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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off their 2008 training camp at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. under hot and humid conditions and sunny skies.
A couple of players were sporting Mohawk hairstyles at training camp, including rookie receiver Dexter Jackson and second-year linebacker Adam Hayward, which made it interesting.
Just as Tampa Bay right guard Davin Joseph said during his media session during check-in, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is in great shape. He’s lean, but looks strong and formidable.
As the offensive linemen went through drills by stepping over bags, offensive line coach Bill Muir wanted his players to take their time and do them right, noting that they have a long line of 12 linemen, which affords some players the chance to catch their breath while others are doing the drills.
“Take advantage of it, guys,” Muir said. “The line won’t be this long forever.”
Prior to the start of practice, rookie offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah joined Jeff Faine, Dan Buenning and Arron Sears at the center position and snapping the ball to the four quarterbacks in attendance – Luke McCown, Brian Griese, Chris Simms and rookie Josh Johnson.
Every Buccaneer was in attendance with the exception of quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Joey Galloway. Garcia has an excused absence through the weekend due to his father’s championship team reunion party in Gilroy, Calif. Galloway is nursing a mild groin strain and did not participate in the Saturday morning workout and is listed as day-to-day by the team.
Defensive end Greg White ended his contract holdout and was in attendance at the first practice after missing check-in yesterday. The Bucs made room for White on the roster by cutting rookie safety Jonathan Heffney.
Rookie running back Cory Boyd was in attendance at camp despite being waived injured on Friday, and was riding a stationary bike as he continues to rehab his knee injury.
Leading the stretching for the Buccaneers was cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, and guard Davin Joseph.
After calisthenics, the Bucs broke up into individual practice groups. At wide receiver, Michael Clayton, Antonio Bryant, Micheal Spurlock, Cortez Hankton and Brian Clark were lined up at the Z (flanker) receiver position, while Maurice Stovall, Paris Warren, Chad Lucas, Dexter Jackson and Ike Hilliard lined up at the X (split end) spot.
All four quarterbacks were throwing passes to the wide receivers. McCown and Griese were deadly accurate on the underneath throws – outs and slants – while Simms showed no ill effects from his splenectomy from 2006. Last year in camp, Simms was wildly inaccurate and was laboring with his technique when throwing the ball due to the affects of his surgery.
This year, Simms looks more comfortable and effective throwing the ball, despite the fact that he said he was extremely nervous. Simms is carrying the ball higher when he sets up, which is limiting his big, slow wind-up that has caused him to telegraph his passes in the past. Simms still has a slight hitch in his delivery that doesn’t allow the ball to come out as quickly as the other Bucs’ quarterbacks.
Most of Johnson’s passes were on target, but a few were thrown high, especially on slant routes. One or two passes were so high that they were uncatchable. This is typically what happens to rookies who have jitters.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was imploring his wide receivers to run crisp routes and do everything perfect from using proper footwork to simulating the release off the line of scrimmage.
“Be more physical, A.B.,” Gruden said to Bryant. “You want bump-and-run. You’re dying for bump-and-run coverage.”
Gruden was making a point to single out Clayton, who was leading the line at flanker, and challenged the veteran wideout, who looked downright skinny after dropping 15 pounds during the offseason.
“C’mon, Mike,” Gruden said. “Training camp. Day one. Fifth year.”
Clayton rose to the occasion – and Gruden’s challenge – and performed most of the routes flawlessly, catching every pass and drawing praise and applause from Gruden.
“Get on your launching pad,” Gruden said to Clayton and the receivers. “Let’s go now! Explode on to the scene!”
Another receiver who stepped up and had a good day was Spurlock, who showed great speed, body control, agility, and perhaps more importantly – knowledge of the offense. Spurlock has had the benefit of being on the roster heading into a second year now and has the ability to return kicks, which is why he likely made the cut over newcomer Taye Biddle, who was released on Friday to help make room for the newly signed rookies. With the exception of a noticeable drop in the final 11-on-11 drills, Spurlock had an eye-opening morning.
Wide receiver Paris Warren dropped a pass that drew the ire of receivers coach Richard Mann.
“Gotta have that,” yelled Mann.
Jackson, the team’s second-round pick, looks fast and did a good job of catching the ball. The Bucs also used Jackson creatively and had him run the ball on a reverse on at least one occasion.
Lucas had some nice catches, including some from Griese. Griese and Lucas connected on a pass in front of cornerback Eugene Wilson on one play. The pair would have had another nice gain, but Lucas dropped a pass wide-open 10 yards downfield along the sideline. Lucas had plenty of open field in front of him.
