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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the first of three rookie mini-camp practices at One Buccaneer Place on Friday.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his staff headed up a group of 50 players, which included the team’s 12 draft picks, nine undrafted free agents, nine first-year players and 20 players who were signed to tryout contracts.

Although Friday’s practice was held from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., the players were working well before and after that.

“We emphasized a lot,” Gruden said after Friday’s practice. “We met with these guys late into the evening last night. They were in here early this morning, starting at 5:30, and they’ll go late tonight again. We’re putting a lot of offense in, a lot of defense in, we got a lot of reps today. So it’s a great evaluation to see what we have, where we need to go and what we need to do.

“We’re trying to teach our system and find some guys who can help us out. We can’t necessarily keep all these players who are here today, so if someone shows us something here in the next three days, we could have to make a roster move to try to accommodate that. So we’re evaluating a lot of guys, not only the ones we drafted but the guys who are here on a voluntary basis. There are still some good players who are a little bit overlooked and we want to try to make sure that we don’t overlook anyone.”

While some players understandably had first-day jitters, Gruden said he was pleased with the overall effort and execution during Friday’s practice.

“A lot of these guys are speaking a foreign language, now,” said Gruden. “It’s a different terminology; guys are playing next to people they’ve never met or heard of; so it’s a bit of a challenge and they’ve got coaches from all ends screaming at them. It’s challenging to them, but I commend them on their concentration. I thought the execution was as good as I’ve seen in a voluntary mini-camp in some time.”

Tampa Bay can’t keep all 20 of the tryout players, but the ones that show they can pick up the system quickly will stand a chance of being invited to Lake Buena Vista in July when the Bucs report to training camp.

“We’re throwing a lot at them,” Gruden said. “We’re trying to see who has the ability to learn quickly. Obviously, we want to see your skill level. Can you take it from the meeting room to the grass and can you make some plays out here? What kind of physical condition are you in? If you can make plays out here, there’s a good chance you can make them in Orlando. Some of these guys have interesting bios, interesting backgrounds, so we’re going to continue to dig in and research on those guys before we make a final decision.”

Tampa Bay’s 2005 first-round draft pick, running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, made his debut in a Bucs uniform on Friday. Although the players sported just helmets, jerseys and shorts, Cadillac, who sported jersey No. 24, said he liked his new team colors.

“It was real cool,” Williams said of his Bucs debut. “Just yesterday the equipment guy came to me and told me to try on my helmet. So I tried on my helmet and I was like a little kid, looking in the mirror to see if I looked good in the helmet.

“I love the colors. I tried on the jersey back home and I told my mother and my brother that I look good in red.”

Williams wasn’t the only one that was happy to see him sporting the Bucs colors on Friday.

“He’s going to be a really good player,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “If our evaluations are true, I think he’ll be a heck of a player for us. We’ve got a long way to go with him, obviously, to teach our system. He’s got to get to know the NFL, the defenses that he’s going to see here are not anything like what he’s seen on the college level. So there are a lot of things that he’s going to have to learn and experience here in the next three or four months to get ready for the Vikings.”

According to Gruden, Williams was able to digest the offensive plays that were being run during Friday’s practice rather quickly.

“That’s one thing that we did notice about him at the Senior Bowl — he’s a quick study,” said Gruden. “You show it to him once or twice and for the most part he has it. “That’s how a lot of the great players are.”

While it will be difficult for any rookie to have the type of success WR Michael Clayton had in 2004, Gruden feels Cadillac and some of the team’s other rookies have the ability to make a positive impact on the Bucs offense almost immediately.

“Depends on who the guy is. Clayton did it, he had a quick impact,” said Gruden. “We hope that Carnell can, we hope (tight end) Alex Smith can. He had a heck of a day today. I was really impressed with what he did. And a couple linemen have got a chance to come in here and compete for playing time. We need some young guys to step up and play.”

Tampa Bay rookie fullback Rick Razzano just wants to play football, and it appears as though he’s going to be able to focus on doing that after the felony aggravated assault case against him was declared a mistrial on Monday.

“It was pretty tough for my wife and I,” Razzano said of the whole ordeal. “I’m just glad it’s all over with now.

“We went to court and it resulted in a hung jury, so it’s pretty much over with I think.”

The jury, which was made of 12 people, was 9-3 in favor of finding Razzano innocent of the charges. While there’s still a chance that prosecutors could retry him for the alleged beating of a law student, Razzano is focused on earning a roster spot with the Buccaneers.

“I think it made my wife and I stronger going through it, so I’m glad it’s over with now,” said Razzano.

While the court case may be over, the damage may have already been done since several teams, including Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, were interested in drafting him. However, Razzano said he was pleased that Tampa Bay decided to use one of its four seventh-round pick on him last Sunday.

“I’m just glad to be down here in Tampa,” said Razzano. “This has been a life-long dream of mine, to play in the NFL. When I got that call from Coach Gruden it was the most exciting time in my life with the exception of getting married.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Razzano had one of the toughest jobs on the field Friday, being called on to open up holes for the team’s first-round pick, Cadillac Williams.

“God help that soul because he’s got to be the lead back for a guy who runs the ball, generally, in short-yardage and four-minute situations where the tendencies say you’re probably going to run it,” said Gruden. “So you’ve got to have a guy who really has not only a will to go in there but some size, some girth and some durability who can do that week in and week out.”

Razzano apparently showed Gruden and the Bucs coaching staff some of those blocking abilities on Friday afternoon.

“That’s one of the reasons he’s here,” Gruden said. “He did that at Mississippi for a few years and did a very good job of it, not just physically in the hole but instinctively getting to his assignment.”

