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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field Monday morning for their first practice in pads and with full contact. The Bucs welcomed back quarterback Jeff Garcia to his first practice of training camp. Garcia had been attending a reunion for his father’s junior college national championship team over the weekend.
The veteran quarterback resumed his leadership role with the team when he led stretching along with other team captains Derrick Brooks, Chris Hovan, Ronde Barber, and Davin Joseph. Still sitting out practice was wide receiver Joey Galloway. As the rest of team was practicing, Galloway ran along the sideline of the far field and rehabbed his injured groin. Working close to him was injured running back Carnell Williams.
With the pads on, the offensive line started the day on the seven-man blocking sled with offensive line coach Bill Muir barking out orders.
“Let’s rock ‘n roll, men,” Muir said. “Let’s drive this son of a [gun]! Pad level!”
The offensive players split up into different groups with the line going to the far end zone, the quarterbacks, backs and tight ends all working together in the end zone closest to the grandstands and the receivers working in the middle of the field. Michael Clayton was the first receiver to go through a blocking drill in which four receivers surrounded him with padded blocking shields – in front of him, behind him and to either side of him. Clayton, who pound-for-pound may be the best blocker on the team, was tenacious and blasted all four receivers backward.
After Clayton set the tempo, Maurice Stovall came up, was physical and did his best Clayton imitation. Pewter Report made sure to watch rookie Dexter Jackson, who is the smallest receiver in Tampa Bay at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, in this drill. Although he certainly didn’t have the power or explosion that Clayton and Stovall generated, Jackson showed the willingness to block and was effective.
Tampa Bay receivers coach Richard Mann was yelling encouragement to his troops.
“I want to hear a pop!” Muir said. “Bring it on, men!”
Offensive assistant coach Jay Gruden, Jon’s brother, was on hand to throw passes to the wide receivers during the individual practice session. The receivers had to get used to catching the ball with restricted movement from the shoulder pads. Mann and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson oversaw the quarterbacks and receivers run fades, slants, crosses and drag patterns in the red zone drills.
At the start of practice, the defense worked on tackling. The coaches stressed the fundamentals and technique of wrapping up. Monday was the first day that the defense was doing any kind of tackling since the playoff loss to the New York Giants in the playoffs in January.
The defensive backs and linebackers worked on intercepting passes. Safeties Tanard Jackson and Serge Ivanov, and cornerbacks Eugene Wilson and Sammy Davis dropped interceptions. Some of the players were doing pushups after dropping the picks. Phillip Buchanon made a nice catch on a ball rifled by defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
“Good, Buc,” shouted Morris.
Early in practice the defensive line and offensive line worked a drill of isolating the sides of the line and having three lineman go against two defensive linemen. Running backs, tight ends, safeties, and linebackers were also working on blitzing and blitz pickup. One player who was limited in playing time last year in part due to blitz pickup was running back Michael Bennett.
“There you go, that’s better, Mike,” yelled running backs coach Rich Bisaccia as Bennett went through the drills.
The Buccaneers had a good day rushing ball on Monday morning. Many of the positive runs came from running back Michael Bennett. Bennett had a nice run to the left side behind Donald Penn and Arron Sears. Sears, a second-year guard, had a false start. Sears was called for a few penalties on Sunday.
Bennett had another nice cutback run where he used his speed to take away the angle that linebacker Quincy Black had on him. The Bucs did some trickery with their running backs, and that produced some good yards. Fullback B.J. Askew also had a big run after the turning the corner and accelerating up field.
The good blocking wasn’t limited to the offensive line. Backup fullback Byron Storer made a number of big blocks and opened up holes for his backs. Storer had a huge block on Brooks to spring Bennett for a big run. Halfback Earnest Graham had a good gain off tackle after tight end John Gilmore sealed the edge.
The defense came back to stuff a few runs. Graham was met at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Ryan Sims and linebacker Adam Hayward. Safety Sabby Piscitelli also came flying up and stopped a run at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackles Dre Moore and Chris Hovan on separate plays stopped Bennett for no gain.
In the passing game in team situations, the Bucs did not have a big morning. Garcia seemed to be rusty and was not sharp on all of his passes. But in the 1-on-1 red zone plays, the receivers did a good job of beating the defensive backs. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant was sharp in the red zone, catching a touchdown pass from Josh Johnson against Jermaine Phillips on a flag route on one play, and then beating Darrell Hunter’s jam and pushing him to the ground to haul in another touchdown pass from Johnson. His best catch of the day came against Barber in the back corner of the end zone when he dove to catch a Garcia pass for a score while keeping both feet in bounds.
Stovall, Clayton, Spurlock and Chad Lucas also excelled in the red zone. Clayton and Stovall shined on slants and out routes, while Spurlock was able to use double moves to get open on fade patterns.
On defense, Barber struggled, as did Marcus Hamilton, who got beat by Cortez Hankton and Jackson for scores. Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib made a real nice, physical play breaking up a pass for Clayton, who was running a smash route near the goal line. Rookie Elbert Mack also had a nice breakup of a slant pass from Garcia to Jackson.
