to talk about Rice’s legacy with the Bucs and that he will be missed.
“He carries a great legacy here and I think he would have liked to have continue here with the guys here,” Barber said. “He’s a good teammate, but now someone is going to have to step up.”
“I don’t want to dwell on it much, but at the time I was shocked by the news and very disappointed,” Brooks said. “As you have time to sit back and reflect on it you just have to be real professional about it. It’s not going to be easy, but you have to. The nature of this business calls for moves like that to be made and some you are going to like and some you aren’t. Right now we just have to accept it and be ready to move on.”
Brooks and Barber have taken the stance that this is a business decision and they have to treat it that way, but both players were visibly disturbed by the move to cut Rice. Both players have had to say goodbye to teammates John Lynch, Warren Sapp and Warrick Dunn and now had to do the same with Rice. Brooks believes that he must treat this as a business decision and nothing more.
“That’s a mistake you can make as a player because you really start treating football, certain aspects of it as a business and that’s a reality you don’t change,” Brooks said. “There are going to be certain things that are going to be business in this game and that’s the certain things you keep business. The other things that are personally emotional about the players those are the things that you keep in check, but the business side of this game is always going to be the business side.”
The future is now instead of later for Adams, who received reps with the second team defense during the morning practice. Adams looked out of sorts at times during 11-on-11 drills, but is an imposing figure at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds. Adams had thoughts of playing and learning behind Rice during his rookie season, so Thursday’s events did catch him off guard.
“Yeah it caught me off guard, but I don’t have any control over that I just have to take care of myself,” Adams said. “I would have loved to play behind Simeon because he is a great athlete and a great teacher. I would have loved to have learned from him.”
LET’S GET THIS SEASON STARTED The Bucs held their first two organized practice sessions to open the 2007 training camp in Orlando on Friday. Tampa Bay has called the Wide World of Sports Complex home for training camp since 2002. The total attendance for the first day of training camp was 1,687 and the fans were ready to cheer on their Bucs.
“Good first day of practice,” Gruden said. “The trainer tells me everybody made it through okay. I’m very pleased with the first practice of training camp.”
LEADER OF THE PACK Quarterback Jeff Garcia wasted little time in asserting himself as the leader of the offense during Friday morning’s practice. Garcia was vocal in the huddle and on the field and even was upset at himself for missing a couple of pass attempts late in the morning practice.
“Definitely, you want to go out there and you want to perform well,” Garcia said. “That’s always in the back of my mind. I want to go out there and execute well. I came off the field today thinking about the last two plays that I had that weren’t executed the way I wanted them to be.”
Gruden has noticed the way Garcia has asserted himself as a leader in the huddle and running the offense.
“Yes, as I said yesterday, [Garcia] is very special in that regard,” Gruden said. “He’s got tremendous charisma when practice starts and the game begins. He’s going to give us something I think our football team needs.”
UNDER PRESSURE Despite losing Rice on the defensive line, Gruden isn’t worried just yet about the improvement of the pass rush. The Bucs picked seven defensive players with their 10 selections in this year’s draft to improve the pass rush along with the overall defensive performance.
The Bucs defensive line was responsible for 19 of the 26 sacks recorded last season. Adams along with the addition of Kevin Carter and Patrick Chukwurah bolsters the pass rush for the Bucs and increases the competition at defensive end. Tampa Bay also has been tinkering with the 3-4 defensive scheme during the OTA’s and mini-camp to try and get more pressure on the quarterback this season.
“There are a lot of battles on this football team right now and I think they are pretty apparent to everyone and we will see what happens,” Gruden said. “We will see what kind of progress Gaines Adams makes. Patrick Chukwurah has been solid for us. We will line up in any front that we need to line up in to get a pass rush, I know that.”
STOVALL IMPRESSING EARLY Second-year receiver Maurice Stovall came into this season’s training camp with a big opportunity to get more playing time. With the lack of consistency from Michael Clayton, Stovall can possibly take the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Joey Galloway with a strong showing during the preseason. Despite his lack of speed, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Stovall makes up for it with his long strides and great hands.
Stovall stood out in practice on Friday, and it wasn’t just because of his tall frame.
“I saw Maurice Stovall make two or three great catches today,” Gruden said. “The execution at a high level is what we are looking for and guys that can make plays.”
SHOTGUN MAKES IT TO CAMP Gruden had resisted implementing the shotgun formation since before he became the head coach of Tampa Bay in 2002, but his philosophy changed shortly after the 2006 regular season came to an end.
With quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski, Chris Simms and Luke McCown each having successful track records in the shotgun formation, Gruden decided to implement it in his version of the West Coast offense this offseason.
And after experimenting with it during organized team activities, the shotgun made its debut in Tampa Bay’s training camp on Friday.
“I’m comfortable in it,” Gruden said of the shotgun formation. “Again, we’ve been working on this for some time. It’s not like we just threw it out there as a novelty. We’re going to take between 30 and 40 snaps a day in the gun and there’s going to be a time and place for it. It will be used this year. It might be used often. But we’ll see what happens here in the coming weeks.”
CADILLAC REVING UP FOR SEASON There are a lot of opinions about what went wrong with the Bucs’ running game last season from injuries to Cadillac Williams to rookie offensive linemen to lack of playing time during the preseason in 2006. The Bucs were ranked 28th in the NFL last season in rushing, gaining just over 95 yards a game after ranking in the top 15 in 2005.
Williams struggled with back spasms during the pre-season and got little work before the season. Then when the season started it seemed as though Williams found little room to run. Whether it was a sophomore slump or a lack of daylight to run through, Williams, who rushed for 79 yards (3.5 avg.) in 2006, was less than stellar running the ball last season.
“I think the better we throw the ball the better we’re going to run it,” Gruden said. “We did not throw the ball well enough. We’ve got to be a little bit more versatile and more successful throwing the ball to make people respect us, and I think that alone will help our running game.”
Williams, however, comes into training camp healthy and seems to have a new pep in his step with the ball. Gruden has also tried to work some pass plays into the offense that will get Williams into the open field with the ball in his hands. Williams has never been known for his catching ability out of the backfield, but that could change this season.
“If you watch the great backs play – LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis – most of their big plays, yardage-wise, come out of the backfield as a pass receiver,” Gruden said. “Just the wide flare, occasionally throwing the ball in the flat or down the seam – some of these backs are very creative after the catch. So we’re trying to get him some looks in the passing game. I think he made a great stride last year in improving that. He caught 30 passes or so and we’re hoping to get him a little bit more than that this year.”
INJURY UPDATE Joey Galloway was held out of the afternoon practice staying true to his normal schedule at training camp.