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With Day 1 in the books, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice fields at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex for Sunday’s workout under sunny skies and hot and humid conditions. The Bucs were without quarterback Jeff Garcia (excused), wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin) and cornerback Torrie Cox, who suffered a knee injury during Saturday afternoon’s practice.
The severity of Cox’s knee injury is unknown, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for him since he’s coming off a ACL tear he suffered during the 2007 regular season.
Two players – Bucs safety Tanard Jackson and wide receiver Antonio Bryant – had to leave practice early this morning due to cramping issues.
Sunday’s morning practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports opened with a thud. Literally.
During pre-practice warm-ups, Bucs defensive coach Monte Kiffin was getting his players fired up with a fiery, incoherent speech. He then turned to quarterbacks coach Greg Olson and the team’s QBs and centers are yelled from across the field: “Hey, how much longer are you guys going to do that center-quarterback exchange drill? Holy [crap]! Let’s get going ”
The defensive players roared with laughter, but then one of the quarterbacks (probably Chris Simms) chucked a ball right at Kiffin. The ball landed right at his feet with a thud, startling the famous defensive coordinator. That drew laughter and applause from the centers and quarterbacks as they jogged past the defense.
Shortly after the players took the practice fields, cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and guard Davin Joseph led the team in stretching.
After calisthenics, the groups broke off into individual sessions. The defensive players went over to the far field as usual and began the day with team-wide pursuit drills and convoy drills (following interceptions). One of the lighter moments of the convoy drill was when linebacker Cato June picked off a pass and was running 40 yards alongside his 10 teammates for the end zone before simply tripping over the grass and falling down. The entire defense started laughing at June, who couldn’t believe that he tripped at about the 15-yard line.
Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris welcomed new safety Sergey Ivanov, who is a Russian player from NFL Europe who will be practicing with Tampa Bay during training camp and all season. Morris and the team’s safeties and cornerbacks worked on ball skills and interceptions before the defensive install period. Almost every Buccaneer had no trouble catching the ball, but Ivanov had trouble bringing in a couple of INTs.
Morris then worked the defensive backs on simulated tackling and run support drills, emphasizing attacking the outside leg of the defender so it forces the action back inside. When rookie cornerback Aqib Talib’s turn came up to be the simulated tackler, veteran strong safety Jermaine Phillips tried to fool the team’s first-round pick by running much closer to the sideline than expected. Talib made the proper adjustment while rushing towards Phillips and still attacked the outside leg and also went low, showing proper technique. Talib is supposedly a quick learner and he looked like a veteran on that particular play.
The Bucs’ new veteran cornerback, Eugene Wilson, didn’t fare as well. When Morris threw a little, one-step junk pass down the line of scrimmage to his target who simply turned towards Morris and caught the ball (a la Carolina’s Steve Smith), Wilson came towards the receiver and broke down to make the tackle.
“Eugene, don’t break down,” Morris said. “Fire your gun. If you break down you’re dead.”
What Morris was suggesting was to go ahead and come in full speed to make the tackle. Even if Wilson were to miss, if he were to use proper technique and attack the outside leg, it would force the receiver to move inside towards defensive help and away from the sideline.
Next, Morris and the defensive backs were working on re-routing receivers accompanied with the Buzz technique. The DBs would jam and re-route the receiver before flowing laterally (buzzing) to cover an underneath zone, which is what the Buzz technique is all about.
The final part of the defensive install period for the secondary was regarding Nickel Fox, which is a blitz from the nickel (slot) corner position. This is the type of blitz call that cornerback Ronde Barber has used to record 21 sacks in his 11 NFL seasons. Once again, Morris was stressing the importance of players “shooting the gun.” There is nothing worse than hesitation in the secondary.
During the install period, Morris yelled at Talib for taking a knee during practice and not paying full attention.
“Aqib, get your big ass up!” Morris said. “There’s no taking a knee here.”
Near the far practice field where the defense was doing its drills, Galloway and running backs Cadillac Williams and Cory Boyd were running and doing some leg exercises under the tutelage of strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris and team trainer Todd Toriscelli.
Once the air horn sounded to signal a change in practice drills, the linebackers and defensive linemen left and the receivers joined the defensive backs for a little 1-on-1 action. Receivers Micheal Spurlock, Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant shined in the 1-on-1 session while wide receivers Cortez Hankton and Dexter Jackson struggled a bit and cornerback Aqib Talib struggled mightily. The full description of what happened during this period will be detailed in a separate Pewter Insider article later on Sunday.