Mann also spent a lot of time working with Bryant. They also stayed after practice and worked on hand drills for holding onto the football. Bryant was involved in the passing game in the scrimmage, he caught a short pass from Griese in front of linebacker Cato June, but the play would have only been a small gain. The same play was repeated for Bryant later on a pass from McCown and a minimal gain due to the presence of linebacker Derrick Brooks.
The linebackers as a unit looked strong. Brooks, June, Barrett Ruud, and Matt McCoy all had numerous strong plays in the run game, dashing into the hole to limit the runs to small gains. Brooks was in the hole to meet running back Michael Bennett on one run. Ruud had a few plays like that as well. Bennett was stuffed on another run by safety Jermaine Phillips.
A good sign for the Buccaneers depth behind Ruud was the play of McCoy. The free agent signee McCoy was fast and consistently around the ball. McCoy would have had a tackle for a loss on a draw play to Graham, and would have made a tackle for no gain on a run by Warrick Dunn on another. On an interior run, big defensive tackles Dre` Moore and Chris Bradwell engulfed Dunn.
At 6-foot-3, it is amazing how effective B.J. Askew can be at the fullback position. Due to proper leverage issues, Askew must be mindful of bending his knees even more so than a 5-foot-11 fullback to get low enough to drive linebackers out of the hole. For such a big, tall fullback, Askew has great agility and body control and that’s what makes him effective for his size.
“I see ya B.J.! Way to be on that,” said Bucs running backs coach Rich Bisaccia after Askew had adjusted and made a one-handed catch over his shoulder.
Askew also made a nice catch along the sideline from Griese in front of linebacker Quincy Black in the 9-on-7 session. Askew also did a good job of lead blocking, especially for some runs in the middle of the field for running back Earnest Graham.
Tampa Bay’s defense has preached creating more turnovers throughout the entire offseason, and that particular aspect of the game was emphasized mightily on Saturday morning.
Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris’ group broke off onto the far field to work on change-of-direction, dropping into coverage and breaking on passes to intercept them.
From there, some of Tampa Bay’s assistant coaches and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin simulated offensive plays that resulted in interceptions, which required all 11 defensive players to sprint up field to make sure the ball carrier got to the end zone for the score.
“Finish it up and down the line, men,” Morris said. “Finish strong and whoever has it, ‘Go.’”
At one point, the energetic Kiffin was even lining up as a tight and motioning himself over before the ball was snapped.
While that was taking place, Bucs linebackers coach Gus Bradley worked with his group on play install and the defensive linemen worked with Coach Todd Wash running through dummy drills. Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams clearly was one of the fastest players to go through these drills, and he showcased that speed off of the line of scrimmage later in practice. Adams looks poised to have a sack-filled sophomore season.
Roughly 50 minutes into practice, Tampa Bay held some wide receiver vs. defensive back drils, which challenged the DBs to defend a significant amount of slant passes, which are a staple of the West Coast offense that head coach Jon Gruden deploys.
Tampa Bay’s defense ranked No.1 vs. the pass last season, and Coach Morris’ group fared quite well in this drill even though it favors the receivers.
Second-year cornerback Marcus Hamilton started the drill off on a good note for the secondary by breaking on a slant pass thrown to Warren. Although Warren caught the ball, Hamilton took a good angle and had solid coverage.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber made defending Clayton look easy on one particular play across the middle of the field, preventing Clayton from running his complete route and causing an incompletion.
Tampa Bay cornerback Sammy Davis did a nice job of defending a deep ball thrown down the sideline from Johnson to Spurlock, forcing an incompletion.
With Garcia out of the lineup, the quarterbacks were able to take more reps, which really favored Simms and Johnson, who are on the outside looking in at the competition between Garcia, Griese and McCown.
Even when the defensive backs didn’t have good coverage, the receivers didn’t always help themselves. On one particular play, McCown threw a perfect strike and hit Stovall in stride down the right sideline, but Stovall dropped the ball.
The Bucs’ first-round pick, cornerback Aqib Talib, is extremely fluid in his movements and has good instincts, but you could tell he was a rookie during a 9-on-7 drill when he lost Spurlock on a crossing route, which allowed the speedy receiver to get open and haul in a pass from Griese for a big gain.
Talib rebounded from that gaffe later in practice when Askew hauled in a pass in the flat and Talib did an outstanding job of breaking on the ball and taking the proper angle to make the stop on the play.
Simms, who struggled mightily last year, looked much better, but you could tell he was rusty and hadn’t worked with his teammates during the offseason while he attempted to force the Bucs to release or trade him.
On one particular play in the WR vs. DB drill, Simms launched a pass down the right sideline for Spurlock, but the ball was severely underthrown, which allowed Buchanon to nearly pick the ball off.