But the real star in the 1-on-1’s between the defensive backs and the receivers thus far has been cornerback Eugene Wilson, who has been a pass-breakup machine. Wilson continues to torment receivers who get their hands on the pass before Wilson slaps it away. Wilson broke up a pass intended for Paris Warren then did the same thing to Spurlock on a pass from Johnson.
While the quarterbacks had success hooking up with receivers in the red zone in 1-on-1’s, the same could not be said in the 7-on-7 drills. Garcia had trouble finding any open receivers or tight ends downfield and had to check down to his running backs often as the defense dominated. Keep in mind that the defense has the advantage in 7-on-7 drills because they know it is a pass play without the five offensive linemen, and they also know they can drop seven defenders into coverage.
Linebacker Quincy Black broke up a Garcia pass intended for tight end John Gilmore. Hunter went up top to break up a potential touchdown pass from Garcia to Hankton.
Phillips had a huge 7-on-7 session, breaking up a pass intended for tight end Jeremy Stevens with a forearm shot to Stevens’ back. Then against McCown, Phillips stepped in front of Gilmore and picked off a pass at the goal line, returning it 100 yards for a touchdown and doing a leaping hip bump with fellow safety Tanard Jackson who was trailing Phillips into the end zone.
McCown fared better on his next pass, hitting tight end Ben Troupe for a touchdown in front of safety Sabby Piscitelli, but he wasn’t the only one who got picked. Brian Griese’s first pass of the 7-on-7 session was intended for Clayton, but was picked by safety Donte Nicholson. Griese bounced back later and threw a touchdown pass to Bryant on a skinny post pattern, and a scoring strike to fullback B.J. Askew, who was lined up in a bunch along with two other receivers.
The Bucs did a practice drive starting a field goal drive at the 50-yard line with just 31 seconds left on the clock. Garcia completed a pass to Clayton, who got open after sitting in a soft spot of zone coverage to allow Matt Bryant the chance to kick a long field goal. The Bucs then attempted field goals of 52, 42, 46, and 49 yards. Bryant made three of the four missing the 49-yard attempt.
Garcia featured his mobility on some rollouts and scrambling to avoid defenders. On one rollout, defensive end Kevin Carter pressured Garcia, but he cut back towards the line and delivered a strike to Gilmore who was 10 yards downfield.
Garcia checked down a number of passes, none went for big gains. One was a dangerous pass in the flat that went to Troupe. Barber met him immediately. On another play, Jackson was open in the end zone on a skinny post pattern, but Garcia couldn’t get the ball too him quickly enough and Nicholson made a great pass break up to prevent a touchdown.
In another 11-on-11 session, the Buccaneers practiced their red zone offense starting at the 20-yard line. After a handful of plays the line of scrimmage would be moved up five yards. From the 20, McCown threw a rope to receiver Brian Clark who was alone at the 5-yard line, but Clark dropped the pass.
McCown also had some quick pressure up the middle on a few occasions. One he was able to nail Warren on a hot route. On another occasion, linebacker Matt McCoy had McCown sacked before he could he even complete his drop. McCoy came untouched through the middle of the line.
McCown showed great ability on a designed quarterback keeper off play-action and ran for a 15-yard gain off the left side. He also threw a nice strike under pressure to Stevens in the right flat. Stevens made a diving catch to come up with the ball.
Griese had a better day Monday than he did on Sunday afternoon in 11-on-11, but still had some rough moments. Griese and Spurlock hooked up downfield on a dig route for his best completion of the practice. The veteran quarterback was inaccurate overthrowing Clayton when the wideout had come open on a slant.
Griese rolled out but was quickly pressured by linebacker Geno Hayes on another play. The worst moment for Griese came when he juggled a snap from center Dan Buenning and then dropped the ball on the ground, only the defensive was around to recover.
Quarterback Chris Simms got fewer reps with the return of Garcia. On one play Simms rolled out and nearly threw an interception to Jackson. Black was pressuring him.
Rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah did a great job of blocking in the running game and the passing game against Moore and defensive tackle Ryan Sims on Monday morning. Zuttah showed great explosion getting into the blocks well and did a nice job of showing the strength and footwork to sustain them. Zuttah started off the 11-on-11 session at left guard before moving to right guard.
The Buccaneers devoted some time to punt return and punt coverage. The returners were only catching the ball, and were not returning the kicks against coverage units. The players catching the kicks were Spurlock, wide receiver Dexter Jackson, and running back Clifton Smith.
During the punt period, special teams coach Rich Bisaccia blew his whistle and made the team do a drill again because Talib did not give maximum effort on a play defending the gunner.
“Come on, Talib,” Bisaccia said. “We need you out there. Come on. That’s a bad dude out there you’ve got to handle.”
After practice, Pewter Report spoke to defensive backs coach Raheem Morris about Talib’s progress. In Sunday morning’s report, we wrote how Talib was beaten on a play and turned away from Morris as he was going over some coaching points. Morris told Pewter Report that Talib is a carbon copy of former Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who would often be so upset with himself on a play that he would turn his back and walk away, yet not out of range to hear the coaching points. Barber is the exact opposite and will look Morris in the eye for instruction. Morris said he had no problems with Morris’ approach as he has seen it before and he even said he kind of liked it because Talib – like Kelly – can’t stand making mistakes.
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