Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is pleased with his team after they finished the on-field workouts leading up to training camp. The Bucs held mandatory morning and afternoon practices on Wednesday, and Morris updated where his team stands heading into training camp.
"You're really excited because you just want to be ready for training camp at this point," said Morris. "I really think we've surpassed that. So now we have the coaches digging in and trying to get even better. I want us to be ready for a game now. That's a little bit unrealistic to be honest with you. We're searching for more. We still have a long way to go before we're ready for a football game, but the guys have progressed well. The messages we've preached and taught to the players are being read and heard in the interviews [the media] conducts. That is what you want to hear from your football team. It's positive things. It's guys having awareness. We want to be a smart football team, and that's what we're working on."
The Buccaneers have been installing a new offense and defense during the offseason. New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski talked about how much of the new offense had been installed prior to training camp.
"What we did is we broke down in about 12 to 14 installations. What we do is we are really working on situational type football," said Jagodzinski. "What I mean by that are first and second downs your base offense. First-and-10, second-and-7, after you get that established you go down to your third downs. Third down three-to-six, third down seven-to-10, and 11-plus. That is situational football. You have to be able to be situational smart football team at any level. That is what we are doing with our football team right now, is teaching guys situations. We put our guys in situations in a hurry up field goal today. We did two-minute. We did red zone. We did coming out on offense, and you teach every part of the aspect of the game so when it comes up next fall you have had that covered. That is coaching. That is what good coaching is and I think [Morris] has a really good plan on how we are handling things."
Part of the plan for the next six weeks before training camp involves the players and coaches getting some time away from football. It also includes players staying in shape and being ready for the grind of training camp.
"There will be a difference amongst everybody," said Morris. "Some of the rookies will be in contract negotiations trying to get signed before training camp. Once those guys get signed they'll try to rush back and get acclimated again. A lot of guys will try to go with their own trainers and do their own thing to get in the best possible shape they can be in. A lot of the guys you'll see working out here. A lot of the coaches will take vacations, but you'll also see them here working with guys, maybe an hour here or a few hours there. We can't stay away from this game. This is what we do 24 hours, 365 days per year. We'll have some time to be with family and friends, but it's still football, and this is what we do."
"I have the same concerns all 31 other head coaches have. You're not around them each day. You don't know what they're doing. You just trust that these guys will go home and train and put themselves in the best position to come back ready to compete for a championship. We look forward to that. We have some mentally tough guys and we have some good guys. We've got guys compete everywhere. I'm hoping they go home, get in the weight room and work out. They have another week of the offseason workout program. When they come back you don't want to start from scratch. You want to start where you left off."
One change that Morris will want to see in training camp is protecting the team's quarterbacks in practice. Morris ejected rookie defensive end Jarriett Buie from the morning practice after Buie's bull rush pushed tackle James Lee into quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was knocked down.
"Those are just some of the things we've got to learn," said Morris. "We've got to learn to play with better tempo. You can't run into the quarterback by mistake. You can't push one of your other guys into the quarterback by mistake. Those are just inexcusable mistakes that you just can't have. We've got to learn how to protect each other, and learn how to practice and protect each other as a team. If we can't do that we don't have a chance. I know we're all working hard and guys are trying to make this team, but you can't play for this team if you're going to make those types of mistakes."
The players talked about the incident and said that Leftwich getting knocked down was not intentional. Defensive tackle Chris Hovan is a player that practices and plays with great fire and passion. Hovan explained his view of the incident.
"Stuff happens during practice," said Hovan. "I'm sure [Buie] didn't mean it, but he's just trying to go out there and earn a roster spot on this team and sometimes unfortunate things happen. We do have to protect our quarterbacks. He knows that. The point got across and we're going to move on."
Still the progress the team made and the intensity in which it worked with is something that Morris believes will be accuenated in training camp. Morris was asked what will be different about training camp this year.
"What you saw in OTA days is a preview of what you're going to see in training camp," said Morris. "When the players come in they'll get more zone scheme run, they'll get more shots down the field, a defense playing bump man, a defense that shows more tendencies to blitz, and hopefully we get more enthusiastic practices. We'll have more juice and more energy. We'll see more physical, tough acts on the football field because we'll be in pads. We're going to have seven less practices than we have in previous years, but we're going to have more practices with pads on so we can emphasize the physical part of our game. That's what you'll see." QB COMPETITION STILL OPEN, FREEMAN WILL BE RE-EVALUATED The Bucs emerged from the organized team activities (OTA) and mini-camp practices without a stated leader for the starting quarterback position. Veterans Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown have been the primary players in the competition. Tampa Bay used its first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on quarterback Josh Freeman, and he is the future starter for the Bucs. Second-year pro Josh Johnson has also been in competition at the quarterback spot. Jagodzinski was asked if the Bucs have a leader in the starting quarterback derby going into training camp.