Tampa Bay practiced driving the ball out from its own end zone on Sunday morning. That’s one thing the Buccaneers do quite well on offense. It’s quite rare for the Bucs to give up safeties on offense or have to punt from their own end zone. Of course it’s just as rare to see the Bucs (or any NFL team) drive 98 yards for a touchdown like they did in last year’s season finale against Carolina, but getting a first down or two before having to punt and giving Josh Bidwell the chance to get the ball out past midfield is something Tampa Bay excels it because they practice these situations.
Some teams make their running backs carry the ball with the hand closest to the sidelines, but Tampa Bay isn’t one of them. The Buccaneers deploy the “strong hand” tactic, which allows the running back to carry the ball in the hand that they are most comfortable with and that’s what Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett do. While this coaching point may pose some turnover potential, so does switching the ball from one hand to another while in the middle of a sprint.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spent a significant amount of time working with the wide receivers this morning, and he liked what he saw during play installation drills.
Clayton, Chad Lucas and Maurice Stovall drew praise and applause from Gruden for their precise route running. The Buccaneers appear to be showcasing Stovall this year as a deep receiver. Stovall has been on the receiving end of several bombs from Luke McCown and Brian Griese this summer.
Last year, David Boston was the one who was showcased as the deep threat in training camp, but he was released after Week 1. This year, Stovall, who is playing split end, flanker and slot receiver this year, has been the favored receiver on the deep routes.
If Jackson, the rookie receiver, can take to coaching, he could become an impact playmaker over time. He moves from point A to point B so effortlessly, yet so quickly. Jackson still is raw, but one can see the potential he has at the receiver position.
Although the wide receivers had a much better session this morning in terms of catching the football, keeping their feet in bounds proved to be a difficult challenge during the beginning of practice.
Stovall ran an excellent out route and caught a pass near the sideline, but he only managed to get one foot in bounds, which prompted the sideline judge to signal an incomplete pass.
Getting both feet in bounds proved to be difficult for both the veterans and the rookies as Ike Hilliard and Jackson followed Stovall in getting just one foot in bounds after making the grab.
From there, the receivers practiced corner routes, and they were solid during this drill.
“That’s it, Dexter. Nicely done,” Gruden said after Jackson ran his corner route well and hauled in a pass from the quarterback on one particular play.
Tampa Bay tight end John Gilmore is more athletic than former Bucs tight end Anthony Becht and might be a better blocker, but he’s got to be more consistent as a pass catcher. Gilmore dropped a short pass from McCown during warm-ups.
Gilmore had a tough time hauling in another pass during a 9-on-7 drill later in practice, but that was because rookie linebacker Geno Hayes made a tremendous play by diving across Gilmore to break up the pass. Hayes has flashed impressive instincts and speed, so it should be interesting to see how the sixth-round draft pick fares once the pads come on Monday morning.
Bucs veteran tight end Ben Troupe has made a significant amount of progress over the past few months. One of the main reasons why the Bucs re-signed tight end Jerramy Stevens was because of the fact that both Troupe and Gilmore were in the process of learning Gruden’s system simultaneously.
But Troupe really came on towards the end of the offseason workouts and has carried that momentum into training camp. During one of the play install periods, Troupe ran an out route and managed to make a one-handed grab near the sideline, which drew applause from the fans at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.
Gruden came away from the offensive play install period extremely pleased with his players’ execution.
“That’s good football, men,” Gruden said as the horn sounded to signal the start of a team drill session.
This might sound crazy to some, but Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms could make the Bucs’ 53-man roster this season. That might not be what he wants, but it’s certainly possible. For a guy that wanted out of Tampa Bay and thought he had no future with the Buccaneers, Simms certainly seems to have remembered Gruden’s playbook well.
On one particular offensive play install period, Simms lined up to snap the ball, and Gruden, as he always does during these sessions, yelled out the defensive play to see if his offensive players execute or adjust accordingly.
Gruden yelled, “Blitz, blitz,” which prompted Simms to audible to a wide receiver quick out, which was completed and drew praise from Gruden.
The Bucs have five quarterbacks on their roster, but they might attempt to sneak rookie quarterback Josh Johnson, who received a limited amount of reps in practice on Sunday, to the practice squad at some point this season.
Assuming Johnson is destined for the practice squad, Simms is one injury away from being Tampa Bay’s No. 3 signal caller. Of course, that could all change if the Bucs acquire retired Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Gruden also emphasized getting the play called in the huddle and the players up to the line of scrimmage in a timely manner.
“Eleven seconds,” Gruden screamed. “You’ve got to hurry. Hurry up!”