Coach Morris, who had been working on throwing passes up in the air for his players to intercept earlier in practice, gave Simms a hard time after the errant throw, saying, “Was that a DB drill?”
But some of Simms’ passes were impressive. He completed a deep ball to Clayton during the WRs vs. DBs drills. In a 9-on-7 drill, Simms was late throwing to Clark across the middle, but he still got the pass off, which allowed Clark to dive for the ball for the catch against cornebrack Torrie Cox and Hayward.
McCown looked sharp throwing the ball deep and on slant patterns. During a 9-on-7 drill, McCown fired a ball in-between Talib and Phillips and hit Bryant in stride for a big play.
One of the more noticeable things of the first day of training camp was the sparse crowd at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The attendance was far from capacity and the folks that were there were not too noisy or rowdy. Perhaps it was the absence of Bucs legendary fullback Mike Alstott, who drew applause every time he touched the ball in years past.
The crowd on hand had no reaction to the first time tight end Jeremy Stevens touched the ball and made a nice catch. No applause, but no boos or jeers from fans, either. When Stevens made his second catch, there was a smattering of claps from the crowd.
Fellow tight end John Gilmore looks to be a significant upgrade over Anthony Becht. Gilmore, who is wearing Becht’s number 88 jersey, shows much more movement and fluidity on the practice field than his predecessor. Although his primary job will be as a perimeter blocker, Gilmore possesses solid hands, which only makes him more versatile on offense.
McCown had a pretty good showing on the first day of training camp, taking the first-team reps in place of Garcia throughout most of the practice, followed by Griese and Simms. McCown was pretty accurate and decisive for most of the practice, but had a couple of mistakes. Instead of holding the ball too long and taking sacks, McCown was able to scramble outside of the pocket, but still took too long throwing the ball away a few times. He also threw an ill-advised interception that came from a tipped pass intended for Bryant. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon created the turnover.
McCown also mistimed a deep ball to Clayton. The 50-yard pass was on the money, but Clayton had to slow up for it. McCown should have put more air under it and let Clayton run underneath it to catch the pass in stride.
Things didn’t come easy for McCown once the Bucs began blitzing their linebackers, particularly Ruud and June. On one play, the blitzing linebackers forced McCown to roll to his left, which allowed defensive lineman Marques Douglas to record the sack.
But not all of Tampa Bay’s blitzes were clean. During the same 11-on-11 session, Ruud and June were picked up on their blitzes, which allowed Simms to hit Warren vs. cornerback Darrell Hunter for a completion.
Douglas wasn’t the only defender to notch a would-be-sack in this morning’s practice, which was held without pads. During an 11-on-11 session, Carter came off of the line at left end unblocked and would have laid Griese out had it been a live game. This blown offensive assignment drew the ire from Gruden.
But McCown did have his share of good plays, too. On one play, the Louisiana Tech product connected with Bennett for an 8-yard gain, but Hayward slapped at the ball and knocked down Bennett.
McCown also threaded a nice pass to Stovall downfield between linebackers Antoine Cash and Geno Hayes. McCown had lofted another pass on the money in the middle of the field to tight end Ben Troupe, who had beaten safety Will Allen. The combination of McCown to Troupe connected again with a pass in front of Brooks. McCown stood tall and got rid of that pass quickly as he was being blitzed by June and safety Tanard Jackson.
Johnson looked much more comfortable and accurate than he did when we last saw him during the mandatory mini-camp in June. Johnson was particularly accurate and displayed a quick release on comeback routes, but his passes on slant patterns were also on the mark and led the receivers well.
As expected, Graham was the starter at halfback on Saturday, but he split an even amount of carries with Dunn and Bennett. Rookie Clifton Smith and second-year back Kenneth Darby got very little playing time during the first practice.
The Bucs offensive line did a good job of opening up holes on a number of runs. Graham had success running up the middle and to the right side. On a counter run to the left side, Bennett ripped off a big gain of over 20 yards. Safety Sabby Piscitelli showed his speed by maintaining his angle against the ultra-fast Bennett, and forced the running back out of bounds. If Piscitelli had not made the play, Bennett would have gone the distance for a touchdown.
Darby was stuffed by defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson on one play.
Dunn had more of his touches from pass receptions than rushing attempts. Of the running backs, Graham had the most success running the ball.
Second-year offensive lineman Chris Denman had a very good showing at guard during the team sessions on Saturday, but struggled during his chances at right tackle. Denman was physical and stout inside in pushing around veteran Douglas. But when put on the outside of the line, Denman’s limited quickness and footwork were exposed.
