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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a two-hour training camp practice at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex on Saturday morning.
Not only did thousands of fans fill the stands at Disney's Wild World of Sports complex, today was "Family Day" at Bucs training camp, which meant the family members of the players, coaches and front office personnel were on hand as well.
The Bucs players took the field in shells, which includes shorts, jerseys, shoulder pads and helmets.
Several Bucs players were held out of this morning's workout, including quarterback Jeff Garcia (calf), defensive tackle Jovan Haye (groin), wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin), center Jeff Faine (back), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle) and wide receiver Chad Lucas (hamstring).
Bucs running back Cadillac Williams (knee) and left tackle Luke Petitgout (knee) remain on the physically unable to perform list.
Tampa Bay did get one player back from the infirmary. Second-year safety Sabby Piscitelli, who had been nursing a foot injury, was back in action on Saturday morning and made his presence felt throughout the workout.
After the stretching period concluded, the players split into different parts of the two practice fields to work with their respective position coaches.
The defensive linemen ran through dummy drills and then hit the blocking sled.
Speaking of the blocking sled, the offensive linemen worked on the five-man blocking sled this morning, and it was interesting to note that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was paying close attention during this drill. Gruden typically spends most of his time working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers, but not this morning.
Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann spent some time working with his players on over-the-shoulder catches, which were not easy for the receivers to bring in or the quarterbacks to throw.
During the individual practice period, the tight ends work working on interference drills. Tight ends coach Bob Casullo would have one one tight end serve as a receiver and run side to side catching passes while another tight end was crossing in front of him running the other direction. This drill allows the tight ends to focus on catching passes while running slants or crossing routes with interference in front of them. Aside from a few errant throws, the tight ends did a good job of catching the ball.
Gruden attempted to get his players focused by challenging his offensive players to turn in a solid practice this morning since the players were scheduled to have the afternoon off.
"I want all completions today," Gruden yelled to the quarterbacks and receivers. "We're going to really turn it on today, men."
Tampa Bay spent a significant amount of time working on the two-minute drill and hurry-up offense this morning. The offense had mixed results and has seen better days as a unit.
The problems started during warm-ups when quarterback Brian Griese's perfectly thrown pass across the middle of the field to wide receiver Maurice Stovall was dropped.
It’s not unusual to see Stovall dressed in long, black tights instead of shorts. It makes Stovall seem like a glutton for punishment as the third-year pro often is the first player on the practice field and the last one off it. Pewter Report has seen Stovall stay after practice as late as one hour to get in extra work catching the ball and running the routes. But is that necessary? Is it necessary for someone like Stovall, who sweats excessively, to wear long, black tights?
Stovall has had at least one I.V. during camp and went through problems with cramping and dead legs last summer. That played a role in him losing his grip on the starting spot he earned at the start of camp. Perhaps it would be in Stovall’s best interest to not commit to the extra practice time, especially with heat index temperatures over 100 degrees. It may also be a good idea to wear shorts rather than the long, black tights, too.
One play that got the fans going early on was a hook and ladder that involved QB Luke McCown, running back Earnest Graham and wide receiver Michael Clayton. This play was later brilliantly executed by the offense during a full team drill.
But the quarterbacks struggled throughout Saturday morning's practice. In fact, McCown, who has been impressive, might have turned in his worst outing of this year's training camp.
During a 9-on-9 session, McCown surprisingly had a pass to Clayton on a drag route broken up by defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson, who showed impressive speed and athleticism by dropping into coverage to get his hand on the ball and knock Clayton around a little bit.
Wilkerson and Ryan Simms saw quite a bit of action together at defensive tackle with the first-team unit since Haye was out of action with the groin injury today.
One of the most impressive plays of this morning's practice came during the hurry-up-offense drill, which called for the offense to start deep in their own territory and drive up the field into field goal range with just 20 seconds left in the game.
McCown threw a screen play to Dunn, who went approximately 30 yards up field and was untouched before he lateralled the ball to Clayton, who gained another 10 yards or so and got out of bounds with just two seconds remaining on the 35-yard line.
Tampa Bay's defensive line penetrated the offensive backfield and hurried McCown during an 11-on-11 session. Greg Peterson and Charles Bennett did a nice job of forcing McCown up in the pocket, and had it been a real game they might have recorded the sack.
During the same full team drill, McCown completed a pass to TE Alex Smith on a drag route. Smith managed to get out of bounds with 18 seconds remaining on the clock with the Bucs over the 50-yard line. His next pass was incomplete, but things were about to get even worse.
On the ensuing play, McCown threw a deep pass to Clayton down the right sideline, but No. 80 was double covered and the pass was intercepted by Piscitelli, who showed tremendous speed and range on the play.
After the cool down period, McCown took the field to lead the offense in a 7-on-7 drill. He started off on the right foot by completing a high pass to Clayton near the far sideline.
McCown's next pass appeared to be completed to Stovall down the right sideline, but any momentum the offense had gained was killed when Piscitelli came along and knocked the ball out of Stovall's hands to force the incompletion.
"I see you, Sabby," Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said to Piscitelli.