Bucs third-round draft pick Alex Smith caught the eye of a lot of observers during Friday’s mini-camp practice by catching several passes and making some impressive plays as a tight end.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was impressed by Smith’s ability to get separation, stretch the field and haul in passes, but he knows he has a lot of room for improvement.

“He’s obviously a big guy, he can run and he’s a very smart, heady football player,” Gruden said of Smith. “He’s a guy who is a threat as a pass receiver. He mishandled a couple balls today but made two or three plays down the field, which we haven’t had happen here in a long time. So hopefully he gives us another dimension in the passing game.”

Smith is familiar with Tampa Bay’s offense, which is similar to the one he played in during his collegiate career.

“A lot of it is familiar because of that West Coast feel — we got a lot of that at Stanford,” said Smith. “It’s a lot more volume and the tempo is way up there. That’s the only real difference, trying to put all of it together in a short period of time.”

Gruden’s offense apparently compliments Smith’s abilities as a pass-catcher.

“I love to stretch the field and create mismatches whenever possible,” said Smith. “In this offense, that’s what the tight end is geared to do, so hopefully I can step up and make those plays.”

One of the players that stood out the most during Friday’s mini-camp practice was Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud.

Ruud managed to overcome some emotions to have an impressive debut.

“I was pretty nervous,” said Ruud. “I was pretty awful the first few plays, but as we went on I got a lot more comfortable. I have to get used to this heat. It was 40 degrees and raining when I left Nebraska. Other than that, it was good.”

Ruud is thrilled to be a Buccaneer, and for a couple of reasons. First off, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin coached Barrett’s father when Kiffin served as a defensive coordinator for Nebraska back in the early 1970s.

“I really didn’t meet Coach Kiffin until this past Senior Bowl,” said Ruud. “My father has always known him real well and has always spoke really highly of him, so I’m just excited to be here playing for him.”

The second reason Ruud is excited to be sporting a red and pewter uniform is because Tampa Bay was his favorite NFL team growing up.

“This was my favorite team growing up, and I’ve always loved Tampa Bay since the mid-1990s,” said Ruud. “I’m excited to be here. It’s a great place to live at, and instead of just coming here for Spring Break I can live here all year.”

Although Tampa Bay has suggested that it will start Ruud at the strongside linebacker spot, the Bucs’ second-round draft pick played almost exclusively at the middle linebacker position on Friday. Of course, Ruud didn’t mind doing that at all since he’s preparing to succeed the Bucs’ current ‘Mike’ backer, Shelton Quarles, one day.

“Shelton Quarles is here and he’s been doing it forever and he’s a Pro Bowler, but he is 34 so hopefully I’ll be the guy that takes over for him,” said Ruud. “Hopefully I can contribute as early as possible. All linebackers play special teams, so I’ll do that, but hopefully I can get on the field; if not at middle, then hopefully the strong side.”

Although Ruud was extremely productive in college, becoming Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler during his senior season, Kiffin reminded Ruud not to bring the Cornhusker’s woeful defensive play, which included the a school-worst 70-10 loss to Texas Tech last season, to Tampa Bay.

“I talked about the Blackshirts,” said Kiffin. “I said, ‘Ruud, the way that defense is playing – don’t bring that Black shirt here!’ I’m not sure that’s not a pink shirt or a yellow shirt. These players are going to kill him because they are always getting after me about Nebraska.”

Ruud evidently caught the eye of more than Tampa Bay’s defensive coaching staff with his play during Friday’s workout. In fact, he’s already earned a nickname from Coach Gruden.

“They call Carnell ‘Cadillac’ so I gave Barrett the nickname ‘Chevy Truck’ or ‘Dodge Durango’,” said Gruden. “He’s an everyday, physical presence on our defense and he’s going to be a guy who learns our system quickly and will be a real good, instinctive player. [He?s a] good tackler and he’s got good size in the middle of our defense.”

Ruud didn’t seem to mind the nickname at all.

“Hey, if Chevy wants to give me a deal or something like that, I’d be happy to talk with them about it,” said Ruud.

In an interesting sidenote, Ruud isn’t the only player at the Bucs rookie mini-camp whose father played for Kiffin. Linebacker Rich Glover’s father played for Kiffin at Nebraska as well.

“A guy by the name of Ritchie Glover, who was an Outland Trophy winner and a back-to-back All-American who won back-to-back national championship while I was coaching at Nebraska,” said Kiffin. “Richie Glover was the first recruit I ever recruited in my career. I was a young pup working at Nebraska.

“And Tom Ruud and Ritchie Glover played together at Nebraska and now their sons are here. We’re still running the same defense that we ran at Nebraska, too.”

Glover is one of 20 tryout players participating in the rookie mini-camp this weekend.

“His son went to New Mexico State and played linebacker and we brought him in as a free agent (try-out),” said Kiffin.

Although he was extremely productive at Pearl River Community College, wide receiver Larry Brackins, whom the Bucs used a fifth-round pick to draft last weekend, is a work in progress.

Some believe Brackins could have a steeper learning curve than most of the other rookies since he played at the JUCO level and not a Division I-A program. While Tampa Bay isn’t completely buying into that notion, the Bucs coaches plan on working with him early and often.

“They all have a learning curve,” Gruden said. “They’re all learning new systems. Certainly, Larry doesn’t come from a Division I-A program, and we’ll see. We don’t know enough about him yet to really say much, other than that he’s a big physical presence who does have raw ability. We’re going to try to work extra time with him to get him ready to compete for a job.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on if some of the players looked lost during Friday’s practice:

“I wouldn’t say lost. I don’t know about that. Some are struggling, but you would too if you just got here and it was your first day.”

If you liked this story, be sure to get the inside scoop and more detailed information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason plans regarding roster changes, free agency and the NFL Draft with a Pewter Insider premium subscription.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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