"Well, I'll tell you this. I'd rather talk about our quarterbacks in general," said Jagodzinski. "I've been very, very pleased in what we have done and I just mentioned to the offense again before we came off the field on what we've done, where we were, and where we are right now. I think the quarterback situation has improved with every practice that we've had. We've had a chance to correct off of film. We've had a chance to teach off film, teach on the field, teach through walk-thrus, so I think our quarterbacks are progressing. Anytime that you can do that with especially that position, I think you are going in the right direction and I think we are doing that right now."
Jagodzinski said the Bucs have shown great progress with McCown and Leftwich. He echoed that sentiment regarding rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. Jagodzinski said you can't rush Freeman's development, and every quarterback develops at their own rate that cannot be predetermined. Jagodzinski believes that Freeman will figure to get playing time when the coaching staff is comfortable that he can handle the different situations that he would face during live game action.
"We haven't had Josh very long now. I'd say we've had him for a total of 20 practices," said Jagodzinski. "That is really all we've had him, but we like where he has progressed to this point. I think that we are going to be able to put him in the situations that we talked about. We have to feel good enough to do that with him, so he can mature that way. I don't think that you can just go out there and perform in that situation if you have never been in that situation, so that is why we use so much situational type football in our practices."
Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson is the point person for developing the Bucs future franchise quarterback. Olson said the plan to get Freeman on the field is a work in progress. It could happen sooner than originally thought, but that remains to be seen.
"We did talk last week," said Olson. "When I say we I mean everyone in the building, the GM, the head coach, Doug Williams, the people involved in there, Dennis Hickey, we were all in there and just discussed the Josh Freeman plan. We decided we'll go through the summer, we'll go probably a week into training camp and we'll visit it again. He has shown the progress he has made to this point, and if it expedites even faster over the summer than maybe we will get him involved early, earlier than we thought."
Olson elaborated on how far Freeman has come from when he first started practicing with the team during the OTAs.
"His thing early when he first got here was he was forcing footballs into coverage and that is always a concern," said Olson. "If he can show that he keeps progressing as far as the decision making goes, then shoot, why not? He is comfortable in there. He is accurate with the football. He throws a great ball, if he's accurate and not turning the ball over, then gosh, maybe he will be ready to play. He didn't seem nervous in the huddle last week at all, so that was a great sign. Then he stepped up made some great throws. We'll continue to monitor his decision-making as a coaching staff if we are secure enough in him to not turn it over."
Morris was asked if he would rule out playing Freeman in his rookie season.
"Not at all," Morris said. "We want to evaluate all of our guys and give them an opportunity to play. When you talk about the quarterback, that's one guy out there. You want to talk to everybody and watch everything you can. Everyone will be part of this decision and all the decisions at each position. We have a quarterback competition. That's no secret.
"Josh is pushing the envelope. These guys are fighting with him. He's fighting back. They're working well together. That said, we'll continue to evaluate this thing throughout training camp and throughout the season. We'll continue to evaluate it until Josh Freeman is ready to become our prototypical franchise quarterback."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Jagodzinski talked about Bucs kick returner Clifton "Peanut" Smith seeing action on offense at running back.
"Did you know you he can stand underneath this podium," joked Jagodzinski. "Peanut can. We tried it. We brought him in here and we stuck him right underneath it. He's going to be hard to find. Let me tell you what we did with Clifton. We put him at the running back spot some and I think that he can contribute at that spot. I don't know how many snaps per game, but I know he can run an option route on an outside linebacker and be matched up, and that is a great matchup for us. Even if he starts in the backfield and we take him out of the backfield by moving him out there and match him up on a linebacker. He is quick. Steve Logan has done a good job of teaching him how to run an option route, and we do that with all of our slot guys. [Sammie] Stroughter and [Brian Clark] are going to be some of those guys. We are trying to get [Maurice] Stovall worked into that, and Peanut is going to be that guy, too. We are excited about the guys we got. But it is going to take all 11. I told them today you are not going to have 10 guys out there doing their job and one guy not doing it. It doesn't work that way, and you can't be selfish. You can't be, because if you are it is a team game. Everybody wins or loses when they get out of that locker room on Sunday. That is what we are preaching to them, and you will get what you demand. It works. I don't care what level you're on."