During the same 7-on-7 session, McCown threw a perfect strike to fullback Byron Storer near the corner of the end zone, but the ball went right through Storer's hands for an incomplete pass. McCown also had a pass intended for rookie RB Clifton Smith near the far right sideline go off of his hands and out of bounds vs. CB Darrell Hunter. Had Smith made the catch, it would have been an amazing grab since he was losing his balance as the ball zipped over his head.
McCown threw a nice pass to TE John Gilmore during the full team session, but S Will Allen knocked the ball out of Gilmore's hands to cause the fumble, which did not make Gruden happy.
McCown's final pass of the 11-on-11 session was dropped by WR Cortez Hankton with CB Phillip Buchanon in coverage. The dropped passes turned out to be the theme of the day for the Bucs.
Griese was quite accurate during warm-ups. He hit running back Michael Bennett in stride down the right seam on one play. He followed that throw up with another perfectly thrown ball down the right seam to Hankton.
Stovall rebounded from his early drop by hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Griese.
Most of Griese's struggles started in the 11-on-11 session when his first pass, which was to the right side of the field, was nearly intercepted by rookie cornerback Aqib Talib.
From there, Griese had two consecutive pass attempts broken up by cornerback Phillip Buchanon and safety Jermaine Phillips, respectively.
During a 7-on-7 drill, Griese attempted to lead TE Jerramy Stevens on a drag route across the middle of the field towards the left sideline, but the pass fell short and Stevens couldn't hold onto the ball for the catch with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud close in coverage.
Bennett didn't help Griese on the next play when he dropped a pass down the right seam after the ball was perfectly thrown.
One of Griese's last throws in the 11-on-11 session was one of his best of the morning. He hit Smith in stride down the sideline for a 15-yard gain vs. LB Adam Hayward.
Bucs QB Chris Simms didn't receive a lot of reps this morning, but he was impressive during warm-ups, completing passes to RB Kenneth Darby and WR Brian Clark.
During the same session, Simms' short pass to running back Warrick Dunn went off of No. 28's hands and into LB Ryan Nece's for an interception.
Simms didn't have much success throwing the ball during a 7-on-7 drill later in practice. On one particular play, Piscitelli's coverage was so tight that Simms was forced to spike the ball in an attempt to end the play.
During an 11-on-11 session, WR Antonio Bryant dropped a pass from Simms after running a slant route.
Shortly after practice concluded on Saturday, Gruden addressed the media and clearly was not happy about the amount of dropped passes the offense had this morning.
Bennett didn't have more pass-catching opportunities in the practice, but during the full team session he had a great blitz pickup on Nece, which allowed Simms the time to hit TE Ben Troupe on a drag pattern.
The one thing about middle linebacker Ryan Nece that stands out is that this is a self-made man. He was an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2002 that is not blessed with great speed or natural athleticism. He has to work very hard on sculpting his body and squeezing every bit of speed and agility out of himself. It is not uncommon to see Nece running after practice, but what is more commendable is seeing how he is constantly working on his footwork by stutter-stepping around the water cooler or running wind sprints down the sidelines when he is not taking reps on the field. Nece is constantly working on getting better as an athlete and a football player.
He knows that his strength is his intelligence and his instincts and his weakness is his athleticism. Instead of kneeling down on the sidelines to watch practice and take mental reps, Nece is better served working on becoming an improved athlete. It’s that approach that has allowed him to beat the odds for six NFL seasons and become a special teams captain while escaping the turk at the end of the preseason.
Rookie Josh Johnson was in the same boat as Simms in terms of receiving limited reps, but his passes had good zip and were fairly accurate.
Tampa Bay continued to put an emphasis on running the football this morning. The Bucs ranked 11th in rushing offense last year and clearly are determined to build on that success in 2008. The defense ranked 17th against the run in '07 and needs to improve in that particular area. Tampa Bay's linebackers appear poised to help the team in that regard.
Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood opened up a nice running lane off the right side for RB Earnest Graham during a 9-on-9 session.
Tampa Bay LB Cato June stuffed Darby in a run up the middle for no gain one play later.
On the ensuing play, guard Brian Johnson and rookie center/guard Jeremy Zuttah blew open a massive hole for the speedy Bennett.
Second-year guard/tackle Chris Denman got into the action during the 9-on-9 session by opening a running lane for Graham.
But the defense responded to the offense's success running the football when defensive end Gaines Adams exploded into the offensive backfield to stop Dunn for a loss. That play was one of Adams' best so far in training camp, and he's having a good one thus far.
Bucs LB Antoine Cash had a nice run stop on Graham two plays later on a run attempt up the gut.
Clifton Smith found some running room thanks to the holes opened up by guards Davin Joseph and Arron Sears, and center Dan Buenning on one play, and fullback Byron Storer, tight end Alex Smith and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood on another.
While Tampa Bay's offense has seen better days, Bucs kicker Matt Bryant continued to put his accurate leg on display, going 2-of-2 on field goal tries before attempting his third one. The players made that kick a challenge by gathering around Bryant and yelling, which prompted the crowd to make noise from the stands. With the horn sounding as well, Bryant calmly drilled a 50-yard field goal attempt to finish the day 3-of-3.
Rookie Dexter Jackson and WR Micheal Spurlock took turns fielding punts during this morning's practice. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell did an outstanding job of punting the football this morning.
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