McCown was sharp again this morning, especially on slant passes during play-install periods. Not to say he was bad before, but McCown seems to have worked on his play-action fakes, which were put on display during the morning session. McCown had a few fakes that were cleverly disguised as running plays.
One of McCown’s play-action passes freed up the speedy Jackson down the left sideline, which led to a huge play downfield for the offense. A few plays later, McCown play-actioned and rolled out to his right to hit Stevens for a decent gain in the flat.
McCown wasn’t perfect during the practice, though, the stellar play from the defense played a big part in that. During a 9-on-7 drill, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud nearly picked off his pass on a slant to Hilliard. Ruud came up big again during the same session when he broke up a pass from Griese intended for Hilliard near the sideline.
McCown also had a pass that was thrown too high to tight end Daniel Fells near the left sideline, but he displayed a very accurate arm by hitting Fells and Hilliard in-between defenders on back-to-back plays.
Brooks and Phillips had solid coverage during this 9-on-7 drill, which made it difficult for McCown and the quarterbacks to find open receivers or move the chains. June also had solid coverage during the 9-on-7 drill when he broke on a ball thrown to Dunn, who caught it but didn’t get far.
One of the more impressive plays in practice came courtesy of linebacker Ryan Nece, who did a great job of reading Griese’s eyes and breaking on what he thought would be a pass from the veteran signal caller. Had Griese thrown the ball, Nece likely would have intercepted it and returned the ball for a touchdown, but Griese saw Nece just in time to pump fake and then throw the ball away.
Tampa Bay’s morning practice featured a significant amount of running plays from the offense. With the exception of a few holes that were opened up in the middle, Graham found most of his success on counters to the right side of the line this morning.
Running up the middle proved to be very difficult vs. Tampa Bay’s defense, which had an impressive outing this morning, especially vs. the run. Phillips and defensive lineman Marques Douglas stuffed Graham for no gain on one particular play.
Bucs strongside linebacker Cato June did a nice job of attacking the line of scrimmage and clogging a running lane meant for Dunn, whose run went for no gain on the play.
This morning’s practice was better for both the offense and defense, but it wasn’t penalty free, that’s for sure.
During an 11-on-11 session, the offense was called for a false start and the defense was called for offsides on consecutive plays.
Later in practice during a goal line drill that featured the Bucs offense on their own 1-inch line, Tampa Bay’s defense was flagged for being offside again. Two plays later, the offense was called for a false start again.
After that goal line session, the Bucs went into an 11-on-11 drill, but Gruden still was fuming from the penalty-filled goal line drill that had taken place earlier in the practice.
“Let’s do something with the ball, offense, and stay onsides, defense,” Gruden yelled.
In fact, Gruden was so displeased with the penalties in the goal line session that he had his players go through the drill again after the 11-on-11 session.
Graham rushed for five yards on two plays, which set up third-and-5 from Tampa Bay’s own 5-yard line. Griese threw a slant pass to Bryant on a three-step drop, but Wilson made a nice play in coverage to break up the pass, which ended the session and allowed the players to go into their cool down period.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Tampa Bay’s penalties. During the final 11-on-11 drill, Brooks was called for being offsides on a blitz and left tackle Donald Penn was flagged for a false start a few plays later.
Clayton continues to impress. While he’s quicker thanks to dropping some weight this offseason, Clayton still is a very physical player. He let Talib know that during a 9-on-7 drill when Clayton got himself open on a crossing route and then put a nice stiff arm on Talib.
Clayton was also used as a runner during the 11-on-11 drill when he fielded a reverse handoff that went for a small gain thanks to Barber’s ability to get off of Warren’s block near the sideline.
Talib showed off his athletic ability during a 9-on-7 session when Griese attempted to test him deep with a pass to Hankton down the middle of the field, but Talib leaped up and defended the ball near the end zone for an incompletion.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant continued to display an accurate leg on Sunday morning. After drilling 6-of-6 field goal attempts on Saturday morning, Bryant went 4-of-4 during today’s morning session.
The Bucs also ran a fake field goal during this session, but NFL credential rules prevent us from sharing the exact details of that particular play.
The Bucs spent some time working on kickoff and punt returns. The team had Lucas, Bennett, Jackson and Spurlock returning kickoffs. In an interesting side note, Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia had Talib working as the main blocker on some of the kickoffs.
The kickoff return session got a little sloppy when running back Clifton Smith and Bennett each took turns fumbling the ball in the end zone.
During the punt return session, Jackson, Spurlock and cornerback Phillip Buchanon each took turns fielding punts.
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