Douglas didn’t look overly impressive in his first training camp practice with the Buccaneers. He is not particularly quick or explosive and is not in Ryan Sims’ class. Sims had a great day getting penetration during team drills as well as individual sessions with the offensive linemen. On one play, Sims rocked Zuttah pretty good and stood him straight up.
During 1-on-1’s between the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen, Douglas failed to get past Sears, but White was having a very good day, giving right tackles Trueblood, Denman and Dennis Roland fits with his impressive combination of speed and power. White and Kevin Carter, who was playing some defensive tackle, did a great job against Trueblood and Joseph during the combo pass rush/blocking sessions.
Sims was dominant during 1-on-1’s, destroying first-year guard Brian Johnson and also shined during the combo drills alongside with defensive end Gaines Adams. The combination of both Sims and Adams is a deadly dose of speed and power.
Backup fullback Byron Storer picked up where he left off from his outstanding offseason and made an impression on the first day of camp. He caught the ball well, showed improved speed and also did a good job of blasting Ryan Nece out of a hole during 11-on-11 drills.
After scoring three straight goal line touchdowns against the defense thanks to two runs by Graham and one by Bennett, the Bucs offense was on the verge of asserting itself in the opening practice of camp. But the defense came to play at the end of the morning workout, kicked off by Buchanon’s pick of McCown.
On the very next play, new cornerback Eugene Wilson jumped up and knocked the ball from Hankton’s hands as he was on the verge of making a dynamic sideline catch. Hankton nearly took out June as he fell to the turf on the play. Needless to say, that play got a roar from the fans in attendance and Wilson’s defensive teammates.
Then Spurlock, Lucas, Bryant and Gilmore proceeded to drop catchable balls and the defense began to take control as the morning practice drew to a close.
But Griese found a wide-open Stovall down the middle of the field for a big touchdown on a play-action pass. Griese had Askew wide open with lead blockers underneath, but instead of checking the ball down he worked his progressions and found Stovall all alone downfield. Piscitelli bit on the play-action, blew the coverage and allowed Stovall to drift 10 yards behind him.
Later, Griese would also throw a perfect pass to Clayton in stride down the left sidelines with Adams trailing in coverage underneath with safety help over the top. Clayton caught the ball in a hole in zone coverage, dodged the safety and scored a touchdown. After the play was over, Adams, who did a credible job of keeping up with Clayton downfield, was jawing with the wideout, who replied, “You ain’t no DB.”
In the final minutes of practice, McCown was on target downfield with a beautiful bomb to Spurlock, who caught the ball in between Cox and safety Donte Nicholson.
The Bucs even got Jackson, the rookie, into the mix on offense with a couple of successful end-arounds and a wide receiver screen with Joseph and Trueblood out in front blocking that wasn’t as successful. Jackson was able to put his impressive speed on display, but the raw receiver has some work to do before he escapes criticism from the coaches.
On one play during the WRs vs. DBs drill, Jackson did a nice job of coming back for a ball and catching it, but he lost his footing and fell to the turf after the grab. One of the Bucs offensive assistant coaches let Jackson have it after the play.
“Get off that ground,” he said. “What are you doing falling in the first place? Ain’t nobody tackle or touch you.”
But the pattern that made Jackson famous at Appalachian State, the slant route, was one he ran well in practice on Saturday morning. During a 9-on-7 drill, Jackson beat Cox on a perfectly executed slant pattern and hauled in the well thrown by from Griese for a 12-yard gain.
Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line did not feature any surprises. For inquiring minds that want to know, the Bucs played Buenning at center and Zuttah at left guard quite a bit with the second-team offense. With Luke Petitgout on the PUP list and Donald Penn taking first-team reps at left tackle, Dennis Roland saw a lot of action at left tackle with the second-team.
Although he was not able to practice on Saturday morning, Bucs running back Cadillac Williams, who is on the physically unable to perform list, was out on the field and spent about 45 minutes rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee with team trainer Todd Toriscelli.
Williams practiced cutting with a football in his hand as he ran up and down the sidelines. Toriscelli then had Williams hop on one leg, and to the right and left along the goal line.
Williams appeared to be running quite well and in a fluid manner, which is encouraging considering the fact that he suffered a torn patellar tendon less than one year ago.
The 2005 first-round draft pick and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year clearly was better hopping on his left leg as opposed to his right, which is the knee he injured in Week 4 of last season. However, the more Williams hopped on his right leg the faster he seemed to go and the more comfortable he seemed to get.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant got off to a good start in camp this morning. With Andrew Economos long snapping and punter Josh Bidwell holding on field goal attempts, Bryant was 6-for-6 on field goal tries.
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